Drama is one of the quintessential attributes of English literature and to a certain extent, perhaps one of the more powerful categories as drama has the advantage of extra visuals to connect with the viewers than poetry or novels. With the influential element of props and actions performed with dialogue in scenes and acts, the ending segment of the texts often create a much more personal response among viewers in the form of ‘catharsis’. Defined by Aristotle in Poetics at around 350 B.
C, he structured tragic plays into four stages: hamartia, hubris, anagnorisis, and lastly catharsis. The first three stages illustrate the tragic hero, who is often the protagonist in the plays, with a flawed personality of some sort which is responsible for their downfall from a high status in their society. Catharsis on the other hand has more to do with the purging of emotions which cause the viewer to experience two particular feelings, pity and sorrow, triggering the sensation of a moving ending, one which lingers on their mind as they continue to reflect on the plot.
While the ending written by the playwright may have been an active and conscience move to create a powerful ending to lure the viewer into enjoying the production and desiring to seek more, there is a certain pattern of endings. In most cases the tragedies end in death for the tragic hero, or at the very least, a drastic plummet in social status and reputation, but there is also a trend observed for women in the plays. This is the case particularly when women are the protagonists in the plays, but it also occurs when women are simply supporting characters who have interaction with the tragic hero.
Perhaps unfairly constructed in the plays, the female characters do however stir much interest for further investigation as to why they suffer the same if not more consequences than the male protagonists, even though they were not actively involved with the tragic incidents that brought about the tragedy. As a result, female characters are said to end in three inevitable outcomes. In some cases, the women either experience one ending or a combination of any of the three. These three outcomes include death, isolation and subordinate marriages.
This theory is largely untested in English literature, although one or more of these three elements are often eluded indirectly or separately as isolated discourses in the plays. This essay will aim to investigate how these three endings fair in various American plays and explore the crucial themes which contribute to the demise of the women. American drama consists of a great wealth of plays written over time, in part because of the tensions, conflicts and excitement in American history.
A more holistic approach in understanding the American history which may have inspired many playwrights from their time periods would require considering all aspects of life and the main representations of Americans in history. Bearing this vital element in mind when researching potential relevant materials to my chosen topic of tragic endings for women in American plays, I decided to approach the analysis on three comparisons, involving Asian Americans, African Americans and white Americans.
Asian Americans have a long history, most memorably from the Chinese in San Francisco and the Japanese in Hawaii seeking a better life than the one back at home. There were other immigration patterns from other Asian countries such as the Philippines, however these were often under represented in history and literature. Perhaps the most important race to consider in American history is the African Americans as there has been momentous development through many centuries of struggle which has changed the face of America.
United by the tragic days of slavery and desire for freedom in the country of fresh starts, African Americans are essential to include in a research project on American drama. Both the Asian and African races contribute to an important and unforgettable era which helped shape America and its literature. Despite the generalized belief that white Americans suffered the least as they did not have to face discrimination like African Americans or the hardships of assimilation like the Asian Americans, white Americans will also be explored under the same framework as they are also portrayed to lead catastrophic lives by playwrights.
With three different races to analyze, two plays for each ethnic group were selected, resulting in a total of six plays to consider. The plays were selected based on three criteria: The plays had to focus around the race considered and set at a time which revolved around the conflicts inflicted upon the race and women in particular. Women did not have to be the protagonist(s), but there needed to be strong interaction between the women and the male protagonist(s) and therefore contribute to the conflict in order for there to be enough depth for a conclusive analysis.
Considerations of prominence of the play and playwright were employed to help evaluate the relevancy of the plays and ultimately the determining factor for selecting the plays for this research. Using the three guidelines explained above, I shortlisted the Asian American plays to And The Soul Shall Dance by Wakako Yamauchi and Bitter Cane by Genny Lim, the African American plays to Fences by August Wilson and Flyin’ West by Pearl Cleage, and the white American plays to A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams and Machinal by Sophie Treadwell.