To Be Free: Paternalism or Patriarchy?

Sophie Treadwell’s “Machinal” is a play about a Young Woman who lives a life subordinate to her husband, whom she kills in the end and must face impending death. The text underscores a patriarchal society in which women are the second sex. Mr. Jones exploits this patriarchy through his relationship with Young Woman, his wife.

It is important to note that Young Woman is not given a proper noun, but rather, she has a common noun as a name. This foremost undermines ‘woman’ because it references her in a general way or as a statistic and Treadwell may have done this to speak out to a woman audience at the time. While it can also be argued that characters were named “Man” and “Lovers”, this was not on a domestic level as in the case of Mr. Jones and his wife. Therefore, the deliberate naming “Young Woman” behaves as a kind of resistance as its titular significance evokes no identity, only in relation to and interaction with Mr. Jones.

Paternalism, which could be defined as, “the policy or practice on the part of people in authority of restricting the freedom and responsibilities of those subordinate to or otherwise dependent on them in their supposed interest” is often equated with patriarchy, which is  “a system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it”. This is because paternalism is a generic form of ‘power relations’. Both are interconnected as the submissive party is dependent on the interest of the dominant party. This is clear in Episode 7 of “Machinal”

Though still, it is argumentative in that Mr. Jones expresses domination in both paternal and patriarchal forms. Mr. Jones says

“All men are born free and entitled to the pursuit of happiness (Young Woman gets up) My you’re nervous tonight” . Here, it is clear that Mr. Jones, unconscious of his subordination of his wife, sounds as though he is a hypocrite. Previous to this, he tells Young Woman “The property’s is mine. Ill put the first mortgage. I’ll put a second mortgage and the property is mine’s. Happy?” to which Young Woman replies “(by rote) Happy”. Here, the Mr. Jones exploits his domination in both a paternal and patriarchal way because it can be argued that Young Woman is dependent on her husband in his supposed interest, which is the ownership of the property. Clearly not happy, the question of freedom is once again tabled as both Patriarchy and Paternalism are systems that stifle human liberty on the basis of authority (in this case, authority in the form of patriarchy or on the basis of sex)



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