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Where Does Women’s Pleasure Lie?: Sarah Ruhl’s In the Next Room or the Vibrator Play and the Third Wave Feminism

  • Journal of Modern English Drama
  • Abbr : JMBARD
  • 2013, 26(1), pp.143-177
  • Publisher : 한국현대영미드라마학회
  • Research Area : Humanities > English Language and Literature > English Literature > Contemporary English Drama

Lee,Insoo 1

1한국예술종합학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

This essay analyzes Sarah Ruhl’s recent play, In the Next Room or the Vibrator Play (2009), in comparison with Caryl Churchill’s Cloud Nine (1979). Both plays are set in the Victorian age, focusing on the female sexuality and women’s subjectivity oppressed in the patriarchal social and familial system of the time. The endings of the two plays are, however, quite different, which reflects the different women’s issues the two playwrights were challenged with in their own times: one in the 2000’s and the other in the 1970’s. While Cloud Nine, responding to the agenda of the second wave feminism to deconstruct the myth of women’s roles forced by the patriarchal ideology, portrays female characters who break their marriage bond to discover and recover their sexuality and subjectivity, In the Next Room or the Vibrator Play presents a female character, Mrs. Givings, who affirms her self-knowledge and fulfills her sexual desire in the relationship with her husband by demanding and teaching him what she wants. My observation is that Ruhl basically agrees with Churchill’s criticism of the patriarchal system but that she differs from Churchill in the strategies she chooses in order to shatter and overturn the oppressive regimes of the patriarchy. Ruhl explicitly displays women’s orgasm on the stage, although with enough discretion and humor, and allows her female character to pursue and express her own knowledge and definition of love, while staying in marriage. Furthermore, Ruhl creates a new male character, Dr. Givings, who is willing to learn from his wife how to please her and practices love as blessing. Thus Ruhl suggests a form of love in which the boundary between subject and object, self and other is blurred. The ending may seem as a reaffirmation of the old value of marriage, but the kind of love Ruhl envisions in the play reflects one of the new alternative forms of love that women who belong to the third wave feminism generation seek to discover and explore.

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