The Sound of a Voice

by David Henry Hwang

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 558

The Man
The male character is an aging Samurai warrior, who is traveling all over the countryside of Japan. There is no mention of why he is wandering, only that he feels that he must keep moving on. He is very lonely and is also afraid of growing old and losing his skills. It is suggested that he has come to the woman’s home to kill her, as the surrounding villagers believe the woman to be a witch who mesmerizes men and entraps their spirits. The villagers would like to be rid of her.

Although the man tries to remain objective about his supposed purpose, he slowly opens his heart to the woman. He becomes somewhat entranced by her music and later by her beauty and her tenderness. Slowly, he changes from being just a visitor to becoming a companion, helping her in her daily chores, enjoying her company. However, when the woman out maneuvers him in swordplay and then later humiliates him by taking his sword away from him while he performs a dangerous meditation, he decides that he can no longer stay with her. When he attempts to leave, however, his emotions pull him back to her home. He returns too late, though, for the woman has committed suicide during his indecision. He then attempts to play the flute, a feat that the woman had mastered. The play ends with the man trying to make a sound come out of the flute, a sound that the woman has referred to as a substitute for the sound of a human voice. The man is unsuccessful. In some ways, by the end of the play, the man is attempting to take over the role of the woman. He attempts to replace her but is unable to do so.

The Woman
The woman is a self-sufficient elder female who lives in the woods alone. She has mastered many skills on her own, except for the ability to keep herself from feeling lonely. She craves the company of a man, someone she can care for. Her love, however, is so strong, and her abilities so advanced, that she scares most men away. When the man appears, she tries one last time to open her heart, to allow him to see her as honestly as she can portray herself. She cannot help being who she is and yet she fears that in totally exposing herself she will once again lose the opportunity to share love with a man.

In the beginning, she is shy. She reveals her true beauty and abilities slowly. She plays out the role of servant to the man, then returns to her private quarters, where she expresses herself more fully but in the privacy of her room. It is in her room that she fully blossoms; eventually, the man gains a glimpse of her beauty. This encourages her to share her feelings with him. However, as she demonstrates her skills and gains confidence in her love of the man, she also humiliates him, unknowingly. She is stronger than he is. She is more skilled. She is also more fragile, having had her heart broken many times before. In his indecision, the man rebukes her, and she cannot stand it. She would rather die than lose yet another chance to love. In the end, she commits suicide.

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