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Brechtian Theater And Caryl Churchill Essay

3123 words - 12 pages

Women in Brechtian theater play important roles such as that of wives, mothers, and workers. For example, Pelagea Vlassova, in "The Mother" undergoes the transformation from a widow, home bound and uneducated, to a revolutionary, fighting against class oppression. However, Brecht uses Vlassova's experienced are entirely dictated on the basis of her class; her sex appears to have no bearing on any aspect of the play. In contrast, the women in Caryl Churchill's "A Mouthful of Birds" are portrayed primarily as female, with the suggestion of class oppression as an underlying theme. As written by Janelle Reinelt, the Brechtian techniques of epic theater, the gestus, and the alienation effect supply a way to "examine ideologically-determined beliefs and unconscious habitual perceptions."# Churchill utilizes Brechtian techniques and themes to explore gender roles and women as highly characterized by gender oppression as well as their economic conditions.

"A Mouthful of Birds" is structurally based upon and characterized by Brecht's definitions of epic theater, as opposed to conventional dramatic theater. This was used by Brecht originally for the purpose of more effectively conveying political and social thought. He has stated that within epic theater, feelings are propelled into perceptions (not preserved), man is the object of the inquiry (not assumed to be known), it dictates what man is forced to do (not what he ought to do), and that social being determines thinking (thinking does not determine being), among others.# Churchill seamlessly absorbs these tenets into her own play to construct a critique of social and economic systems, and speculates particularly upon the unique effects such systems have on the lives of women.

Primarily, the feelings of many of the characters are revealed as an external effect, rather than merely stated as an internalized notion. Doreen's feelings of confinement as a wife and secretary cause her to run away and sleep by a canal for a night, Lena's feelings of anger and frustration result in the drowning of her baby, and Paul's feelings of emptiness lead him to his love for the pig and the rejection of his former entrepreneurial lifestyle. It later becomes apparent that the inward frustrations experienced by all of the characters function to mold their thoughts, perspectives and words, and greatly effect the ways in which they react to one another, particularly on the basis of gender.

These perceptions, though derived from feeling, can be utilized to project powerful concepts, inherent to the theme. For example, when Doreen and Susy's conversation is interrupted by Tony, who asks politely for a teabag, Doreen reacts violently. She accuses him of disturbing her peace, of being an intruder, and her feelings of individual anger and repression cause her to voice the perception and indicate the possibility of universal injustice. She starts a sentence "My sister...

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