The Play (Masterplots II: Drama, Revised Edition)
In two acts, The Effects of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds juxtaposes the explosive emotional conflicts of the Hunsdorfer family against the ordered, logical pursuits of science to reveal that, like the experimental marigolds, people also mutate in response to external forces. As the play opens, Tillie Hunsdorfer introduces this theme with a voice-over in which she marvels that the atoms in her hand were once contained in different parts of the earth. The scene then shifts to the Hunsdorfer home, formerly a vegetable shop run by Beatrice’s father. The audience hears the single mother Beatrice Hunsdorfer speaking on the phone to Mr. Goodman, Tillie’s science teacher, about the reasons Tillie has been absent. Although Beatrice speaks in a complimentary fashion, once she hangs up the phone, her duplicity is revealed. She berates Tillie for putting her in the position of having to speak to the school, even though Beatrice is responsible for keeping Tillie home.
Tillie’s sister Ruth enters, states that Tillie has become the laughingstock of the school, and adds that the school keeps a file on the family. As Beatrice worries about the contents of the file, the stage goes dark, and Tillie is heard marveling with Mr. Goodman at the fountain of atoms produced in a science experiment. When the lights go back up, Tillie readies boxes of dirt for marigold seeds that have been exposed to cobalt-60 in order to study its effects. Beatrice enters...
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Dramatic Devices (Masterplots II: Drama, Revised Edition)
Mostly confined by setting to the dilapidated front room of the Hunsdorfer home, the play reaches into the outside world from a distance. Beatrice never interacts in person with anyone beyond her front door: She speaks to them by telephone, and her conversations reveal her inability to effectively communicate and her deep sense of insecurity. Likewise Tillie’s voice-overs provide insight into her motivations and serve to emphasize how removed she is from her negative-thinking family. Her visionary comments hang suspended in air, beyond the comprehension of Beatrice or Ruth. This lack of communication is further represented by the character of Nanny, who cannot hear or respond to any comments that Beatrice makes to or about her. Tillie’s attempts to explain the ideas behind her experiment to Beatrice are answered by surly self-pitying comments and unwarranted criticism.
In this highly symbolic play, Zindel infuses the ordinary with powerful messages. Simple marigolds become the harbinger of a new world of understanding for Tillie. They also suggest the power of modern science as a positive force in a chaotic, doomed world. Mr. Goodman, the science teacher, is nearly godlike in his knowledge, and Tillie, his disciple, triumphs under his tutelage. Science frees Tillie from her family’s fear and superstition, and like many who embrace science as the answer, Tillie never stops to ponder the cost of these scientific miracles.
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Form and Content (Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series, Supplement)
The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds is a pessimistic, slice-of-life picture of the “atomic age” family. This drama, written in two acts with five scenes each, centers on the Hunsdorfer family. Beatrice Hunsdorfer is divorced and attempting to support herself and her daughters by caring for terminally ill patients. She hates her life and blames everyone except herself for her misery. Beatrice takes out her frustrations on her daughters, as well as whichever patient happens to be boarding with her at the time. Lately, she has taken to harassing Mr. Goodman, the young science teacher who has befriended Tillie.
The first act of this short, quickly paced play belongs almost totally to Beatrice, who develops its exposition via three long monologues, two of them telephone conversations. Her monologue in scene 2 alternates between addressing Tillie and Nanny, disparaging and threatening them both while at the same time revealing Beatrice’s shattered hopes and dreams. Yet, even though Beatrice carries the lion’s share of lines and scenes, it is the character of Tillie who is the true focus of the play.
Tillie’s real and uninhibited voice is most frequently presented to the audience in the form of recorded monologues that allow access to her most intimate thoughts. Tillie, through her science teacher, has become enamored with the concept of the atom—an infinitesimal, indestructible bit of matter that has always...
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In the early 1960s, nuclear arms began to play a big part in world relations. The Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union was in full force. In 1962, the Cuban missile crisis brought the world to the brink of disaster when the Soviet Union placed nuclear missiles aimed at the United States in Cuba. President John F. Kennedy demanded that the missiles be removed and warned that, if the missiles were launched, the United States would retaliate, resulting in an all-out nuclear war. The Soviets withdrew the missiles, but the incident deeply shattered Americans sense of well-being. Many citizens no longer felt safe. Families began to build bomb shelters in their backyards, and schools began holding regular bomb safety drills. In 1963, the United States and the U.S.S.R. agreed to install a "hotline'' from the White House to the Kremlin to try to avoid nuclear disaster. That same year the two countries and Great Britain signed a nuclear testing ban.
During this time, there was also a great deal of scientific activity and experimentation, particularly in the areas of radioactivity and nuclear energy. Scientists recognized the power that atomic energy provided, and they continued to look for ways to harness this energy for positive means. The effects of radioactivity weren't widely known, and experiments such as the one conducted by Tillie...
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The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds is a drama. The exact year is not indicated, however, the style and content of the play indicate that it is set in relatively modern times, probably during the early 1960s. Most of the action takes place in the front room of the Hunsdorfer house, a wooden structure that was once a vegetable shop run by Beatrice's father. The house is rundown and is strewn with clutter, symbolizing the broken bits and pieces of Beatrice's dreams. Beatrice has lived here her entire life. She feels trapped in her current circumstances and, to symbolize this, the playwright keeps her "trapped" in this room. Beatrice does not go out of the house during the entire course of the play.
The play is framed by Tillie's voice-overs. This gives the impression that we are seeing the story through her eyes. Tillie' s voice-overs help set up the themes of the play and give the audience a glimpse into Tillie's true self as she talks about the wonders of the atom and how science has opened her eyes to the possibilities of the world. At home Tillie is constantly stifled and berated. Zindel uses her voice-overs to allow her to speak her true feelings and dreams. This technique helps audiences to understand that Tillie is an optimist and a dreamer who can find good in the world no matter what her current circumstances.
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Compare and Contrast
1960: About 36 percent of women have jobs outside the home.
Today: 60 percent of women are in the work force.
1962: The Cuban missile crisis puts the United States on the verge of an all-out nuclear war with the Soviet Union. Schools conduct bomb safety drills.
Today: The Cold War is over and the Soviet Union no longer exists. A great deal more is known about the effects of nuclear war.
1962: The Telstar communications satellite relays the first trans-Atlantic television pictures.
Today: Many people own personal satellite dishes that allow them access to hundreds of channels.
1964: The United States space probe Ranger 7 takes the first clear, close-range photographs of the moon.
Today: The moon has been walked on, and Mars has been photographed. Space travel is increasingly common.
1964: Less than 13 percent of families are headed by a single parent. There is a strong stigma associated with living in a single-parent household.
Today: More than 27 percent of families are headed by a single parent. It is no longer unusual and does not carry the same stigma it once did.
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Topics for Further Study
What do you think Beatrice, Ruth, and Tillie will be doing ten years after the play ends? What societal influences might contribute to the characters' futures? Consider such elements as increased opportunities for women, advances in scientific research, changes in the American family, and so on.
The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds has often been compared to Tennessee Williams's play The Glass Menagerie. Both have been described as memory plays. How do memories influence the action in each play? Do the characters always relate past memories truthfully? If not, what insight does this provide into their current situation?
Tillie and Ruth are made fun of because they are growing up without a father. Does society have the same view of single-parent households today that it had in 1964? What changes in society have influenced the current view of a "typical American family''?
Tillie sees atomic energy as a discovery that opens up vast wonderful possibilities for mankind. Do you agree with her? Support your answer with examples that cite good and/or bad uses of atomic energy. What has atomic energy allowed mankind to do that was previously impossible?
In what ways could the Hunsdorfers improve their current family situation? Consider such elements as communication and honesty.
Nanny's daughter has given up responsibility for her mother's...
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The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds was presented in an abridged version as a television play in 1966. It was produced by National Educational Television and was presented as part of its New York TV Theatre series.
The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds was adapted as a film in 1972 for Twentieth-Century Fox. This version was produced and directed by Paul Newman. The screenplay is by Alvin Sargent. It stars Joanne Woodward as Beatrice.
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What Do I Read Next?
The Glass Menagerie, a play by Tennessee Williams written in 1945, also deals with shattered dreams and a mother who is unable to appreciate her children for what they really are. Her inability to face reality keeps the family trapped in the past, unable to truly communicate with each other.
100 Amazing Make-It-Yourself Science Fair Projects, written and illustrated by Glen Vecchione in 1989 is a collection of winning science fair projects for students. It contains projects on a wide variety of subjects. Specific steps to create each project and illustrations are included.
The Miracle Worker is a play written by William Gibson in 1956. It tells the story of how Helen Keller, a young girl who was blind, deaf, and dumb was taught to communicate with the world by her brilliant teacher Annie Sullivan.
Respect for Acting was written by Uta Hagen in 1973. It is a handbook that gives very good, practical advice...
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Barnes, Clive, ''Off-Broadway and Off-Off 1969-70,’’ American Theatre 1969-1970, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1970. pp. 63-74.
Barnet, Sylvan, Morton Berman, and William Burto, eds., Types of Drama: Plays and Essays, Little Brown and Company, 1972, pp. 640-641.
Eaglen, Audrey, Interview with Paul Zindel in Top of the News, Vol. 34, No. 2, Winter 1978, pp. 178-85.
Forman, Jack, ‘‘Paul Zindel,’’ in Concise Dictionary of American Literary Biography Supplement: Modern Writers, 1900-1998, Gale Research, 1998.
Frank, Anne, Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, Bantam Books, 1993, p. 263.
Haley, Beverly A., and Kenneth L. Donelson, ‘‘Pigs and Hamburger, Cadavers and Gamma Rays: Paul Zindel' s Adolescents,’’ in Elementary English, Vol. 51, No. 7, October 1974, pp. 940-945.
Hipple, Theodore, in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 52: American Writers for Children since 1960: Fiction, edited by Glenn E. Estes, Gale, 1986, pp. 405-410.
Rich, Frank, ''Amulets Against the Dragon Forces," in Hot Seat: Theater Criticism for the New York Times, 1980-1993, Random House, 1998, pp. 665-656.
Strickland, Ruth L., "Paul Zindel'' in Dictionary of Literary...
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Bibliography (Masterplots II: Drama, Revised Edition)
Sources for Further Study
Barnet, Sylvan, Morton Berman, and William Burto, eds. Types of Drama: Plays and Essays. New York: Little, Brown, 1972.
Dace, Tish. “Paul Zindel.” In Contemporary Dramatists, edited by K. A. Berney. 5th ed. New York: St. James Press, 1993.
Haley, Beverly A., and Kenneth L. Donelson. “Pigs and Hamburgers, Cadavers and Gamma Rays: Paul Zindel’s Adolescents.” Elementary English 51 (October, 1974): 940-945.
Oliver, Edith. “Why the Lady Is a Tramp.” The New Yorker, April 18, 1970, 82, 87-88.
Zindel, Paul. “Interview with Paul Zindel.” Interview by Audrey Eaglen. Top of the News, Winter, 1978, 178-185.
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