The Sound of a Voice by David Henry Hwang is a play that tells the story of two people embroiled in a love affair that is marked by secrets, emotional distance, dishonesty, and ultimately, tragedy. The two characters, a Japanese man and woman who are probably both in their fifties, fall in love but do not even reveal their names to each other. The nine acts of The Sound of a Voice are set entirely in the woman's home.
The man character is a visitor in the woman character's home. The woman serves the man tea and a meal and invites him to stay "as long as [he'd] like." (Hwang 2000) The man decides to stay, at the very least for another day, in spite of the rumors he has heard that other visitors to the woman's home have never left. These two very lonely middle-aged characters, alone in an isolated setting, interact as they simultaneously long for and fight against their mutual attraction and love. They are both desperately lonely but terrified of emotional intimacy, and this keeps them from acknowledging their intense feelings for one another.
The conclusion of the play ends in Scene Nine, when the woman discovers the man attempting to steal away in the dark. She confronts him with their obvious desire for and need of each other, but the man persists in leaving. The woman hangs herself as soon as he is gone. Her death thwarts the man's love for her forever, ensuring that she herself will never have to surrender to a man only to be deserted by him. She is dead and does not see that the man does return to her, his love for her stronger than his fear of love.
The play is filled with symbolism that points to the dramatic and haunting conclusion. The flowers and the shakuhatchi are symbols of beauty, lost love, intimacy and devotion, and even death. These two objects carry many profound meanings. The vase of flowers in the woman's kitchen symbolizes the many suitors that have disappointed her previously. She holds tight to beautiful memories of past lovers as she gazes upon her lovely and fragile flowers. The man steals a flower from the woman's vase and looks at it intermittently throughout the play, his eyes filled with rapture because the flower reminds him of the woman. Her death is foretold by the death and decay of this flower. The fact of the flower's death also indicates that this relationship is doomed from the very beginning to death and decay.
The shakuhatchi, a Japanese flute, is also a symbol that is fraught with meaning. The man overhears the woman playing her flute and marvels at how well she plays. She eagerly offers to play for him at any time, as a substitute for her feelings that she is too scared to reveal. In Scene Six, the woman is transformed in the man's eyes from merely attractive to incredibly beautiful, as she carries her vase of flowers accompanied by the sound of her flute. This is the moment that the man fully realizes his passion for the woman.
The conclusion of The Sound of a Voice is...