본문 바로가기
  • Home

Sophie Treadwell’s Machinal and American Expressionism: a Story Caught between Facts and Truth

  • Journal of Modern English Drama
  • Abbr : JMBARD
  • 2020, 33(2), pp.5-31
  • Publisher : 한국현대영미드라마학회
  • Research Area : Humanities > English Language and Literature > English Literature > Contemporary English Drama
  • Received : July 12, 2020
  • Accepted : August 13, 2020
  • Published : August 31, 2020

Kim, Dasan 1

1서울대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

Sophie Treadwell’s Machinal and American Expressionism: a Story Caught between Facts and Truth Abstract Kim,Da-san(SeoulNationalUniv.) This paper aims to examine Sophie Treadwell’s Machinal (1928) in light of American Expressionism. Unlike its European counterpart that ushered in radical experiments from Symbolism, Expressionism, and Dadaism to Surrealism in the early 20th century, American theatre lacked such spontaneous theatrical experiments. In the midst of petty vaudevilles and melodramas that dominated American theatre of the period, theatre designers, practitioners, and producers found German Expressionism to be a plausible alternative. This paper focuses on the Expressionist vision that Machinal dramatizes. Directed by Arthur Hopkins and designed by Robert Edmond Jones, who studied and introduced the New Stagecraft from the Continent, Machinal is generally acclaimed as one of the most prominent American Expressionist plays. Scholarly discussion on the play’s Expressionist features, however, remains rather sketchy. Machinal is based on the notorious murder case of Ruth Snyder (1927) who killed her husband in collaboration with her lover and scandalized society as the first woman in New York to be executed in an electric chair. Treadwell proclaimed her intention to write Machinal as looking into the hidden layer of the woman’s story as opposed to what had been circulated in sensational journalism. As such, patriarchal oppression on ‘Young Woman’ that might have caused her isolation has attracted scholars’ attention and invited feminist readings of the play. While Machinal undoubtedly belongs to the tradition of Expressionism with its episodic scenes, fragmented dialogue, and archetypical characters, this paper further brings attention to the play’s allegorical representation of Expressionist vision wherein “objective facts“ transcend into Artist Truth. In addition, this paper argues that in contrast to German Expressionism that is predicated on a gloomy vision of human alienation after World War I, Machinal’s vision is not entirely pessimistic. On the one hand, the image of invincible “machine”—as the title indicates—dominates the play. On the other hand, the ambiguous nature of the machine does not wholly forfeit the possible salvation. Machinal renewed its socio-political significance in today’s society wherein the emergence of Artificial Intelligence promotes the fear of “machine” that replaces human labor while human beings bound themselves with ever-convenient smart technology.

Citation status

* References for papers published after 2022 are currently being built.