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Cloud 9

Caryl Churchill

Act I, Scene 3

Act I, Scene 2

Act I, Scenes 4–5

Summary

Clive checks in on Betty, Mrs. Saunders, Maud, and Victoria, who wait inside the house while the natives are flogged outside. Clive leaves to supervise the flogging, and the women begin to discuss this treatment of the natives. Maud endorses the beatings, while Mrs. Saunders expresses some discontent. Betty acts flustered, not sure what to make of her husband's treatment of the natives. As the women continue to worry over what the local tribes might do next, Mrs. Saunders announces her intention to leave the estate.

Edward comes into the house, tired of watching the flogging, and Mrs. Saunders exits to check on the men's activities. Maud cautions Betty to not behave as Mrs. Saunders does, encouraging her to remain subservient to Clive. Betty catches Edward playing with Victoria's doll, and lashes out at him. Betty takes the doll, slaps Edward, and breaks into tears. Ellen enters and, following Betty's lead, gives Edward another slap. Edward runs out of the room. Maud issues another slap, this one to Victoria's doll.

Joshua comes in to check on the women and reports that the natives "have had justice." Clive enters, followed by Edward, who apologizes to his father before Clive can learn of Edward's misbehavior from someone else. This apology makes Clive proud, and he suggests that they all go out onto the verandah. Clive pulls Betty back for a private moment as the others exit. Clive, for the first time exhibiting some despair, tells Betty of his troubles keeping the natives in check. The conversation shifts when Clive reveals his knowledge of her affair with Harry. Clive resists blaming his wife directly, pointing to "dark female lust" as the culprit. Though his opinion of her has changed, he forgives her, and they leave for the verandah.

Edward comes back for the doll, where he is caught by Joshua, who ridicules Edward for being a "sissy." Joshua goes as Betty comes in to fetch Edward. Joshua reenters, and Betty asks him to get some thread for her. He refuses, again saying, "You've got legs under that skirt." Edward stands up for his mother, demanding that Joshua run the errand. Joshua obeys Edward and exits. Betty moves to embrace Joshua, but he does not allow her to. The cast enters to sing "A Boy's Best Friend," a song about any boy's loving relationship with his mother.

Analysis

Act I, Scene three develops Churchill's idea that a family's allegiance to history can be dangerous. The playwright uses Betty's mother Maud to represent this history, the old way of doing things. Maud is incapable of evaluating the past. She adheres to old values blindly, taking them as fact. In her own way, Maud admits to her failure to judge things for herself, saying that she trusts the men to make judgments. Maud stands out in stark contrast to Mrs. Saunders when the women discuss the flogging of the natives, arguing that the men will do what is "proper." Maud's disposition gives her freedom from decision, but sets the stage for the men to do whatever they please, however wrong it might be.

Clive also abides by the values of the past, telling Edward that he deserves Edward's trust by virtue of the fact that Clive respected his father. Clive argues that tradition should determine his relationship to his son. Here, Churchill points out the silliness of Clive's argument that one should respect one's father just because that person is a father. She extends this criticism to the broader notion that blind respect for the father somehow translates into respect for God and country. Clive's assertion leaves Edward (and the others, for that matter) no right to establish an identity apart from his family.

In her discussion with Maud, Mrs. Saunders again designates herself as an outsider, more progressive than the others. Unlike Maud, Mrs. Saunders questions the beating of the natives, stating that she forbids the beating of servants in her own home. She asserts that women do have a responsibility to evaluate the decisions of men. Having been forced to manage her own home, Mrs. Saunders has been endowed with duties historically assigned to men. This notion of an independent woman is foreign to the Victorian world of the first act, prompting Mrs. Saunders to announce that she will soon leave Clive's estate.

As unrest among the natives grows, so too does the tension between Clive and Betty, until Clive at last decides to confront Betty about her relationship with Harry. Clive equates Betty's infidelity with the insurrections of the natives, first stating his concern that the "whole continent" will "swallow me up" and later telling Betty, "We must resist this dark female lust…or it will swallow us up." Here, Churchill employs a technique she uses throughout the play: using similar descriptions in different contexts to connect separate events. The idea that Clive might be "swallowed" by either the savage will of the natives or Betty's "dark female lust" implies the enormity of Clive's task to suppress and oppress in the name of Britain. Clive's language suggests his denial of any free will on the part of Betty or the natives. He does not blame either one. Instead, he attributes the actions of both to darkness and evil. In doing so, he robs the natives and Betty of any individuality they might wish to assert. Betty, at this point too afraid to leave Clive, accepts his argument.

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