Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Drama, Revised Edition)
The title, Machinal, pronounced either as the French word meaning “mechanical” or to rhyme with “bacchanal” (suggesting an orgy of women otherwise repressed by their male-dominated society), implies the intertwined themes of the play: the modern commercial-industrial society’s reinforcement of the stultifying effects of patriarchy on subjugated women. Inevitably, the play seems to say, the subordinated will seek freedom and significance by whatever means they can, even by violence.
The power of industrial and commercial mechanization to turn workers into robots (a newly minted term in the 1920’s) was the subject of much of that era’s social criticism. Like other expressionist dramas, Treadwell’s Machinal uses mechanical devices to make her point: here, unnerving, vulgarizing, routinizing, isolating, and dehumanizing the characters of the play. Helen is unnerved by the great underground machine, the subway train, packing people into its breathless cars like sardines in a can. The clerks in her office become as numerical, alphabetical, and categorized as the materials with which they work: The Telephone Girl’s responses are as routine as a phone’s ringing, and the telephone becomes a factor in isolating the characters rather than in encouraging communication. Even the music in the speakeasy and outside the lovers’ room is vulgarized by a mechanical player piano and hand organ. The final isolation and dehumanization by...
(The entire section is 506 words.)
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Expressionism is the leading theme in Machinal. Expressionism is a theory in art, drama, or writing that seeks to depict the subjective emotions and responses that objects and events arouse in the artist, dramatist or writer. Before exploring expressionism in Machinal, the term “subjective” must first be understood. To depict a subjective emotion or response, Treadwell would have to perfectly convey her personal feeling. Philosophically, it is impossible to convey a subjective emotion or response because it is inherent to each individual; it is a matter of personal taste. Hence, Treadwell cannot convey her subjective feeling to anyone because once someone else experiences her attempt to convey her emotion or response, it necessarily becomes the other person’s subjective interpretation of her emotion or response. This is a difficult concept to grasp, but it is crucial to understanding expressionism.
Artistically, expressionism exists in a remarkable way. In attempts to convey their emotions, painters and dramatists did works that depicted raw and powerfully emotional states of mind. Treadwell was considered an expressionist because she abandoned the traditional structure of plays and delivered her plotlines through unique, fresh techniques. She used real events, like the Snyder-Gray murder trial and her interviews with Pancho Villa, to pour her own raw emotion into the creation of an...
(The entire section is 827 words.)