Cloud 9 | Study Guide

Caryl Churchill

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Cloud 9 | Symbols



Guns represent masculinity and power in both acts of Cloud 9. In Act 1 Clive, a white patriarch, carries a gun to protect himself and his family from the angry African natives. He makes sure the other white man, Harry, is armed. Both their sex and their race make them, from a Western point of view, the most powerful people in the region. Clive extends power to Joshua, his black servant, by ensuring he is carrying a gun as well. This is only because Joshua presents himself as devoted to white men and their culture. Were he to outwardly support his fellow tribesmen, he would not have been given a gun.

Edward, Clive's son, is the only man in Act 1 who doesn't carry a firearm. It can be argued this is because he's only nine, but Edward has adult sensibilities. In the context of this play, giving a child a gun is not unusual. But Clive and Betty's greatest concern about Edward is he isn't manly enough. He is most likely not given a gun because he doesn't meet Clive's ideals of masculinity.

Guns still represent masculinity and power in Act 2 but in a less literal sense. Lin encourages Cathy to roughhouse with the boys on the playground and pretend she is shooting them. Guns have traditionally been thought to be "boys' toys," and Lin purposefully exposes her daughter to this type of play as a means of removing gender barriers. She wants Cathy to know she is equal to any boy.


Dolls have long been associated with girlhood, which is why Edward's interest in Victoria's doll is a major topic of conversation in Act 1. Clive and Betty adhere to the social construct of different toys being appropriate for boys and girls. Dolls fit squarely into the territory of girl toys, and they read Edward's interest in them as an indicator he isn't as manly as they want him to be. They're not wrong. Edward is more maternal than macho, which contradicts commonly held beliefs about how boys should act. The doll physically represents his femininity as well as Victoria's. As a child Edward literally embraces the doll and wants to care for it, and as an adult he veers toward the "caretaker role" in his relationships. Victoria, on the other hand, has no interest in the doll as a child. Twenty-five years later, she eschews traditional ideas about femininity by focusing more on her career than her family.

Betty's Necklace

Betty's beaded necklace symbolizes femininity in Cloud 9. It first appears in Act 1, Scene 2 when Edward tries to give it to Harry as a gift, then again in Act 1, Scene 5 when Betty wants to wear it to Harry and Ellen's wedding. In both instances it serves as a symbol of female attractiveness and submissiveness. Edward gives the necklace to Harry as a means of making himself a more attractive sex partner, and the act of giving a gift shows deference to Harry's status as leader of the relationship. Betty wants to wear the necklace at the end of the act because she wants "to look [her] best" at Harry's wedding. Betty is still attracted to Harry, and her emphasis on her appearance shows her desire to please him even though he is marrying someone else.

Betty's necklace reappears in Act 2, Scene 1 as she tells Edward and Victoria she is leaving Clive. At this point in the play, Betty still lives with Clive and therefore plays the role of submissive, deferential wife. Cathy admires the necklace, so Betty lets her wear it for a little while before taking it back. In this instance Betty's necklace represents the submissive, feminine role so familiar to her. She takes it off for a little bit then puts it back on, just like she initially embraces the idea of independence before being confronted in Act 2, Scene 2 with the loneliness and responsibility that come along with independence. Although she is ready for a change, the thought of her old life comforts her, like the necklace she sometimes wants to put it back on.

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