Critical Essay on Seascape

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1612

In Edward Albee's Seascape, there are two female characters, each part of a couple. One, Nancy, is a human being, in a struggle with her husband, Charlie, over their future. She is more dominant than her husband and wants to take chances. The other female character is Sarah, the human-sized lizard who has just emerged with her mate, Leslie, from the sea to live on the land. Sarah generally defers to Leslie, giving her opinion when asked but rarely acting completely on her own. The contrast between these two characters echoes some of the changes women's status and position in the United States were undergoing when the play was written. Nancy is depicted as more evolved (liberated) than Sarah, literally and physiologically.

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The 1970s were a dynamic time in American history, especially for women. After the civil rights movement and the social activist revolution of the 1960s, feminism and the rights of women emerged as one of the major social issues of the time. Many women no longer regarded homemaking as their primary goal in life. Greater numbers of women were becoming more educated and/or entering the workforce. More education meant more employment opportunities and life options for women. Women became more outspoken about what they wanted in their own lives and from their partners in a number of areas. Still, feminism was controversial in American society. A number of men and even some women feared these changes would negatively affect the family and threaten the status of American men. In some ways, these opponents were correct; for example, the divorce rate did rise in this time period. These issues about women and related controversies were examined on a number of fronts in popular culture, including films, television programs, and plays.

These ideas comprise one subtext of Seascape. Arguably, the main character and the vital life force of the play is Nancy. Nancy is near retirement age, but her actual age is not stated. Though it is implied that she stayed home and raised her family while her husband worked, Nancy is ready to experience more of life now that they are free. Like many women of the 1970s, she is suffering from empty nest syndrome. All of her three children have been raised and have left home, indeed, Nancy and Charlie have grandchildren. When Charlie retires, he would like to rest and "do ... nothing." She would like to meet new and interesting people and go out and see the world. Nancy wants to evolve away from her role as "mother" in order to create her own identity. Charlie wants no part of it.

Nancy repeatedly expresses her dissatisfaction with her role as wife and mother. Reflecting on a time earlier in their marriage when Charlie was distant and their problems were not discussed, Nancy muses to him, "Good wife, patient, see him through it, whatever it is, wonder if it isn't something you haven't done, or have; write home for some advice, but oh, so busy, with the children and the house. Stay neat; don't pry; weather it." Later, when Charlie reminds her of what a good husband and family man he has been to her, Nancy agrees but is also "slightly bitter" as the stage directions describe her. She tells him, "Well, we'll wrap you in the flag when you're gone, and do taps." Nancy cannot accept that they have had the "good life" that Charlie keeps going on about, because for her, life is not something in the past that is over and done with.

Charlie plays the role of the threatened man of the time period. It is Charlie who puts a damper on Nancy's plan to live traveling from beach to beach. He repeatedly dismisses her needs and desires. Charlie tells Nancy over and over in act I that she would not like living at the beach or any other active lifestyle. She resists his attempts to control her, and goes as far as to admit she might like to have her...

(The entire section contains 6957 words.)

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