Clive, who does not even appear in Act II, is primarily responsible for driving the action and the story of Act I. In a purely physical sense, Clive's frequent requests for others to enter or exit assures that the play is in constant motion and forces the characters to quickly adapt to changing circumstances.
In a thematic sense, all of the characters define themselves by their relationship to Clive. Betty is unable to act on any of her true desires because of her feeling of responsibility to Clive. Likewise, Edward subverts his homosexuality out of fear of Clive's reprimand. Clive is a symbol of the Act I's major theme: Oppression. He represents the colonial oppression of the British Empire in Africa, as well as the sexual oppression that defined social interactions in the Victorian Edward. Additionally, Clive represents the hypocrisy inherent to this oppression. He demands the loyalty of his family, while he himself is unfaithful to his marriage.
Although Clive holds the reigns of power for the majority of Act I, his status does depreciate. Despite his efforts to the contrary, his family spirals out of his control as members of his family begin to act on their sexual desires by the end of the act. In a final act of defiance, his own son fails to warn him of Joshua's murder attempt. Churchill does not bring Clive back in the second act of the play because, metaphorically, Clive is dead to the new world of Act II. His views are incompatible with the sexual liberation characteristic of London in 1979. Clive's absence in Act II might also suggest his family members' attempts to separate themselves from him.
While Clive is the focus of Act I, Betty is the focus of the play as a whole. Churchill thoroughly illustrates Betty's journey from subservience to independence. Betty of Act I, who is played by a man, is, quite literally, an image of the male values that have been imposed upon her. She does have private desires of her own, but Clive's control of her renders her too weak to act upon those desires. In Act I, Betty believes that the protection and support that Clive provides outweigh the beneficial liberties that would come from her leaving him.
In Act II, Betty is far more liberated than in Act I. She is now played by a woman, which possibly suggests that she is now more in touch with her femininity. Betty is not totally free from her past. She still adheres to certain traditions of child-rearing and sexuality. Indeed, Act II is largely about Betty's reconciling past and present. She is the only representative of her generation in the second act, so she faces a different set of issues than do her children. Betty's liberation will be more difficult because of her age and her ties to Clive and to the old way of life that he represents. In seeking her identity, Betty must actively reject her past by divorcing Clive.
Like Act I Betty, Edward of Act II is largely defined by his father's oppression. He is forced to hide his homosexuality, although the fact that he is played by a woman in Act I indicates a kind of gender mismatch from the beginning of the play. If his homosexuality benefits him in any way in the first act, it does so by allowing him to be a part of the only truly loving relationship of the act. Betty does not appear to truly love Clive, and her love for Harry is unrequited. Likewise, Ellen's love for Betty is not returned. Only Harry and Edward appear to truly care for one another, however perverse their relationship might seem.
Act II Edward, played by a man, faces perhaps the most complex quest for identity. He slowly grows into his role as a homosexual, but even very near the end of the play, still struggles to find a way to be the kind of homosexual that he wants to be. At one point, he even tells Victoria that he wishes to be a woman. Gerry denies him the chance to play the role of wife in a homosexual relationship. Ultimately, Edward finds pleasure in the role of mother, in taking care of children. Edward's transformation indicates the failure of Clive's values. Edward becomes a near opposite of the person that Clive intended him to be.
Victoria appears in the first act, but only occasionally, and even then, she is played by a doll. She is literally Clive's puppet. Her liberation as a woman takes place entirely in the second act. In Act II, Victoria experiences the dual challenge of establishing an identity and becoming a good mother. Her search for identity is rather successful, but her development as mother does not proceed terribly well. Victoria pays so little attention to her son Tommy that he never even appears onstage. Her failure as a mother is also represented in her losing him in the park. These shortcomings separate Victoria to some degree from her own mother, Betty, who was always a dutiful mother. Perhaps Churchill suggests that the old way of life is not all bad. Clive's values demanded that his children have a responsible mother.
In Act II, Victoria faces a new kind of constraint. She is no longer a dummy, but the nature of her relationship with Martin is restricting in a different way. Martin, although ostensibly in favor of Victoria's liberation, exerts control by making her feel guilty for not responding well to his attempts to satisfy her sexually. Only through a homosexual relationship with Lin can Victoria find a balance between love and liberation. As far as Victoria's role as a mother is concerned, her irresponsibility forces Martin to be responsible, thereby further developing the idea that traditional gender roles cannot be taken for granted. In modern London, men become women, and fathers become mothers.
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