Dr. Givings is initially defined by his devotion to scientific inquiry. His manner is both clinical and professional, whether dealing with his patients or his wife. Ruhl marries this scientific bent with his conservative nature and need for control. Early in the play, he treats his wife as a child, giving her orders and admonishing her for transgressions (particularly her infatuation with his invention). As the play progresses, his scientific nature threatens to obscure his understanding of his problematic marriage. He nearly loses his wife when he insists his scientific understanding of humanity prevents him from being jealous of his wife’s attraction to Leo. Ironically, he becomes manlier by acknowledging the very vulnerability that he initially eschewed (most likely because of his traditional views of men and how they deal with their feelings). When he undresses for Catherine at the end of the play, he admits his embarrassment since the two have never seen each other naked, despite having a child. When he agrees to make love with his wife in the snow, in a public place, he shows that his own inhibitions about sexuality have slowly begun to change.
Catherine Givings’s dissatisfaction with her life fuels the play every bit as much as her husband’s initially mysterious treatments. Her near-dalliance with Leo is explained by the degree to which her needs are neglected by her husband. Her feelings of inadequacy about her inability to feed her baby, as well as her subsequent jealousy of Elizabeth’s ability to take her place, remain largely unnoticed by her husband. In addition, she repeatedly attempts to connect with her husband and learn more about his work, only to be shut out further. While Ruhl is clearly voicing a dissatisfaction doubtlessly experienced by many women from this period, she makes Catherine’s awakening personal rather than political. One of Catherine’s unique characteristics is her response to nature and the natural world. She frequently goes out into the elements without adequate coverage and finds...
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