Manipulation Of Time In "Cloud Nine" And "Top Girls"

2369 words - 9 pages

The manipulation of time is important in the Cloud Nine and Top Girls, two plays by Caryl Churchill. In one, she manipulates the passage of time to create a connection between the oppression of women and the oppression of those living in the British colonies. In the other, she puts the present first and the past last, suggesting that the past is more important than Britain would like to admit. Like Patrick Wright, she is questioning the idea of a national identity or heritage that wants to continue class and racial discrimination but give it a different name. The history for Churchill is very important in developing the future not only for her characters, but for Britain in general. Churchill questions the need for one history, but instead pushes forward Wright’s idea of a “heterogeneous society” where each individual can define their own history. Churchill shows the ugliness of colonial Africa, of racism, of classism, of sexism, and of homophobia while also showing that these characters that represent the “other” have histories that are just important to Britain as those who are the so-called “custodians”.

Caryl Churchill brings the past and the present together in Cloud 9 with an Act One focused on the colonial past and the second act focused on how the modern family is just as dysfunctional. In the first act, Churchill focuses on colonial Africa and the way race and gender were approached. With the character of Clive we get the Britain which is unable to see diversity and believes they are helping the colonies by being a father in the way that Clive treats Joshua. However, by having Joshua pointing a gun at Clive in the end we see Churchill’s introduction of the opposing view and how the colonies actually viewed Britain. Churchill also uses Victorian Africa to show the parallels of how one kind of oppression was replaced with another. In this view we see the ugliness that the ‘national past’ would like to forget.

Wright says “with the rationalization and bureaucratization of everyday life the past – especially in its imperialist dimension – becomes a theatre in which adventures of personal action can be played out” (22). This is exactly what Churchill creates with her Victorian family in Africa. Clive says in the beginning” This is my family. Though far from home / We serve the Queen wherever we may roam / I am a father to the natives here, / And father to my family so dear.”(Churchill 3). Clive is the head of the family pushing his ideals on his family and the natives while his wife stands by (played by a man) trying to be how the men want her to be. This is the family structure that Wright believes is traditional and Churchill sees the romantic version of Imperial Britain was neither romantic nor innocent so she adds the violence and sex of the modern world to remind the reader of the ugliness of the past. But also the family unit is used to show how although the modern world may have worked past issues of racism and...

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