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Father enjoins the Manager to imagine their misfortune again. They did everything they could to persuade their author. Step-Daughter recalls how she tempted him most of all from the shadows about his writing table. As if still by that table, Step-Daughter wishes that everyone would go away and leave her alone with the author in the shadows. She makes a sudden movement as if in her vision of "herself illuminating those shadows she wanted to seize hold of herself."
Father wonders if her insistence is to blame for their abandonment. Step- Daughter rejoins that the author did so out of disgust for the ordinary theater. The Son concurs. Father tells the Manager not to pay attention to them, as he is correct to be editing their excesses. The Manager commends that Father is excessive himself, always trying to convince them he is a character and philosophizing. Father retorts that man must give reason and value to his own life. He cannot represent all as mere fact as Step-Daughter wants. To do so would destroy his raison d'être.
The Manager moans that they will never finish. Drama is not philosophy but action. They must combine the facts in a "simultaneous, close-knit action." Step-Daughter wants the Child in the garden: it is her only pleasure after their years in the squalor of their one-room flat. The Manager prepares the scene. Instead of hiding in the house, the Boy will wander the garden. He asks Step-Daughter if the Child could surprise him, so he could have a few lines. Step-Daughter replies that he will only speak if the Son is sent away. The Son moves away with delight; Mother instinctively raises her arms to stop him. Father insists that he must do his scene with her. Step-Daughter remains calm; he will not leave. He remains "indissolubly bound to the chain"; if she remains to support his face and expression, he cannot move. She calls Mother into place.
Frantically the Son refuses to act. Step-Daughter leads Child to the fountain. "Both at the same time" the Manager commands. The Second Lady Lead and Juvenile Lead approach and study the movements of Mother and Son. The Son objects that there was no scene between he and Mother. Unable to bear her anguish, Mother went to his room to speak with him, and Son left it, since he does not care for scenes. The Son notices the actors that follow him and Mother and protests. It is impossible to live before a mirror that not only "freezes us with the image of ourselves, but throws out likeness back at us with a horrible grimace." The Manager sends the actors back. Mother implores the Manager to revise the scene a little, to find a chance for her to tell her Son what she feels. Enraged, Father orders Son to do this favor for his Mother. Threateningly Son takes hold of Father, and Mother tries to separate them. Almost crying from rage, Son insists that he stands for the will of the author—he did not put them on stage after all. Father forced them here. He has told things that never happened at all.
Here the spectator finds the play's only conjuration of the author's figure, a conjuration that occurs in a scene of attempted seduction. The author sits at his writing table as the Characters haunt him from the shadows, hovering in the twilight between life and unreality, perhaps attempting to come forth much like they did in Act I. The Step-Daughter especially appears to him in all her seductive charm, attempting to lure him to grant her life. The Step-Daughter's consumed with her own image lost. In her memories, she progressively casts the Characters from the author's side, making a sudden movement "as if in the vision she has of herself illuminating those shadows she wanted to seize hold of herself." In entering the reality of the stage, the Step-Daughter would become self-identical and—if possible, she would certainly dispense with the alienating figure of the actress. The Step-Daughter's narcissism appears explicitly in the act previous, where she furiously insists on the primacy of her part. As the Manager complains, the Step-Daughter would break the "neat little framework" of an organized cast, a cast with its primary and secondary figures that stays closely within the limits of the actable.
In contrast to the Step-Daughter, the Son makes an attempt to escape the Characters' spectacle. As noted earlier, however, he cannot leave. He remains "indissolubly bound to the chain." The Step-Daughter's scornful stare fixes him in his guilt; the exhibitionist is matched by figure of shame. Moreover, as the Father has already indicated, he must ultimately end up alone with the Father and Mother in the household. The Father insists that he play his scene with his Mother and the Son protests that he has none. As the Father noted earlier, however, the Son's status as an unrealized character is his own situation. Accordingly, his scene here is a sort of non-event. The Mother entered his room and he left her out of his aversion for scenes. Note the pun here on scenes; the Son would withdraw from all family dramas. In vain the Son invokes the will of the author, claiming that they did not want them on stage. The Son's aversion to theater is a condition of his character; it constitutes his place in the spectacle. Pathetically then does the Mother begs for revisions, a new dialogue that would allow her the conversation with her Son that their drama forbids her. Though the Father supports her in this endeavor, the Son insists that no such dialogue could happen in their story.
In his horror at participating in the spectacle, the Son also offers the play's most explicit articulation of the trope of the mirror. Faced by the actor who would absorb him, the Son protests that one cannot live before a mirror that not only "freezes us with an image of ourselves," but also "throws our likeness back at us with a horrible grimace." The Son thus charts two effects of the mirror between Actor and Character. In the second and more straightforward complaint, the image of the subject imitated in the other renders that likeness grotesque. In the first, vaguely reminscent of the Medusa, the fascinating image of the Actor would freeze the Character it reflects. Put otherwise, the animation of the image requires the petrifaction of the body; the life of the persona or mask is the death of the person. The animation of the Character in the place of the Actor, an animation that takes place through imitation, is the Character's defacement. This meditation on the petrifying effect of the mirror—one that kills the Character by fixing him—reads in tension with the Father's comments on the Character's life and reality. According to the Father, both inhere precisely in its image. Unlike transitory man, the mask is real and alive insofar as it cannot change. The Character's drama and role are fixed for all time and perhaps the difference inheres in the process of alienation. The frozen image is fatal when reflected in the Actor because the places the self-image in the place of the other.
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