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Cloud 9 | Study Guide

Caryl Churchill

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Cloud 9 | Discussion Questions 31 - 40


How does the reality of the characters' lives compare or contrast to the message of the song at the end of Act 2, Scene 3 of Cloud 9?

The song "Cloud Nine" is about finding complete happiness through relationships that defy the culturally ideal image of a monogamous, heterosexual marriage between people of similar ages and backgrounds. Finding happiness by following one's heart without regard to sex, sexual orientation, or age sounds great in theory, but the experiences of the characters in Act 2 of Cloud 9 show that's not always possible. Edward and Gerry weren't happy together because of differences in their ideas of the perfect relationship. Victoria and Lin bicker even more after they become lovers. Martin and Lin's relationship is strained with jealousy and resentment. Figuring out whom you love is just a small part of the journey to "Cloud Nine." Perfect happiness can't be achieved without a lot of hard work and disappointment. Perhaps it can't be achieved at all, but that still doesn't stop people from trying.

What is the purpose of Cathy's run-in with the Dead Hand Gang in Act 2, Scene 4 of Cloud 9?

The Dead Hand Gang is the group of older boys that hang around the park. Cathy idolizes them even though they're not very nice to her. In Act 2, Scene 4 members of the Dead Hand Gang beat up Cathy for her ice cream and her money, giving her a bloody nose. "They hit me. I can't play. They said I'm a girl," she cries to her mother. This is an interesting commentary on the gender roles society assigns to children at a young age. Lin has consciously made an effort to raise Cathy without the expectations of her sex. She's allowed to play with guns and get messy and run wild with the Dead Hand Gang. But none of Lin's efforts change how people outside of their inner circle view Cathy. She is a girl, so the Dead Hand Gang treats her like a girl. When they beat her up, they're essentially telling her she's not good enough to play with them because of her sex. Churchill is pointing out that pressures to conform to a certain image come from society at large as well as from the home.

What is the significance of the way Victoria addresses Betty before she gets ice cream in Act 2, Scene 4 of Cloud 9?

Throughout the play Victoria has referred to Betty as "Mummy," which is naturally symbolic of their relationship as mother and child. When Betty offers Victoria and Lin money so they can all buy a house together, Victoria says they can't because she doesn't want to live with her mother. Lin counsels Victoria not to think of Betty as her mother, but just as Betty. When Victoria decides to get ice cream a few minutes later, she asks, "Betty, would you like an ice cream?" This small name change is a really big deal. Victoria is taking the first steps to viewing Betty as not just a mother, but an actual person with a life of her own: the very distinction Victoria wants for herself.

Why does Churchill reintroduce Clive at the end of Act 2, Scene 4 of Cloud 9?

Clive is completely absent from Act 2 until the very last moments when he is reintroduced as a figment of Betty's imagination. Churchill brings him back for a couple of reasons. The first is to show Betty how much she has grown as a person since the events of Act 1, and, in some ways, since the beginning of Act 2. She pays no attention to Clive when he chastises her for flirting with Gerry, because she no longer needs nor cares for his approval. She learned to accept herself in light of his criticisms. Clive is also brought back to show the changes in Great Britain since the events of Act 1. He tells Betty and the audience "I used to be proud to be British. There was a high ideal." He's speaking of the strictly defined roles of sex and race in the Victorian era that collapsed as time went on. He equates white male dominance with British superiority. The steps toward equality taken by women and people of color would naturally threaten Clive, who views himself (and Great Britain) as ruler supreme. He is no longer proud to be British because Great Britain is no longer the patriarchy he once loved. His disappointment is Churchill's way of showing just how far society has come in 100 years.

What are the similarities and differences between Clive and Martin in Cloud 9?

On the surface Martin and Clive seem to be quite different. Clive is the domineering patriarch who forces his will upon the family and servants in all aspects of life, while Martin tells Victoria to follow her dreams and he stays behind to take care of their son. Deeper examination of Martin's character, however, indicates he's far more similar to Clive than he is different. Clive and Martin both take a dim view of female sexuality. Clive doesn't think it is necessary for women to get pleasure from sexual encounters, and he stops mid-act with Mrs. Saunders because he has reached his climax. Though she begs him to go on, he implies she's being selfish. Martin also takes no responsibility for the lack of female pleasure during sex. He can apparently "give ... rolling orgasms" to other women, but when Victoria doesn't experience the same thing, he blames her. Clive and Martin both worry about how their wives' actions reflect upon them. In Act 1, Scene 3 Clive tells Betty he would have to leave her if she were with another man. In Act 2, Scene 2 Martin tells Victoria "how insulting it is" to him that she can't get herself together. Martin also takes credit for Victoria's successes, as he seems to think he is the person responsible for getting her to "stand on [her] own two feet." Neither Clive nor Martin seems very interested in or proud of their sons. Clive shames Edward for playing with a doll and fumbling a ball. In Act 2, Scene 4 Martin says of Tommy, "I don't like to say he is my son but he is my son." The audience doesn't know why Martin feels this way about Tommy, who is never seen, but it's apparent he feels ashamed to be Tommy's father.

How do Betty's opinions about Martin in Act 2 of Cloud 9 reflect her feelings about the man's role in a family?

Betty is confused by Martin's outward willingness to have an equal relationship with Victoria. In Act 2, Scene 1 she backhandedly scolds Victoria for dressing poorly, then also slams Martin for insinuating he is less masculine than a man who requires his wife to be attractive and fashionable. "I don't know what it is Martin looks for and nor does he," she prattles. This off-the-cuff remark is laden with judgment about Martin's position in the family and his role in his marriage. Though Betty is leaving Clive, she still believes a man should be the head of the family, and women should play their part by dressing to please them. Betty's bafflement turns to pity in Act 2, Scene 4 when she tells Martin he's "being wonderful" for "letting" Victoria live with Lin and Edward. She still thinks Martin has control over Victoria simply because he's her husband. Betty has yet to figure out patriarchal rule in the family isn't as prevalent as when she was first married.

What are the similarities and differences between Maud in Act 1 and Betty in Act 2 of Cloud 9?

In Act 2 Betty is around the same age Maud was in Act 1, and as they are mother and daughter it's not a complete surprise they share many attributes at this stage in their lives. Like Maud, Betty begins Act 2 believing in traditional gender roles. Girls and women should be pretty while boys and men should be brave. Betty's disappointment in Edward's job as a gardener is evidence of her belief that a man should have an important job that allows him to be the breadwinner of the family, which is in line with Maud's belief that a man is the head of his household. Both women also refuse to see their children for who they really are. Maud ignores Betty's obvious unhappiness and tells her to remember her duty to her husband. Betty convinces herself Edward and Lin are in a heterosexual relationship and fears Victoria is intruding on their happiness. Betty doesn't hold onto that idea for long. She eventually acknowledges Edward is a gay man who sleeps with women, including his own sister, and she learns to accept her children as they are. That sets her apart from Maud, as does the dissolution of her relationship with Clive. Maud believed in the institution of marriage not because she loved her husband, but because she thought she needed him for protection. Betty's decision to leave Clive goes against Maud's cautionary tales and shows how exposure to different ideas and values can change one's beliefs.

To what effect do characters break the "fourth wall" in Cloud 9?

The fourth wall is a dramatic term that describes an imaginary force, commonly thought of as a wall, that separates the actors onstage from the audience. Plays generally consist of actors speaking to one another as if the audience isn't there. There are times, however, when an actor will turn toward the audience and address it directly, breaking the fourth wall. It's a good way to draw attention to a particular idea or character. Characters break the fourth wall twice during Act 2 of Cloud 9. The first time is Gerry's monologue in Act 2, Scene 1. The second is Betty's monologue in Act 2, Scene 4. No other characters are onstage during these speeches. Betty and Gerry each speak directly to the audience about their own experiences. This invites the audience into personal moments the characters may not feel comfortable sharing with other characters in the play, and it gives the audience additional insight to these two characters' lives. It also makes the audience feel like they are a part of the play, deepening their connection to the actors before them. Betty, in particular, becomes more sympathetic in light of her story.

What is the purpose of Betty's monologue in Act 2, Scene 4 in Cloud 9?

In Act 2, Scene 4 Betty speaks directly to the audience about her rediscovery of masturbation. This isn't meant to be obscene or titillating, but rather a symbol of Betty's emancipation from the constraints of the gender roles of her youth and early adulthood. When she was a child, she would touch herself as a means of inducing sleepiness or cheering herself up; but when her mother discovered what she was doing she got in trouble and never did it again. As she grew older she learned sexual pleasure was the domain of men, which is why she was so surprised to discover she missed it after she left Clive. She felt lonely and afraid on her own and wondered if she existed without Clive's gaze. She touches herself to make sure she doesn't disappear, and when "[her] hand went down where [she] thought it shouldn't," she realized she does exist. She also realized she has sexual desires. Her first orgasm arrives as a fit of defiance against her mother and Clive, who kept her from experiencing sexual pleasure for so long. It feels great, but it's also terrifying. This is the first moment Betty recognizes herself as being a "separate person" from her mother and her ex-husband. Her monologue gives the audience a glimpse of how her ideas about gender roles regarding sexuality were formed, as well as how she has changed since she left Clive.

How is the acceptance of sexual identity handled in Cloud 9?

There's a lot to deal with here. Churchill assigns different sexual orientations and values to all of Cloud 9's characters in order to examine how individuals interpret their own sexual desires in light of society's expectations. In Act 1 she presents two homosexual characters, Ellen and Harry, who have very different attitudes about their sexuality. Harry appears to be ashamed of his "disease," while Ellen doesn't seem to think twice about her attraction to Betty. Yet they both are forced to ignore their desires and marry each other because that's what the cultural norms of the era dictated. They both settle for something that is the opposite of what they truly want. On the other hand there's Edward, who was perfectly comfortable with his attraction to Harry as a little boy but begins to question his identity in Act 2 when Gerry accuses him of being a "wife." He struggles to figure out where exactly he fits in society: is he a gay man or a lesbian? He ultimately decides not to worry about labels and enters a mutually beneficial romantic relationship with Lin and Victoria. Unlike Ellen and Harry, Edward's story has a happy ending, which furthers Churchill's message that happiness comes from accepting oneself for what one actually is, not what one is supposed to be.

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