The character of Martha in The Children’s Hour by Lillian Hellman is driven by a dark secret, which makes her “nervous and high strung.” Lines that characters speak in plays are not always truths; just as people in real life lie, so do characters in literature. There are several moments throughout the play that Martha is covering up her real feelings and underlying motives when it comes to her friend and co-owner of the boarding school, Karen.
Written in 1934, the playwright chose the risky theme of a suspected lesbian love affair between the two central characters. The accusations against them spread throughout the community after being initiated by a disgruntled student. Karen and Martha's reputations end up destroyed before the truth is revealed that they did not engage in any illicit affair; however, the apologies are too little, too late, and they opt not to return to court to overturn a verdict.
The secret revealed by Martha to Karen is in a monologue expressing her inner truth that she indeed may have always been in love with Karen, and even though they never acted upon it, her shame and guilt over her feelings created great internal conflict. In the end, Martha commits suicide.
So what type of animal would Martha be? I see her as a rabbit, running away from herself, scared of her own shadow, hiding from others. She could also be considered a female deer, as she is young and sensitive, though when deer get scared, they usually freeze, and I see Martha portrayed as more of an internally nervous person.
I do not see her as a predator type of animal, so look at prey animals who have some type of nervous quality, and I think you’ll find one that fits.