theatre, theater, Eugene O'Neill, The Hairy Ape, victim, victimization, Elinor Fuchs, Sophie Treadwell, Machinal, Lillian Hellman, The Little Foxes, Clifford Odets, Waiting for Lefty, Langston Hughes, Mulatto, David Mamet, Oleanna, Grisel
It is my belief that theatre is the telling of stories, and that playwrighting is the creation of those stories. Regardless of the underlying motives (to make the audience think, to make them feel, to offend them or to draw them in,) the core of the theatre world is the storyline. Some critics write of the importance of audience effect and audience reception; after all, a performance can only be so named if at least one person is there to witness it. So much of audience effect is based the storyline itself - that structure of which is created by the power characters have over others. Theatre generalists learn of Aristotle's well-made play structure. Playwrights quickly learn to distinguish between protagonists and antagonists. Actors are routinely taught physicalizations of creating "status" onstage. A plotline is driven by the power that people, circumstances, and even fate exercise over protagonists. Most audience members naturally sympathize with the underdog or victim in a given storyline, and so the submissive or oppressed character becomes (largely) the most integral. By what process, then, is this sense of oppression created in a play? How can oppression/victimization be analyzed with regard to character development? With emerging criticism suggesting that the concept of character is dying, what portrayals of victim have we seen in the late 20th century? What framework can we use to fully understand this complex concept? What are we to see in the future, and how will the concept evolve? In my attempt to answer these questions, I first analyze the definition of "victim" and what categories of victimization exist - the victim of a crime, for example, or the victim of psychological oppression. "Victim" is a word with an extraordinarily complex definition, and so for the purposes of this study, I focus entirely on social victimization - that is, oppression or harm inflicted on a character by their peers or society. I focus on three major elements of this sort of victimization: harm inflicted on a character by another (not by their own actions), harm inflicted despite struggle or protest, and a power or authority endowed on the victimizer by the victim. After defining these elements, I analyze the literary methods by which playwrights can represent or create victimization - blurred lines of authority, expressive text, and the creation of emotion through visual and auditory means. Once the concept of victim is defined and a framework established for viewing it in the theatre, I analyze the victimization of one of American theatre's most famous sufferers - Eugene O'Neill's Yank in The Hairy Ape. To best contextualize this character, I explore the theories of theatre in this time period - reflections of social struggles, the concept of hierarchy, and clearly drawn class lines. I also position The Hairy Ape in its immediate historical and theoretical time period, to understand if O'Neill created a reflection on or of his contemporaries. Finally, I look at the concept of victim through the nonrealistic and nonlinear plays of the 20th century - how it has changed, evolved, or even (as Eleanor Fuchs may suggest) died. I found that my previously established framework for "making victim" has change dramatically to apply to contemporary nonlinear theatre pieces. Through this study, I have found that the lines of victimization and authority are as blurred today in nonrealistic and nonlinear theatre as they were in the seemingly "black and white" dramas of the 1920s and 30s. In my research, I have found the very beginnings of an extraordinarily complex definition of "victim".
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Master of Arts (M.A.)
College of Arts and Humanities
Length of Campus-only Access
Masters Thesis (Open Access)
Hahl, Victoria, "Making Victim: Establishing A Framework For Analyzing Victimization In 20th Century American Theatre" (2008). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 3805.