Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Old Maid by Zoe Atkins (1935)

Summary:  After returning home from a perilous bout down South with a "lung disease", Charlotte Lovell opens a daycare to care for the children of the working class.  Her family treats this as folly that she will give up when she gets married.  However, when she becomes engaged and states that she will not give up her work, her engagement is broken.  Charlotte's ulterior motive for having the daycare is the ability to have daily interactions with a little girl named Clementina--an orphan who is now being raised by "negroes."

Charlotte eventually reveals to her sister Delia that the "lung disease" was actually a pregnancy that resulted in Clementina.  When the daycare is eventually closed, Delia agrees to adopt Tina so that she will have an easier life, witnessed by Charlotte.  As Tina grows, she views her "aunt" (who is actually her mother) as an Old Maid and is brutally rude to her at every opportunity.  On the eve of her wedding, Delia tells Tina that she needs to be nicer to her aunt because she has always loved her "like a mother."

Thoughts:  In a departure from playwright mantra "show-don't-tell", Charlotte's humanity and martyrdom is revealed in stories of the choices she has made, rather than realistic depictions of these conflicts.  Though Charlotte gives up "everything" for Clementina, the child's actions toddlerhood to adolescence that indicate that she feels more connected to Delia.  While Charlotte has made herself a martyr, she is never "rewarded" for the choices that she has made and becomes more depressed and bitter as the play progresses.  Because people are consistently rude to Charlotte, it sometimes seems that she spends the entirety of the play (and her life) karmically atoning for having premarital sex.

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