Themes

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Last Updated on May 14, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 805

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Death and Rebirth
Numerous images and symbols of death and rebirth occur throughout The Verge. First and foremost are the symbolic elements lent by the plants. Through her plants, Claire brings forth life. She has the power to create this life, but she also has the power to destroy it, as she does at the end of act 1 with the Edge Vine. Claire also intimates throughout the play that she is not afraid of death and would perhaps find it a welcome respite from her horrible existence, ‘‘Why should we mind lying under the earth?’’ Claire believes that if people are ‘‘planted’’ in the earth, they might sprout forth anew into a better world. When she kills Tom at the end of the play, it is not out of malice, but love. She calls it her ‘‘gift’’ to him because in Claire’s idiosyncratic mind, death is the best possibility for life.

Patterns
Patterns of all kinds are prominent symbolic elements throughout The Verge. The play contains many visual and social patterns that serve to emphasize the restraints by which Claire feels trapped. Glaspell uses this symbolic element to emphasize the static, unchanging nature of Claire’s world. The patterns are introduced early in the play in the first stage description of the greenhouse, ‘‘The frost has made patterns on the glass as if—as Plato would have it—the patterns inherent in abstract nature and behind all life had to come out. . . . And the wind makes patterns of sound around the glass house.’’ Harry’s actions in the play also exhibit definite patterns, ones that Claire finds unbearable. For example, in the first act, Harry refuses to eat his egg without salt. He has always taken his egg with salt, and he intends to keep on doing it that way, no matter what. Claire feels increasingly trapped by these social patterns, and thus, has a mounting desire to break free of them. Claire also attempts to break free with the patterns of her speech, but she is unsuccessful and becomes increasingly agitated, ‘‘Stop doing that!—words going into patterns; They do it sometimes when I let come what’s there. Thoughts take pattern—then pattern is the thing.’’ Glaspell uses the patterns as a metaphor for the way Victorian society trapped women into predefined roles.

Shattering and Exploding
Images of shattering and exploding occur throughout The Verge in both the dialogue and the action of the play. Claire wants to rearrange old concepts and ways of being, and she believes the best way to do this is to first explode what already exists. In act I, the audience is introduced to Claire’s desire to shatter conventions and affect change when she says, ‘‘I want to break it up! If it were all in pieces, we’d be shocked to aliveness.’’ This theme is visually emphasized a moment later when Claire smashes the egg. The theme is also tied to various objects and images throughout the remainder of the play. For example, in act I, Claire talks of how plants can ‘‘explode their species,’’ something she finds very ‘‘beautiful’’ and ‘‘brave.’’ In act III, Claire says to Tom, ‘‘Perhaps the madness that gave you birth will burst again.’’ Of course, at the end of the play, Claire literally shatters the Breath of Life plant by knocking Tom into it, and she deliberately shatters the greenhouse when she shoots through the roof.

Locked Out and Locked In
In The Verge, Claire feels trapped within her circumstances, and Glaspell uses numerous visual and textual images to emphasize Claire’s imprisonment. In act I, Harry tries the trap door and finds it is locked. He then exasperatedly says, ‘‘Well I love the way she keeps people locked out!’’ This, of course, refers to the trap door, but on a thematic level, also refers to the larger issue of how Claire keeps everyone locked out from her own feelings. A short time later in the play, the theme is visually played out when Tom is locked out of the greenhouse. Later in the play, when Claire is trying to explain her view on why the war afforded such great possibilities she says, ‘‘We were shut in with what wasn’t so.’’ Claire was hoping that the war might help society to break free from its conventions and restraints and for human beings to find a better way to communicate with each other. Unfortunately, she finds that this did not come about and that human beings are still trapped within the same patterns and circumstances. At the end of the play, Glaspell once again foregrounds the theme of Claire’s desire to escape from what she perceives to be her prison, with Claire’s final speech. Her last word before sinking into the revery of the hymn is ‘‘Out.’’

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