Cloud 9 | Study Guide

Caryl Churchill

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Cloud 9 | Discussion Questions 21 - 30


How does Joshua represent the effects of colonialism in Act 1 of Cloud 9?

Joshua is Clive's black servant, an African native; he has been with Clive and the family for eight years. The audience isn't privy to his motivations, but it appears Joshua prefers the company and culture of whites so much that he has left his own people and culture behind. He doesn't even feel an allegiance to his parents anymore: when they die in the village fire, he tells Clive his "mother and father were bad people." Like the Africans under colonial rule, Joshua has given up his own beliefs in favor of the British government's. As in real life, that allegiance is not sustained. Clive's anger with Joshua for reporting his suspicions of a relationship between Ellen and Betty results in Clive pushing him out of his inner circle of confidantes. Joshua finally realizes Clive views him only as a lowly servant, not a respected equal, and retaliates by shooting him. This mirrors the reactions of the African tribes and states when they realized British and European powers intended to take full control of the continent instead of work side by side with the natives. It is not known what happens to Joshua after he pulls the gun on Clive in Act 1, Scene 5, but the military engagements of real-life colonialism ended in tragedy for the Africans. Joshua, significantly, does not appear in Act 2.

What is the purpose of Gerry's monologue at the beginning of Act 2, Scene 1 of Cloud 9?

Gerry's monologue about picking up a stranger on the train for anonymous sex introduces Gerry, a new character in Act 2, to the audience while giving them a glimpse of the changes in sexual attitudes since the Victorian era. As a gay male in 1979 London, Gerry doesn't have to hide his sexual preferences like Harry did in the Victorian era. He isn't ashamed of being gay. This introductory monologue also shows the audience casual sex is much, much more acceptable in the 1970s than in the Victorian era. Gerry has no interest in starting a relationship with this person, which is a far cry from the marriage-focused society of the 19th century.

What is the symbolic meaning behind Cathy's desire for Betty's necklace in Act 2, Scene 1 of Cloud 9?

Betty arrives at the park wearing the beaded necklace from Act 1. Cathy, who is already trying on Betty's earrings, desperately wants the necklace. When it's time for Betty to go, Cathy happily gives back the earrings and Betty's hat, but she doesn't want to let go of the beads. "I want my beads," she says over and over again. In Act 1 Betty's necklace was a symbol of feminine devotion and submissiveness. In Act 2, Scene 1 the audience learns Lin is attempting to raise Cathy without imposing any gender norms—Cathy may roughhouse and play with guns just like the boys. Yet as soon as she sees the beads, she is suddenly interested in all things feminine and pretty. In the next scene she will wear only dresses and expects the same thing of Lin. The act of Betty handing over the beads is symbolic of Cathy's desire to present herself as feminine.

How does Lin's approach to motherhood differ from Betty's in Cloud 9?

Lin's approach to motherhood in Act 2 is very different from Betty's in Act 1. For starters Lin is the only adult engaged in raising Cathy, while Betty "had help" who could deal with the children when they had tantrums or were acting particularly badly. Betty was very strict with Edward about acting "manly," which meant putting the servants in their place and restricting access to girly pastimes, like playing with dolls. Lin, on the other hand, actively encourages Cathy to take part in activities once deemed improper for girls, like playing with guns, fighting with boys, and getting messy. She pushes Cathy away from the activities and behavior expected of her sex. There is also a marked difference in the way Betty and Lin speak to their children: Betty often refers to Edward as her "darling"; when she gets mad at him, she is still reserved and polite. Lin's language goes to the opposite extreme. In Act 2, Scene 1 she tells a crying Cathy, "Stop sniveling, pigface ... if you keep on we'll have dogshit on toast." It sounds incredibly mean, but Cathy stops crying and laughs instead. Whereas Betty's words of kindness don't appear to endear her to Edward, Lin's harsh language wins Cathy's heart. She knows her child much better than Betty knows hers.

What is the purpose of Martin's reference to The Hite Report in Act 2, Scene 2 of Cloud 9?

The Hite Report: A Nationwide Study of Female Sexuality by Shere Hite was published in 1976 and soon became a hot topic in popular culture for its groundbreaking insight into female sexuality. Backed by a 3,000-respondent survey and hundreds of anecdotes from women, Hite concluded women were, as a group, unsatisfied with their sex lives. This was huge news, as sexual pleasure was still viewed as having more importance for men than women. Martin brings up the The Hite Report because he wants Victoria to think he is empathetic to the struggles she faces as a woman. But he also brings it up to throw their inadequate sex life back in her face. "I do know that women have to learn to get their pleasure," he says before telling her there's something wrong with her for not having orgasms when they're having sex together. Though he refers to The Hite Report to make himself look like he's in favor of feminism, he also uses it to blame Victoria for his own failings in the bedroom. He exposes his own ignorance of female sexuality by insisting their problems are all her fault.

What does Edward mean when he says he thinks he's a lesbian in Act 2, Scene 2 of Cloud 9?

Edward tells Victoria he thinks he's a lesbian after Gerry breaks up with him for being too much like a wife. He doesn't mean this in a literal sense, as he is biologically a man who has historically been attracted to men. Identifying as a lesbian is his way of conveying his spiritual and cultural connection with the feminine and his attraction to the masculine. Gender no longer seems to matter, as he is attracted both to masculine men, like Gerry, and women who exhibit social dominance and masculine traits, like Victoria and Lin. He still sees himself primarily as a being attracted to his same sex, which is why he says he's a lesbian instead of a straight woman. This is a conscious decision on Churchill's part: "I think I'm a lesbian" is a lot funnier and more succinct than "I think I'm a straight woman."

What does Cathy's request for Lin to wear dresses in Act 2, Scene 2 of Cloud 9 say about the impact culture has on gender roles?

In Act 2, Scene 2 Lin tells Betty that Cathy will now wear only dresses at school because the other girls called her a boy when she wore pants. Those same girls are coming over for tea, and Cathy is determined to present herself and her mother as "girly-girls," clad in feminine clothing like skirts and tights and serving a homemade dessert. Lin has done everything in her power to direct Cathy away from traditional ideas about what it means to be a woman, but her efforts are overruled by peer pressure on the playground. This is emblematic of how stereotypical ideas about gender roles are spread through society. Children learn their place in the world at an early age, and their desire to be like everyone else during their formative years often overrules adult guidance.

How do Lin's and Victoria's approaches to feminism differ in Cloud 9?

Victoria approaches feminism from an academic standpoint. She is very interested in the political, psychological, and historical aspects of equality, and though the audience isn't told anything about her career, there is the sense she either works in academia or is furthering her education in women's studies. She believes feminism is an "all or nothing" ideology: you're either completely for it or completely against it. This is a source of conflict between her and Lin, who approaches feminism from a more practical standpoint. Lin believes in equality of the sexes, and she wants to raise her daughter in an environment free from the pressures of traditional gender roles. But she's also a single mother who is just trying to get by. She doesn't have the luxury of analyzing every decision she makes through the lens of feminism. When she follows Victoria's lead and does, such as when she turns down a job she wants because it "collaborate[s] with sexist consumerism," she regrets it. Her approach to feminism is much less strident than Victoria's.

How is Joshua's "bad story" in Act 1, Scene 4 connected to the orgy in Act 2, Scene 3 of Cloud 9?

Joshua's "bad story" is about "the great goddess" who created the stars, sun, and the earth. She becomes lonely, and her tears create all of the rivers in the world. The "great spirit" sends a tree-like monster after her, and their coupling results in humans. It's a creation story from Joshua's tribe, and it's initially used to show how Joshua looks down on the teachings of his own culture as a means of accepting Christianity. Yet the goddess comes up again in Act 2, Scene 3 when Edward, Victoria, and Lin are preparing for their orgy. Victoria insists on having a ceremony that will "call up the goddess." This isn't a coincidence: according to Victoria, the goddess is the "oldest of the old, who walked in chaos and created life," and she was driven away by men. This story aligns with the story Joshua told Edward. Victoria's belief in the goddess is symbolic of the idea that Christianity isn't the only lens through which life can be viewed, just as there are more options for society than patriarchal rule. The cultural oppression of African colonialism parallels the 20th-century's second-wave feminism.

How does the introduction of Cathy's brother in Act 2 of Cloud 9 connect to the colonialism of Act 1?

Cathy's brother Bill is a soldier in the British army. He's stationed in Belfast, Northern Ireland, during the time period known as The Troubles, which took place from approximately 1968 to 1998. The Catholic minority in Northern Ireland wanted to reunify with the rest of Ireland as a means of ending the discrimination they faced in the mostly Protestant northern counties. The Protestants didn't like that; they wanted to remain part of the United Kingdom. The 30-year disagreement was riddled with violence, and British troops were stationed in Northern Ireland as peacekeepers. Their role changed as Protestants began viewing them as protection from the Catholic-led Irish Republican Army (IRA). The Catholics, in turn, viewed the troops as oppressors. British troops were also oppressors in Act 1 as Great Britain asserted its dominance over the African natives. Like the Catholics the natives were fighting against a stronger power for what they believed to be fair and just human rights. In both cases the British army was tasked to keep the peace but ended up fighting against forces opposed to British rule. The character of Bill shows just how little is gained by the people actually fighting the battles. He loses his life for a cause he doesn't necessarily believe in, just as many Victorian-era soldiers lost their lives in a place that meant very little to them. Churchill is showing how the collateral damage of colonialism is frequently overlooked in the quest for power.

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