Cloud 9

Summary

Act I, Scene 1

Summary Act I, Scene 1

Clive quickly becomes a symbol of repression, in each of its forms, sexual and colonial. Clive's disgust at Edward's playing with a doll suggests a British intolerance for feminine men, and Clive's lecturing Joshua on the proper treatment of Betty implies a Victorian era concern with keeping everyone in their appropriate place. However, in establishing Clive as a representative of 19th century British attitudes, Churchill argues that these attitudes were accompanied by a sense of impending change. Instead of accepting the fact that Edward might have a feminine tendency to play with a doll, Clive quickly accepts the weak excuse that Edward is "minding it for Vicky." Clive's actions demonstrate a denial of the truth that also characterizes the British treatment of its colonial holdings in this era.

The pace that Churchill establishes in this first scene is that of a farce. Entrances and exits are almost continuous. Clive drives this momentum, calling people in and dismissing them just as quickly, remaining in control of the family, but not without almost frantic effort. This pace creates comedy and suspense when coupled with the bits and pieces of secrets placed throughout the scene. By the end of the scene, when Betty and Harry discuss their mutual attraction, the audience knows that the characters have little time before someone will walk in on them. Indeed, Joshua enters to listen in on the end of their conversation.

In this first scene, Churchill also introduces the perverse sexuality of the act. She sharpens this perversion, and the comedy of the scene, by contrasting it with the clichéed politeness of her characters. Harry asks Joshua, "Shall we go in the barn and fuck?" a polite gesture coupled with the shocking revelation that Harry is homosexual during a period of history in which such an orientation was highly offensive to a majority of people. An audience might also notice this contrast in Harry's interaction with Betty. He talks of adventure and exploration as a mature British explorer might be expected to, but he breaks decorum at the end of the conversation by lunging after Betty as she runs away.