|The Love-hate Relationship in Lillian Hellman's Play "Toys in the Attic"
Dr.Nayera EL Miniawi
Ever since the days of Cain and Abel, the subject of sibling jealousy or fraternal complex has been an intriguing controversial topic of discussion. So while ethics and morals affirm brotherly love as a state of mutual affection and self sacrifice, psychoanalytic interpretation of siblings relations, according to Lacan, conflrms that the most frequent reactions between two siblings are "showing off, seduction and tyranny" (Lacan, 24).
In real life, our writer Lillian Hellman was an only child, yet in her most memorable plays, siblings' interaction and conflicts constitute a major theme and a vital ingredient in the framework of the family of her dramatic creations which often motivate and perpetuate intricate plots. In such plays, adult siblings exhibit ambiguous passions where love, hate and jealousy are major constituents or ingredients. This ambivalent feeling is defined by Lacan as: …"the fascination which tha subject has for the image of the rival: a fascination which even though it asserts itself as hate i.e. negative, and even though it justifies itself generated by the subject in a self- defeating way… often dominates the amorous passion itself to such an extent that it can be considered as the very focus of passion" (Ibid, 17).
In Hellman's plays, the brother – sister relation is not always a simple loving one. It is rather a complex relationship where tensions are often felt, and undercurrents of dislike, envy, greed and even incest exist. The supposedly clear and placid surface of these relationships is marred. In this respect, Kloss believes that it is a crystallization of "love and hate, the creative and destructive principles, judged.., to be the innate pattern of the soul." (Kloss, 14).
In Toys in the Attic the brother – sister relationship motif is an intricate and dominant one. The play in considered to be Hellman's "most textured and complex play-not because of intricate plotting, but because of the many layered often ambiguous characterization". (Falk, 84-5) It is a story of a peculiar love- hate relationship between two maiden sisters, Anna and Carrie, and their young brother Julian who has always depended on his sisters for financial and moral support, It is a tragedy of a thirty four year old man who, to his sisters, is and will always be their baby brother. This 'child –man' has his own dreams of making his elder sisters proud of him. Hellman was not interested in what the characters did, as much as she was interested in the motives behind their deeds. Those characters acted upon impulse to protect a make-belief world of their own making which became imperative for their survival. They use their lies to conceal ugliness and to sugar coat an otherwise bitter status quo.
Act I opens up on a scene between the two sisters Anna and Carrie at their home. Hellman employs her stylistic ingenuity at once to convey to her audience a sense of hidden strain and unease between the sisters. Lederer considers that, "… the most effective aspect of Act I dialogue is the apparent discontinuity. Out of a life time of small talk made to cover the empty spaces in their lives, the two sisters have the habit of not asnswering directly." (Lederer, 99)
The short incomplete utterances transmit abrasiveness and sound as such:
Anna: Paper says a storm.
Carrie: … I will take the plants in.
Anna: I just put them out. Let them have a little storm air.
Carrie: I don't like them out in a storm. (Toys, 685).
The word 'storm' is repeated three times in the previously cited quotation which helps foretell the family storm that is about to happen, and which will wreck the lives of those related people. It is as if physical nature acts as an omen, a reflection or an echo of the human destiny and psychological nature of the protagonists. Their contradictory points of view are also evident in the juxtaposition of the words they use. One says 'take… in', the other contradicts by 'put… out'. The elder sister uses the imperative form to order her sister to let the plants stand in the storm air which she thinks is good for them. Her sister quickly contradicts using the negative form which serves a double purpose of expressing her dislike of that type of air as well as reflecting the sisters' negative attitude towards each other. The dialogue which takes place between the two sisters is formed of disjointed amputated sentences which reflect hidden conflicts and unease as one sister – Anna- a tone of intelligent mocking and subtle irony with her sister. When Carrie syas: I didn't go to the park.
I went to the cemetery.
Anna asks sardonically:
Everybody still there? (Toys, p. 686)
Anna, the older of the two sisters, seems to be more independent, more reliable and more in control of situations. Carrie is younger and prettier; she appears to be more emotionally vulnerable but is equally intelligent and more cunning. By the end of the play, an astonishing change in her behavior and reaction to things is quite breath- taking. This does not mean that new traits in her psychological make-up have been riveted artificially at a last moment notice. On the contrary, these personality traits have been brewing and waiting for the right moment to appear as strongly welded ones. Alan S. Downer, critic and historian of the stage, describes Carrie as such: "She is what evil must always be, the other side of good, tragic because she cannot know of her enslavement, because she can never have the opportunity to escape." (Downer, 42).
The two sisters, who on one level seem entirely different, are to Mrs. Albertine Prince, their brother's mother-in-law, so similar that she confuses one with the other: Strange. Sometimes I can't tell which of you is speaking. Your manner, Miss Carrie, is so southern. And then suddenly you are saying what I had thought Miss Anna might say… It is as if you had exchanged faces, back and forth, back and forth. (Toys, p. 694). Mr. Prine has more shrewd insight into the real nature of the two sisters than anyone else, even the sisters themselves. In many cases appearances are deceptive and the real truth is either hard to detect or is very relative. Different as they are, Carrie and Anna formed two faces of the same coin. In Pentimento, an autobiography, Hellman writes: "I suppose all women living together take on what we think of as male and female roles, but my aunts had made a rather puzzling mix. Jenny who was the prettier, the softer in face and manner, has assumed a confidence she didn't have, and had taken on., the practical, less pleasant duties. Hannah, who had once upon a time been more intelligent than Jenny, had somewhere given over." (Pentimento, 316).
Lillian Hellman's inner self is in her plays. This is true because her best plays could not have been written without the background experience her family provided: Julian, the brother in Toys in the Attic, is a reflection of Hellman's father with his unsuccessful shoe business; the two over- protective devoted maiden sisters, Hannah and Jenny, and the silly trouble – maker but loving wife. But in the play the crafty pen of the writer makes a successful Julian return home considerably rich and a number of complicated themes result consequently. We realize that some people do not really want to achieve what they have long claimed to desire due to an innate fear of change.
Another theme shows that lover's wounds cause more trouble than those of foes since the wound inflicted by a lover is least expected, and it cuts way deeper and hurts all the more. A third theme illustrates how some people advance and develop other's dependence on them, that they become emotionally and romantically deprived, once this dependence ceases to exist. Thus, Toys in the Attic becomes a story of what happens to child-like adults when their protective shield of self-deception is suddenly removed. Carrie makes sure that her brother won't ever grow up, and Anna will be forced to act as a mother to her spoiled siblings.
Our playwright "digs into the skeletons in her family closet and into the American past in the south that she has known as a child. Here was greed, evil and hate to be exposed." (Moody, 78) But this should not be taken to mean that her plays were autobiographical. For as Jung ascertains the fact that "what is essential in a work of art is that is should rise above the realm of personal life and speak from the spirit and heart of the poet as man, to the spirit of mankind." (Jung in Lodge, 185) To every creative person, as the case with Lillian Hellman, there are two sides: one of them is that of a human being with a personal life, and the other is that of the impersonal creative writer. Too much subjectivity is not required in a work of art, yet no human being can totally detach himself from his own surroundings which he can not help but be affected by: The artist as a human being … may have moods and a will and personal aims, but as an artist, he is 'man' in a higher sense he is 'collective man' – one who carries and shapes the unconscious, psychic life of mankind. (Jung in Lodge, 174) Hence the collective unconscious of mankind, according to Jung, is the recurrence of certain images, stories, and figures called "archetypes". Hellman, as a child, was very fond of her two aunts Jenny and Hannah who were both funny and serious. The parallelism between them and the two maiden sisters in Toys in the Attic is quite obvious.
The two aunts did not have the shade of morbidity that the protagonists sisters had. But one cannot help wondering whether or not Lillian Hellman had felt sometimes that her aunts or one of them harboured some kind of incestuous abnormal affection for their only brother. This is reflected in the play, for when Anna accuses her younger sister of, "…having always wanted to go to bed with their brother, it is the kind of revelation of sexual dishonesty that Tennessee Williams employed so effectively. This is a dramatic climax…". (Wright, 255).
The Berniers sisters are in the habit of exchanging weekly presents which are always candied oranges and perfumes. Although they both hated that routine, yet they have kept it up for years as a false pretence, a token of their warm relationship. It is not until they meet with a major crisis in their life that they face other with the sordid truth:
Anna: And the candied oranges I brought each week?
Carrie: I was sick of them ten years ago.
Anna (softly): Well, people change and forget to tell each other. Too bad-causes so many mistakes. (Toys, p. 745).
Their brother's tragic flaw, like theirs, is that he fails to change, thus failing to grow up i.e. to mature. He is still haunted by little boy's dreams of making his sisters proud of him. Through the unraveling of the plot, it is discovered that the real problem with these characters lies in the conflict between their real selves and the self deception they are trapped in. "They dislike each other thoroughly, (and their old house and their dead parents too) and their talk quickly moves onto the familiar level of raspy abrasiveness – the rub of the short tight cord of Hellman family feeling." (Moers, 99).
The two middle – aged spinsters talk of their Papa and Mama, dead twenty years ago. Obviously none of them has totally, out grown his infantile tendencies, dreams and complexes. It was Freud's great discovery that neuroses have a causal origin in the psychic realm that they their rise from emotional states and from real or imagined childhood experience. (Jung in Lodge, 184) Carrie and Anna not only dislike the exchanged weakly gifts, but they also loathe the house under whose roof they have lived a life time. When Carrie wonders how Anna can love that house, the latter confesses that she has hated it as long as she can remember. She had to force herself to have her meals with her parents inside that awful tomb –like house, as Carrie described it, while her two siblings had theirs outside on a terrace.
Carrie: I don't think Julian liked it either. That's why we used to have our supper out here on the steps. Nice of Mama and Papa to let us, wasn't it? Must have been a great deal of trouble carrying the dishes out here. Mama had an agreeable nature.
Anna: I carried the dishes out.
Carrie: Did you? Yes, so you did. Thank you, Anna. Thank you very much. Did you mind eating with Mama and Papa (points off) in the awful oak tomb?
Anna: Yes, I minded.
Carrie: Well, it sure was nice thing to do. I never knew you minded. Funny how you can live so close and long and not know things, isn't it? (Toys, pp. 686-687).
Anna, who has always played the role of a mother to her siblings, had to carry their trays to them outdoors. The younger sister never suspected that Anna minded. Here is definitely a human problem of lack of communication between the closest of all people. The sisters' disappointment was even greater when they got to know that Julian had actually bought them a house they detested. This house becomes the symbol of all their ugly memories and their sad frustrations. The purchase of the house creates an ironic situation among supposedly loving siblings which makes one wonder if they ever really understood each other.
Julian comes back to his anxiously waiting sisters loaded with gifts and beaming with happiness because of his new success in the world of business. His hands are full of presents for his sisters. He sweeps Carrie into his arms, and embraces Anna in an equally loving but less boisterous manner. Julian's presents to his sisters are all very expensive but inappropriate items: evening dresses, cloaks with furs, jewellery and the mortgage to their house, which they were hoping to leave one day. Ellen Moers comments that, "These forbidden extravagances are the most dangerous "toys in the attic" which came spilling out through the course of Hellman's most Freudian play. Nothing that comes later – not the panting of bridal lust or the embarrassments of impotence, not the revelations of incestuous desire and interracial coupling – can match it for sheer nausea." (Moers, 99).
The brother's exaggerated and awkward exhibition of affection is caricatured and ridiculed in his gruesome hideous gifs to his sisters. These gifts are symbolic "toys" in the attic of a still child –like thirty four year old brother. It is ironic how these gifts hurt more than they please. Julian brought back these handfuls of expensive inappropriate gifts to show his sisters how much he loved them and how much he appreciated their concern over his welfare. Probably deep down inside him, Julian felt that these presents are one way of paying back a debt to his sisters for their efforts, and thus alleviating a sense of guilt that troubled his conscience, on a conscious or subconscious level.
Lillian Hellman emphasized the universal theme that "man enjoys dreaming of the unattainable, but once the goal is within reach, he finds it less desirable." (Laufe, 296). Characters are more content with their unattainable dreams than of fulfilled ones. When the dream of going on a tour to Europe is made possible by Julian's generous offer, both sisters are frightened, to some extent, as the actual or the truth might shatter a dream, a world of make-belief, and a long-standing reality. Carrie admits to Anna that both of them had no real intention of actually going to Europe. The adventure in prospect is a threat to their routine life, the latter being boring but secure, tiring but safe. That life does not now look as dreary and boring as it seemed to be, but rather stable and constant. Julian's offer becomes a threat of robbing away all their 'childish toys' i.e. their dreams, which they have always cherished. The realization of a dream is a consumption of it.
The first Act ends with Julian forcing caviar into Carrie's mouth. He is celebrating and laughing while she is angry accusing him of making fun of her. She tells him: "You're laughing at me. You've never laughed at me before." (Toys, p. 710). It is worth observing here that most of Carrie's speeches start with "you always" or "you used" when she is addressing her brother. This signifies her attachment to a rose-coloured past, in which her brother was a central figure, and her continuous disappointment with a dreary present; but Alan S. Downer believes that, "the hero (Julian) who tries to share his unexpected good fortune with his outraged sisters and uncomprehending wife, all of whom profess devotion to him and his interest, must watch in bewilderment his triumph turn into defeat… He is the inadequate male who must yield to the all powerful female." (Downer, 41).
Hellman, a feminist at heart, portrays here even the weakest of female figures as a potential source of strength and innate power capable of executing and changing the course of events. While Julian, a weak male figure, is disillusioned and his dreams are aborted, laments saying:
"It's a crazy world. For years, they (his sisters) tell me about what's going to be, what I'm going to do, you know get rich and big time. The more I fail, the louder they cheer me with what we're all going to have. And so all my life I dream about coming up those steps carrying everything and I make up what they will say, and what I will say-(smiles) Well, when it came, I guess it was hard to believe, maybe. Even frightened them, I never thought of that and I just bought anything if it cost a lot, and made Carrie sick on Caviar, and everybody acted scared, and like they were going to cry". (Toys, pp. 721-722).
This is surely no Shakespearean-like soliloquy but it is an articulate monologue, in which the speaker comes face to face with the truth. In this revealing speech Julian explains himself and others to himself and to others. He expresses his deep philosophical ideas in simple plain words which explain the past, present and probably the future lives of those three siblings. Hellman does not take sides with her characters. She lets them act out their own course in life and their fates. The play starts as an inquiry into the moral consequences of wealth and ends with a tone of abnormal psychology, namely, incest.
From psychology we learn that a person's ungratified desires might persist in his adulthood and conflict with mature expectations or norms. These repressed wishes can turn into a fetish on which all subsequent pleasures or frustrations depend. This idea is reflected in the following quotation and finds its backing in Hellman's dramatic treatment of several characters such as Carrie and her siblings:
"The past years of childhood, having no relation to the actual threats confronting the adult, may nevertheless control behavior. And the same may be said for the effects of undiminished infantile anger. Guilt born of the turbulent thinking of early years may drown out the innocence of adulthood desires-rather than the commonly assumed reverse".
Carrie, with her sister, have been living a quiet isolated life. Although she was a working woman, yet their social contacts seemed to be kept at a minimum ebb. That is why her devotion to her brother and her experience of his dependence on her have been exaggerated and magnified beyond their real magnitude. This is psychological hypocrisy on the part of the so-called selfless female, who substitutes her normal pleasures for a fiercely maintained desire to sacrifice her life for a dependent loved one.
In such amputated families, "the social isolation fosters its maximum effect in the "psychological couple" formed by the mother and daughter or two sister more rarely by mother and son" (Lacan, 25). Carrie and Anna form this psychological couple in the play. And at the same time the older sister acts like a mother figure to both sister and brother. It is not until later in the play that the two sisters confront each other with the truth of their hidden feelings. It was not all love and affection; it is an ambivalent set of feelings heightened by an obvious immaturity on Carrie's part She could be a victim of, "… an intrusion complex which represents the experience of an immature subject especially when he sees one or several of his own kind participating with him in a domestic relationship, in other words, when the child understands his status as a sibling." (Lacan, 16-7)
According to Ellen Moers: "family life, in Hellman theater, is no party, and money is nothing to be laughed about". (Moers, 99). The two Bernier sisters nourished on their brother's dependence, as it gave their lives some meaning and a definite purpose. Both sisters have been unconsciously competing over their brother's love, each one trying to give him more whether emotionally, financially or otherwise. Yet Anna seems to be wiser in her love for her brother. It is true she looks after his meals, attends to his laundry, and presents him with money and gifts, but she keeps reminding Carrie that they should not meddle in his life as he is now a married adult:
Anna: I don't think we should run after Julian an Lily and intrude on their lives.
Carrie: Who's doing that? What an unpleasant idea.
Anna: … We are interfering, and we told ourselves we wouldn't. (Toys, p.691).
Both sisters love their brother so dearly that they want to give him everything they could possibly give. Carrie is willing to give him all their savings, though they are in dire need of it, and Anna agrees. Julian, overcome by their affection and generosity, is deeply touched:
God bless you. All my life it's been this way. (Toys, p. 702).
Anna then sums up all their endearment and love by saying to him:
You are our life. It is we who should thank you. (Toys, p. 702).
But as a worm eats up at the heart of a fresh ripe apple, Hellman manages to inject artistically "perverted sexual desires… and ferocious hostility at the heart of generosity and self-sacrifice. "(Kloss, 30) It is not merely incestuous love with childhood memories, its secret hideaway places, and its cherished glories with beloved Julian. Carrie, who has dedicated all her life to her brother Julian, is abnormally attached to him. To her, Lily – his wife – is a threat to his total devotion and his undivided attention. Carrie's jealousy is translated into gestures of disrespect and an attempt to ignore her sister – in – law, as a brother usurper. One notices the difference in reaction between Anna and Carrie when they come to greet their sister – in – law. Anna warmly says:
"My dear Lily, how good to see you." (Toys, p. 697)
Having counted the days to see Julian, Carrie addresses him and intentionally disregards Lily: "One year and six days. (As she hears Anna's greeting to Lily) Lily! I didn't see you… Forgive me. One year and six days. I was so excited that I didn't see you: … (Toys, p. 697).
Carrie does not see or rather does not want to see Lily who has become a symbol of Julian's maturity and growing up processes which are repellent thoughts to her. To her, Julian will always be the little boy of her past memories. The tragic flaw in Carrie's character – as well as Julian's – is the inability to accept the fact that people grow up, including herself. If she accepts the fact that Julian has grown up, it would go without saying that she has aged as well. In her late thirties, Carrie still clings to childhood rituals, like some people who ridiculously cling to childish practices in their refusal of the idea of the passage of time. The following lines serve as an apt illustration of that notion:
Carrie: I can still jump. Shall I jump and you catch me?
Julian: Don't jump. I have no hands to catch you… Darling Carrie-pie. (Toys, p. 697)
It is obvious that the sister's devotion to her brother has been rewarded by his pampering of her, but symbolically Julian cannot catch Carrie in his arms as he used to. It is not merely the parcels he is literally carrying, but Julian's hands are full of the new responsibilities and worries of matrimonial and practical life. To justify a sister's love for her brother, Hellman portrays Julian as a loving tender – hearted brother who uses words of endearment like 'Carrie-Pie' to address his sister. He also explains to his sisters how he came at night and stood outside their window to make sure they were all right even though he could not disclose his presence in New Orleans at that time. (Toys, p. 700).
The dramatic climax of the play comes at the end of Act 11 with the revealing speeches exchanged by Anna and Carrie which again emphasize the fact that the human psyche exhibits complexities and dualities of love and hate at one and the same time. It had always been assumed that Carrie is a loving devoted sister, but elements of regret and blame are obvious in Carrie's words when she says:
Let's go and ask him. Let's go and ask your darling child. Your favorite child, the child you made me work for, the child I lost my youth for… (Toys, p. 731)
Stylistically, the speech is made up of breathless, racing, short utterances which give it a semblance of real life style, and also show the agitated state of mind which Carrie suffered. The repetition of words adds to the same effect making Carrie sound as though she is out of breath and trying to organize her thoughts. The word 'child' is repeated four times in only two short sentences to emphasize the connotation of Julian being a 'child-like-adult'. Carrie sounds bitter, resentful and regretful for the years wasted on her devotion to that brother. Her love for him is marred with hatred as if that love has deprived her of a normal, healthy, mature spousal life she could have led. In a beautifully written speech, which reminds one of poetic soliloquies, Carrie thinks out loud of all her fears and losses:… "Of my hair which isn't nice any more, of my job which isn't there anymore, of praying for small things and knowing just how small they are, of walking by a mirror when I didn't know it would be there… people say those Berniers girls are devoted. That Carrie was pretty, and then one day she wasn't, just an old maid, working for her brother…" (Toys, p. 739).
The strength of Hellman's dialogue lies in the fact that poetic beauty is intertwined with a 'very-much-like everyday language' style. As much as Carrie has come to regret her wasted years of youth, so has Anna. Hellman employs imagery of vegetation and plants to express Anna's feelings towards the passage of time and years of youth which are now behind her. She reflects wisely and sadly saying in another touching monologue: "The leaf came in the spring, stayed nice on the branch in the autumn until the winter winds would blow it in the snow. Mama said that in that little time of holding on, a woman had to make ready for the winter ground where she would lie the rest of her life. A leaf cannot rise from the ground and go back to the tree… But when it came there was nothing I could do".
(Toys, p. 735).
Lyrical language is used to convey the sentimental state of mind of the characters. Julian, the loving tender hearted brother, answers Anna reassuringly that he will always be there to look after her. He employs the same style of vegetation imagery which conveys a sense of continuity of mood, tone and thought: "You're still on the tree, still so nice and pretty, and when the wind does come, a long time from now, I'll be there to catch you with a blanket made of warm roses". (Toys, p. 735).
The previously cited quotation reveals that Hellman possesses the skill of writing a poetic dialogue when the situation so requires. Poetry of the theatre is an expression which applies to Hellman's dialogue where the mastery over words and sentences' rhythm creates a mood and conveys an attitude. She uses metaphor and symbolism of the concrete in order to convey the abstract. Anna keeps watering the camellia plant to keep it alive. This is a symbolic act which stands for her remaining faithful to her house and all its inhabitants. Her love and care are all engulfing. They are bestowed, not only on human beings, but also on other forms of living beings, the plants for example. In another instance, the author informs the reader that "the garden has a table and chairs that have been painted too often and don't stay together very well." (Toys, pp. 685) Those worn-out pieces of furniture, with the strenuous but vain efforts exerted to beautify them and forcefully keep them intact, stand symbolically for their owners and the type of life they lead. They are misfits among themselves as much as they are in a larger social context. The act of painting and repainting of the old worn – out furniture in order to hide its ugly appearance and beautify it as much as possible, is only too telling of the lives of those people which are shabby and dreary. Too many efforts are exerted to sugar coat their existence. The sisters' dream of a trip to Europe is symbolic of their desire to escape the humdrum and sterile routine of their daily life. Their weekly exchange of gifts made up of perfume and candy stand symbolically for frustrated efforts at sweetening their life, but to no avail. The gift become lyrical symbols of frustration and lack of communication rather than tokens of love. Neither of the sisters has tried to think of changing the usual given present, as if they are dead from inside, lacking any initiative or desire of genuine change or mutual communication.
The title is also highly poetic and symbolic. These three siblings remain psychologically speaking – children. They cling to 'toys' or old memories and a future of unrealized dreams. These are stored somewhere as toys are in the attic, which is a small and cosy place at the top of a house nearer to the sky and clouds and further away from earth. But in an attic, people store things that are rarely used, things long – cherished but not used anymore. The gifts brought by Julian to his sisters, again symbolize material possession which have no emotional value to the characters, as was the case with the candy and perfume. All these are part of Hellman's extended metaphor technique where symbols become on organic part of the work and can advance the action by making ideas and feelings concrete The explosive climax comes when Anna faces Carrie with the truth she always feared, not only feared articulating but even thinking of: I'll take that chance now and tell you that you want to sleep with him [Julian] and always have. Years ago I used to be frightened that you would try and I would watch you and suffer for you. (Toys, pp. 731 – 732).
These are words which are so simple, so and also so penetrating that with them tumbling down home, a toy – like home, of make – belief that once appeared wholesome. These words are daggers thrust into Carrie's consciousness and can never be taken back. Once this truth is released, it will crack a dam of pretence. Waves floods of hatred and truth will gush out. She out saying: You were all I ever had. I don't love you anymore. (Toys, p. 732) Carrie realized now that she hates Anna and, maybe, has always hated her. But still they have to endure and live together under the same roof of a decaying house and a decaying sibling relationship, full of dislike and cold resentment Carrie "I told you that I hate you". Anne: I don't think so. (Toys, p. 737)
Forever their life will never be what it used to be. Carrie's dreams are shattered, and being frightened, she attempts to destroy everyone around her, along with her own desperate self. Thus our heroine undergoes
a drastic change in her personality, changing from a wounded angel to
a plotting devil. Being deeply hurt and disillusioned, she will retaliate by destroying the matrimonial bliss of her brother and his wife. She holds
a grudge against them for having what she always longed from but never had, because of her love for her brother. By the power of suggestion, Carrie will use the question about the funding of her sister's eye operation and
a gift of money from Lily's mother to Julian as weapons against her brother's marriage and independence. Carrie exhibits a new force which is: "… a force unknown to the artist sociologist or the artist psychologist, but
a force known only to the artist – moralist, the force of evil. This force is embodied in Carrie who is no capitalist dragon, no Satan lusting for revenge … She is what evil must always be, the other side of good…" (Downer, 41-2)
Carrie is both tragic and pathetic because she is not aware of her enslavement to Julian's and can never escape it. And when she desperately attempts to freeze his image as she would like, it cracks. She shatters his life and hers by a devilish scheme which transforms her from an angelic figure to a bitter satanic one. Her jealousy becomes a gigantic sweeping force that for a long, time has been held back behind a wall of pretence and now had come tumbling down as a result of the smallest crack in its surface caused by jealousy of a sister over her married brother. Anna has wisely kept the truth of their brother's sexual affair with a Mrs. Warkins as a secret from Carrie to spare her a painful self – knowledge which could have resulted, once her jealousy was triggered and released. Carrie will, later on, employ her brother's premarital sexual affair as part of the destructive scheme she launches.
Ironically enough, the one character with deep insight, who could see through the nature of those protagonists who lack self-knowledge, is
a secondary character appearing in a 'short scene but an important one. This is Gus, the black iceman, who comments perceptively and, at the same time, symbolically telling the two sisters: ought to ought treat yourselves. Get a new little house, new little icebox. No more Julian to worry about. Just yourselves now to treat good. (Toys, p. 688) Gus perceptively knows that they will never treat themselves to the European tour they have been promising to do. He says: You told me that last year. And I stopped the ice. And you told me around seven years back when Julian went on his other business trip, and I stopped the ice then – (He laughs) When I stop it now? (Toys, p. 689).
The idea of "ice", or an "icebox", is symbolically used to denote the state in which those siblings dwell. They like to freeze their past into
a perpetual and extended present. What they succeed in doing is that they freeze themselves into a lifeless state of being. Their iced – relationships, like ice, do not flow warmly and naturally. When broken, they became shattered to splinters that cut and hurt with their sharp edges, which, ironically, are water-based hence soft-natured as those siblings are, or were. Carrie assuringly answers him by repeating the phrase 'very soon' three times. Not only to assure him but to convince herself as well. But it is all a dream; and in his subtle ironic suggestion, Gus tells them: "Ought to get your selves a nice cat." (Toys, p. 689) A cat is a pet they can breed since Julian, their 'pet-like' pampered brother, is gone. Their motherly instinct might be satisfied with a small animal they can stroke, cuddle and look after.
The biggest mistake in the lives of those three siblings was that each has assumed a 'role' to act in life which, later on, each will rebel against, as it was not his or her real self. Anna has always been acting like a mother figure to her brother and sister. When Carrie tries to persuade her not to leave their home, Anna, disillusioned, answers bitterly;
" I don't wish to find a way to live with you. I am a women who has no place to go, but I am going, and after a while I will ask myself why I took my mother's two children to be my own. (Toys, p. 746)
Carrie has always adopted the role of a soft, weak and meek-natured female who is in need of affection and protection. Although she was the one who started the rebellion against the semblance of tranquility and amicability they dwelt in to conceal an unbearable familial reality, yet when her sister proposes to take a positive step towards liquidating their partnership and dissolving their iced-relationship, she acts scared. Carrie backs up and tries to dissuade Anna from leaving. The coup d'etat ironically boomerangs and backfires. Carrie warns her sister saying: "you will be lonely. Anna answers: That's all right. I always have been". (Toys, p. 745). Words so simple yet so deep. Eyes and hearts weep without tears and yearn in their alienation for real warm human communication. Carrie faces Anna Saying the following:
"You need me. You always have. Julian, everybody, always thought you the strong and sturdy". Anna adds: "And you the frail, the flutterer, the small. That's the way you wanted them to think. I knew better. Our parched-together supper, a litter talk, sometime a book, long ago on the piano, a game of casino, your bath, them mine, your room and my room, two doors closed". (Toys, p. 745)
Anna's speech is an exquisite demonstration of poetic prose which is impregnated with images and radiate multidimensional meanings. The speech is actually one long sentence made up of a sequence of short phrases linked and set apart, at the same time, by commas. All of these ingredients constitute a collage of a patched up utterance which reflects
a patched-up life of two lonely souls. "Two doors closed" is a symbolic image for the two sisters themselves with their with their true interiors, one shut in the face of the other. Failing to know, is failing to grow; but knowing to them was stretching their growth beyond their endurance. "The frail", the flutterer' are words that denote that the two sisters are wounded birds, shot down but not killed. They "flutter" moving their wings hurriedly and irregularly without being able to actually fly. Their short temporary flights are frustrated, and again they fall down to earth. Moth-like creatures, 'butterfly-people' flutter too close to a source of light. And in their curiosity and daring attempts to invade new territories and explore untrodden path, they find out that the beam of light is a also a source of heat. They gain knowledge and insight; but in the process, they are burnt, and this hurts. They have to discover whether ignorance was a bliss to them or whether knowledge, stripped naked of ornaments, outweighs the hurt it inflicted on sore eyes and broken hearts of fragile creatures. They are victims of the eternal sin of Man which is wanting to know beyond what is allowed to him.
Lederer believes that love and money are basic factors regulating lives of human beings. He maintains that, "love can be as much destructive as hatred is when the giver and recipient fail to understand its nature." (Lederer, 94) Money becomes the reason that alters human relationship and forces the Berniers siblings, for instance, to face the truth. Money is equally destructive when it forces people out of their comfortable familiar life patterns begun in their childhood, their origins forgotten like toys in the attic, but still subconsciously directing their behavior. (Lederer, 94) Hellman emphasizes the fact that affection and emotional fulfillment are no luxury to human beings. They are essential sources of strength and psychological balance. If, for any reason, they are lacking, Man attaches his desires to any person or any object, whether this surrogate subject is
a sibling or money, as a source of power.
Hellman uses realistic down-to-earth dialogue of everyday discourse. When such a realistic dialogue is used our playwright has in mind certain characters who gain their authenticity only through specific language traits. Characters sigh, at times, or shout and cry, at others; exclamatory utterances are employed to convey varied human feelings of happiness, sadness, anger or dismay. Strong expressive utterances are almost 'heard' by the reader. These are sometimes made up of one word or one ound, for example: "Don't, Can't, Oh! Lily! Ssh, Ssh." Even crude words of sexual implications are used whenever necessary. Hellman is not afraid or shy to call things by their names. Lily shocks one of the sisters by telling her openly:
"Julian told me that you talked like an old maid when you were twelve years old, and the Gus used to say you kept your vagina in the ice box, that he'd seen it there and shut the door fast." (Toys, p. 741)
Dialogues in the play are often short, curt and telegraphic. Sentences are not completed and questions are left unanswered.
The scenes are moved along in the leaps by the spoken lines of characters who do not seem to be leaping – they are merely talking.
This quickening of pace conveys a sense of urgency, tensions and mounting climaxes. Speeches, characters and situations are animated so that the reader can see, hear and feel the action or motion from within the written words as when Carrie asks Julian if she can jump from over the stairs and into his arms. Anna and Carrie's dialogue is an amazing battle of wit. It is humorous, philosophical and deeply ironic. Their discussions give the feeling of 'a match' where a ball is being skillfully thrown from one opponent to the other. Double meanings, satire and subtle irony are definitely there in such conversations, which give rise to intelligent comprehending inward smiles:
To Carrie: … What would you think if we don't get buried at Mount Olive with Mama and Papa?
Anna: Any place that's cool. (Toys, p. 686)
And in another context:
Carrie: Then we'll go to Strasbourg, have the famous pate, and put flowers on the graves of Mama's relatives.
Anna: I'll have the pate. You put flowers on the graves of Mama's relatives.
Carrie: Mama would want us to put flowers on the graves in Strasbourg. She would Anna. And so we must.
Anna: I don't know what the dead would like. Maybe Mama's changed. (Toys, p.690).
Hellman eliminates the niceties in which conversations abound. This radiates a feeling of wonder and excitement rather than boredom. This is evident in Toys in the Attic which is considered to be a masterpiece possessing so much " penetration and dramatic vitality and… dialogue of such vigor and virtuosity. " (Gassner,137).
Hellman is not afraid of employing long speeches when the situation requires them. Such speeches explain situations or characters to each other and to the audience. They are also used for flashbacks or cinematic techniques of day-dreaming, philosophizing or future anticipation. Usually, they are highly poetic and emotionally charged. The real merits of Hellman's style are her talent for original characterization, her hard-headed knowledge of the intimacies of human relationships and her realism about the meaning of life. Richard Moody describes her characters as " not lovable but… believable and brutally alive…We are fascinated by their pathetic, romantic lives ". (Moody,306)
When characterization is taken into consideration, one finds out that Hellman created in the two sisters, convincing characters who may be individual characters like Carrie or typical ones like Anna. In both cases, they are eagerly authentic and aesthetically plausible. Hellman exhibited deep psychological understanding of their natures as they developed. The action evolved from within her creations and around specific character traits. One could see the development in plot through the focus on specific qualities and their interaction with others in their dramatic world. Thus, in Toys in the Attic, the action springs from characters like Carrie or Lily.
The play's two main themes are: first, the nostalgia for a no-longer existing past, and secondly, the individual's frustrated search for love and purpose in life. In Toys in the Attic, " it isn't vixen teeth that bite, but human lips denied a kiss. " (Kronenberger, 17-8) In other words, dreadful things are done out of affectionate possessiveness, rather than out of deep-rooted evil. Anna is a subtle mixture of a loving sacrificing nature and a stern serious façade. Julian is full of good intentions, but is doomed by his repeated failures and his inadequacy in expressing love to the people who love him most. Carrie is the thirty-eight old, once beautiful, spinster sister who is one of the most complex natured characters of Hcllman's with her "destructively possessive love of her brother, her jealousy of his wife, her dependency on her sister and her resentment of the latter's penetration into her secret incestuous passion. " (Moody, 306).
According to W. Wright, Hellman's style in Toys in the Attic, being a Southern writer herself, resembles that of Tennessee Williams with its " murky areas of Southern Gothicism, lyrical probing into Southern depravity, repressed sexuality and the terrible vulnerability of the sensitive. " (Wright, 225) In this play, the South becomes not a mere place, but an image and an expression of frustrated hopes and misdirected passions. "The social and racial divisions underscore a natural gulf between people who are locked inside their own myths, dreams and memories. " (Bigsby,295)
Psychology and the study of art will always have to resort to each other for interpretations, and one will not invalidate the other. It is thought at times that Hellman has spent too long with Carrie and Anna at the beginning in order to lay her initial dramatic set-up. It was also argued that the shift from inquiry into the moral results of Julian's affairs to a story on abnormal psychology was a duality in the theme of the destructive power of love showing that well-meaning people can often inflict more pain and harm on the people they love than those with initial evil inclinations. To dissect the human psyche is not an easy and neat task. The audience and reader need and enjoy the rather elongated and detailed exposition of the characters of both sisters at the beginning of the play. This gives a better understanding of their characters and a thrill at their later development and change.
Hellman attempts an extension of her realism into the human psyche of psychologically and sexually frustrated men and women. Since Freud, individual guilt, tragic flaws and peculiarities are often attributed to elements in the environment, or the psyche which a human being has no control over. "The tendency of the 1930's onwards to view socio-political events with Freudian insight attributing them to misplaced motives of psycho-analysis have affected great many writers in the treatment of familial themes. " (Trilling in Lodge, 279).
In reviewing the siblings relations in the play of Lillian Hellman,
a mental image of vultures devouring a prey comes readily to mind. Brother and sisters are seen interacting and behaving in a manner not exactly that of mutual love. Even the docile dove-natured ones such as Carrie in Toys in the Attic thrills us dramatically by the personality change she undergoes in the middle of the play, placing her with the group of victimizers and at the same time reserving her place among the victimized as well. Siblings in the dramatic world of Hellman are roughly categorized under two broad divisions of good and evil, victims and victimizers. Evil might not be an active force but is rather translated in terms of the absence of good. Other weaker-natured siblings are portrayed as unconsciously exhibiting uncontrollable parasitical qualities nourishing and surviving on other siblings, like Carrie. Hellman's siblings are some form of tragic heroes as each has his own tragic flaw, and is thus brought to misery or disillusionment by destructive forces. Each is a victim of inner as well as of outer forces.
The Berniers were also victims of their social surroundings as well as their own personal traits. In a modern society characterized by its urbanization, industrialization, quickened pace of life and its 'cash' values, those romanticized, moth –like creatures will find only ephemeral value to their dreams. They are dreamers. And their incapability of adjustment is a frailty in their characters. They are misfits who do not really belong to their modern society. In their attempt to make time stop still, they kill time and kill themselves. Carrie uses her cunning and intelligence for the wrong cause. The fact that, as a symbol of the modern woman, she and her sister have jobs outside their confining household does not help them much. On the contrary, it accentuates their feeling of non-belonging and aggravates their lacking sense of security. They can see through the eyes of the others the passage of time and its effect on them. It is a fact which they wish to ignore. In their refusal of ' the new ' they live ' death in life '. Their presents are uncreative repeated and stale; their daily routine is monotonous and tiring; the house, in which they live, is described by them as a ' tomb' . They always speak of the dead as they have sucked dry their past with its memories. Industrialization in the form of a new refrigerator is refused by them as they stick to the old icebox, the old iceman and the old iced-habits.
Carrie is a female representation who clings desperately to her past with its glories and memories. She fails to mature, and thus she remains a stunned child-like figure whose world of Blakeian innocence is shattered by a sudden jolt into the world of experience. Her flaw of character is basically that of an inability to adjust to new norms. She is, psychologically speaking, inflexible and brittle. And so, as old habits die hard, she breaks down in front of new circumstances. Disillusionment in human beings can hurt deeply. Carrie, as a modern woman turns around exposing another facet of her character. It is that of a fighter, and a clever plotter. Psychologically speaking, she had her fists clenched, symbolically, in anger and defiance.
Julian, Carrie's brother, is a presentation of a new modem concept in the family pattern. His character is symbolic of the shift of power or decentralization of authority that the modem American family has undergone. He does not support his household economically as would have been expected in patriarchal set-ups. On the contrary, his female companions provide for his financial, as well emotional, needs.
This causes his personal dilemma; as he is still an offspring of
a traditional patriarchal family patterns where probably he saw his father as the head of an ordained chain of being. His dependence on his sisters was
a violation of a natural hierarchy in whose shadows he still lived. Illusions of restoring a conventional male ego and self-fulfillment were shattered by his surrounding circumstances, i.e. emotionally obsessed female figures, repeated failures in his work and a soft-natured personality. Julian is
a reflection of Hellman's father with his strives to promote a shoe factory, which eventually collapses, and his attachment to two devoted maiden sisters.
Anna, the eldest of the Berniers siblings is a representation of
a transition between the old and the new patterns of life. Like a mother-figure she looks after the traditional chores of a household-cooking, cleaning and attending to the laundry. But like a twentieth century woman figure she goes out to work, figure, she waits for her male figure to bequeath his offers on her. But actually, from her brother, she expects only his offers of love where sibling and filial feelings are interwoven. She does not expect or wish for any material or financial offers. As a matter of fact, she resents these when they are actually offered by her brother. Her happiness lies in her giving him whatever she has with no expectation of material feedback. Her problem has been forced on her by outside circumstances of having to cater for her siblings' needs as though they were her own children; and the inner flaw of her character was that she accepted doing that. She nourished on their needs. This unnatural treatment encouraged them to remain forever childish in their behaviour; and for her, to remain forever an unmarried " Sister " – a sibling and, figuratively speaking, a ' nun ', who has no spousal life. But paradoxically in Anna's case, she has been burdened by two unwilling fostered children.
Human beings in Hellman's word are not predestined. She is a believer in inherent personal responsibilities. The Berniers do not care for money as an end in itself. To them it is a means to something, and when it comes in abundance or in the form of material possessions, they panic and suffer. The Berniers sisters have always aspired to visit Europe as a symbol of the fulfillment of their dreams and their escape from a colorless lifeless existence. They have always kept postponing that trip because they had to spend the saved money on their dependent brother. Deep down inside them, they dreaded the change thus becoming victims of their own nature. They became the rare glorification of the phenomenon where the victimizer and the victim is the same person who play this double role cruelly on himself. The young sister who has always subconsciously helped, her brother to remain a dependent failure, can willingly sacrifice her life for him but cannot accept the another woman-his wife- sacrifices her life for him. She turn sour at his return to their house in a new attire of a successful, well – off and independent man. The repressed woman in her will very readily, and with no pangs of conscience, destroy the lives of her sister, her brother and his wife, and her own life as well. Carrie posed first as a good but weak sibling. Eventually she became strong and evil while Anna, who was strong and good, revealed essential weakness at a later stage. Julian as a good but weak figure was considered weak-evil as he hurt others and himself by his faulty adopted attitudes, just like Anna did.
Characters do have moments of complete insight revelation but like bats of the night, light scares them, and the dark of assumed ignorance suits them best. The desire for escape is hampered by the inevitability of inertia which is a dominant Hellman-theme. Julian probably guessed the nature of his sister's incestuous affections, but he deliberately ignores this knowledge as if his inner-self did not want the insecurity of truth. Anna will also have to smooth her differences with Carrie, swallow her pride and go back to living with her sister as if nothing has happened and nothing was said. When she had to face her sister with her bitter knowledge of the incestuous love Carrie had for Julian, Carrie reacts by saying: "You never said those words. Tell me I never heard those words". (Toys, p. 732). She also will cover her eyes to the truth and try to think that what is there is not really there.
Lillian Hellman had delineated in her play the tragedy of human beings who cannot communicate with each other. Siblings, living under the same roof for many years, discover to their dismay that they actually felt lonely in the crowd of their households, and their lives are drab. Her characters are middle-class provincial people. Their personalities first emerge through trivial everyday chores which seem at first casual or unrelated, such as Anna watering the plants, another person reading a paper or having a meal. But, later on, these incidents gain significance. Hellman's siblings are basically dreamers who cannot cope with challenges of change in there societies. They are not branded as bad or good as they neither loved each other wisely nor hated each other deeply. Her combination of subtle satire and pathos render them both absurd at times and lovable at others. Their basic tragic flaw is that they lack insight into their inner selves. A grievous impediment in their personalities is their lack of genuine love. Initially they do not receive, it, and consequently, they cannot transmit this sublime feeling and understanding to their fellow human beings.
Dr. Nayera EL Miniawi
Al Balqaa Applied University
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