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Title: Mercy vs. Justice: A Reading Beyond Good and Evil in Lillian Hellman's The Children's Hour
Authors: Chang, Shuei-May
Contributors: 英語學系
Keywords: Lillian Hellman;The Children's Hour;Justice and mercy;Good and evil;American drama
Date: 2008-12
Issue Date: 2013-04-26T04:41:09Z
Publisher: 成功大學外文系 &Airiti Press Inc.
Abstract: The Children's Hour published in 1934 is Lillian Hellman's first play and the most controversial one. The controversy lies mainly in the lesbian theme in the early years of its publication when such a theme was not comfortably received by the social public. Besides the sensitive nature of the lesbian issue related to the plot, the common interpretation of the play as a pseudo-melodrama wherein the female protagonists Karen and Martha are victimized by the three villain characters, namely Mrs. Tilford, Lily Mortar, and Mary, is usually beyond suspicion. The lie told by the twelve-year-old child Mary eventually leads to the break-up of Karen's marriage and the death of Martha. Hence, Mary is considered as "tyrannical" or even "evil." However, Philip Armato's essay "'Good and Evil' in Lillian Hellman's The Children's Hour" published in 1989 changes the basic idea about the "good guys and the bad guys" in the play and causes another type of controversy over the nature of the characters. Armato argues that Karen and Martha, despite being good-natured teachers, have treated Mary and Lily Mortar respectively in rather mean and cruel way which incurs revenge and the final unintentional tragedy. In other words, the "good guys" are not purely virtuous and "the bad guys" are not purely evil. Moreover, the victims are victimizers at first and the victimizers are victims to begin with. The reinterpretation of the classic story opens another dimension of the theme and meaning of the play, which I would call the pursuit of justice and the lack of mercy. These are the hidden reasons behind the meanness of the good teachers and upright Mrs. Tilford and also the direct causes of their tragedy. This paper, therefore, tends to explore the opposition of mercy and justice beyond that of good and evil as the ultimate essence of Karen's psychological development and the downfall of Mrs. Tilford.
Relation: Fiction and Drama, 19(1): 1-24
Appears in Collections:[Department of English] Periodical Articles

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