Machinal, machine, mechanical. In the play, Machinal, Sophia Treadwell’s protagonist is a Young Woman (YW) going through the motions. The title of the play alludes not just to the way YW goes through her life (i.e. automatic, with no spontaneity) but also the events of her life. YW’s life follows a very mechanical path, the standard path for a woman during that time. So far, YW has a job that she isn’t particularly fond of then she enters a marriage of convenience with her older boss and a baby follows. This play was first performed in 1928, a time of change for women. However, it is important to note that this change was not monumental. Instead, there were small changes with more women working, women pursuing divorces, women having the right to vote and them being allowed to wear clothing articles like pants. Nevertheless, most women were still oppressed in a number of contexts and were definitely did not enjoy the sort of freedom their male counterparts did.
Machinal forays into the way a woman deals with the oppression she is facing in so many aspects of her life, and the effects it has on her psychologically. Its commentary on social and economic oppression of women is decidedly feminist. But it is important to theatre because it delves into the female experience during that time for a number of women. Women may have enjoyed a few new “privileges” but there were societal expectations of them that were still largely upheld. They were expected to marry a decent man, to be a dutiful wife, to bear children, to be a loving mother. Their wants, goals and desires were not taken into consideration. It is important to note that other women in the play like YW’s Mother, perpetuate the patriarchal values around them. These women are a part of the machine much like YW though their feelings towards it may be different. To say the text is pushing an agenda seems unfair. While it is definitely a text in support of the freedom of women in a social and economic context, I believe that Treadwell wished to highlight the desires many women during that time hid and the possible inevitable mental break that can occur after being placed in subjugation for so long.