This play is a struggle between heart and mind. The longing to be free to express one’s natural humanity versus the desire to fit into a society that expects one to behave in an accepted way.
Helen Jones embodies this struggle. She stifles her heart without realizing that without self freedom one’s mind inevitably becomes ruled by an unfulfilled ego whose needs are masked by insatiable desires. Many will see her as a victim of the repression imposed upon her by the social constraints of her society: an uncommunicative mother, an industrialized and unforgiving society which expects everyone to live in “the box” in order to fit in and the male dominated world in which most positions of power such as company bosses, priests and even OB/GYNs are held by men. However, she is equally at fault due to her reluctance to take responsibility for her true self.
Despite being written in the 1930’s, this theme is still relevant in our post industrial, service oriented society. The routine episiotomy of self expression still takes place in the guise of political correctness. Politicians and the media regularly distort facts in exchange for sensationalism and publicity and the “me first” mentality has replaced any sense of citizenship or customer service from both a personal and corporate point of view. Although our clichés have changed and women can now attain powerful positions, same sex couples are still unable to be legally married. Many still keep secrets from estranged spouses, divorce has become almost inevitable and people living in the land of the “free” are chained to their employers because of benefits they need to hold onto and debts they need to pay. The fight between our spontaneous and instinctual selves and our attempt to be polite, financially secure, scientific, socially acceptable and employable is ongoing and merciless.
We do, however, have the power of choice. We have the power to free ourselves of our inhibitions, to confront our fears, to dare to be vulnerable in front of others or to say something honest that might make people doubt our “niceness”. MACHINAL warns us of what happens if we do not have the courage to take responsibility for our true selves. Repressed ideas, thoughts, emotions and fantasies inevitably lead to desensitization, anger, extremism and even hate. The things we refuse to face in ourselves, grow and fester inside, like cancer cells multiplying until our passive aggressive demeanor becomes filled with an inner violence. Helen Jones does not take responsibility for herself or her choices. As a result, when she finally does make decisions she makes them from an ego that is completely out of control.
It is only the moment immediately before her death that she is finally free. There is nothing more to prove, no chance for another life and as a result her heart finally awakens from the shackles of her ego and for the first time, she remembers her daughter.
Helen Jones becomes a symbol of “everyman/woman”, hence, the author’s continual reference to her as “the Young Woman”. She is a timeless, universal warning of the result of ignoring one’s true essence. As a result, I have decided to move the play forward through time. Though we begin in the 1930’s, the play ends in the modern day. This allows us to continue questioning ourselves: How many of us move as automatons through the rat race of life, taking for granted the things that are most important in exchange for the fulfillment of our material goals and our public image?