The Sound of a Voice

by David Henry Hwang

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Loneliness and Isolation
Hwang’s play The Sound of a Voice introduces two characters. First, there is a woman who lives alone in an isolated home in a small country village. Then there is a man, who travels alone throughout the country, a man who has no home. Both the woman and the man share a dislike of solitude. They also share the fear of being hurt by love, which keeps them locked in their separate psychological cages. They are both tremendously lonely, so much so that the man, at one point, sleeps near a waterfall because he has a strong desire to hear the sounds of human voices, and the waterfall is as close as he can come to simulating that sound. The woman, on the other hand, teaches herself to play a Japanese flute, which is the closest she can come to mimicking the human voice. When they meet, they admit their loneliness to one another; but because they have lived so isolated not only from other people but also from their own emotions, the tearing down of the walls they have built to protect their hearts, in the end, destroys them.

Tragic Love
The characters in Hwang’s play are both vulnerable to love. They both crave it, and they both fear it. The man is afraid that love will rob him of his powers. The woman is afraid that love will break her heart. The woman, at first, appears to be the more willing of the two to open up to the power of love. However, she has done so in the past, only to have the man of her affections leave her. It takes longer for the man to realize that he loves the woman. He first sees her as unattractive but kind. After staying with her, he finds beauty in her and becomes fascinated with her. However, when her skills in swordsmanship outshine his own, he backs away from her, denying himself any emotional fulfillment. He blames the woman for shaming him. Eventually, he realizes his love and is willing to commit himself to her. Unfortunately, he comes to this conclusion too late. The woman, because she would rather die than have him leave her, becomes confused by the man’s indecision and takes her life.

The woman represents the often overlooked beauty of female middle age. When the man first sees her, he sees only her age. She is also often referred to, by the local villagers, as a witch because she lives alone, is aging, and yet reputedly is still capable of luring men. Since she is not young, people assume that the only way she could possibly attract a man is to place a spell on him. The longer that the man stays at the woman’s house, the more appealing she becomes. He begins to appreciate her kindness, her skills, and her femininity. He finds her beauty by truly seeing and appreciating her rather than comparing her to a young woman. The man, on the other hand, is an aging Samurai swordsman. He makes fun of the fat that has accumulated around his middle. His movements are slower as are his reactions when he sword plays with the woman. He is humiliated and frustrated by his age and his declining abilities. He is shamed by the fact that a mere woman can outmaneuver him. He becomes disgusted with himself and blames woman for having stolen his powers.

Fear of Intimacy
Both the man and the woman have a fear of intimacy. This is demonstrated in many different ways, beginning with their inability to...

(This entire section contains 870 words.)

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tell one another their true names. The woman’s fear differs from the man’s, however. She fears that if she allows herself to fall in love again, she will end up having yet another part of her heart taken away from her. She has loved in the past and has been hurt. Although she is afraid, her fear does not stop her from hoping that the man will love her and never leave her. She is able to fantasize about the possibilities of love and yet when she senses that the man is leaving, she feels incapable of surviving yet another defeat. She craves intimacy so much that she would rather die than live any longer without it.

The man fears that if he allows himself to become intimate with the woman, she will entrap him. She will hold him prisoner, as he assumes she has done to every other man who has stopped at her house. The man hears the voices of those men entrapped in the flowers that the woman tends. He does not want to become one of them. He is especially fearful after the woman demonstrates that she is better at swordplay than he is. He also becomes disgruntled when the woman takes away his sword in the midst of a so-called dangerous meditation that could end in the man’s death. He decides to leave the woman, despite his acknowledged love for her. When he tries to depart, he discovers that he cannot go. In the last scene, he has overcome his fear. Unfortunately, he has done so too late.