(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

In Cloud Nine, Churchill carefully examines the effect of rigid gender roles learned by both men and women in Western society. The difficulty that people can have in learning these roles is evident in the experiences of the three children in the play. To dramatize her point, Churchill has the young Edward played by a woman, Cathy played by a man, and the child Victoria represented in the first act by a dummy or doll.

Edward demonstrates the most difficulty adjusting to the male role. He has an affinity for dolls and necklaces, and he is unable to perform well in the male arena, whether he is playing ball or watching servants begin flogged. He nevertheless internalizes these rigid gender roles, for even in the second act, when he is openly homosexual, he wants to be the “perfect wife” and turn his lover, Gerry, into the “perfect husband.” Following the attempt to call up the goddess, he lives with Victoria and Lin. Here he learns to stretch the prescribed roles; even though he is doing the housework, he tells Gerry that he no longer thinks in terms of the wifely role.

Cathy, the modern child, should be freer than the Victorian Edward. She is being reared by her mother, a lesbian who dislikes men and encourages Cathy’s free expression, even when it includes an affinity for guns. Yet Cathy is not immune to peer pressure, and she insists on wearing dresses to school after she is called a boy.

Restrictive gender roles continue to be trouble for adults. Betty, who appears to be the perfect wife, longs to betray her husband and family by running off with the dashing explorer. Maud, her mother, still serves as an enforcer of what is proper, reminding her daughter of her duty. Betty does not escape until she leaves Clive in act 2 for her own journey of...

(The entire section is 735 words.)