The Hairy Ape: Play Scene 3 - Summary & Analysis

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Summary

SETTING

      The third scene is set in the stokehole where the furnaces and boilers are installed. High overhead one hanging electric bulb sheds enough light through the murky air laden with coal dust to pile up masses of shadow everywhere. A line of men, stripped to the waist, is before the furnace doors. They bend over, looking neither to right nor to left, handling their shovels as if they were part of their bodies, with a strange, awkward, swinging rhythm. They are outlined in the couching, inhuman attitudes of chained gorillas. The men shovel with a rhythmic motion, swinging as on a pivot from the coal which lies in heaps on the floors behind to hurl it into the flaming mouths before them. There is the tumult of noisette brazen clang of the furnace doors as they are flung open or slammed shut. The clash of sounds stuns one’s ears with its rending dissonance, though there is order in it, and raising above all, the leaping Hames in the furnaces roar and the shovels in relaxed attitudes of exhaustion.

      As the curtain rises, the furnace doors are shut. The stokers are having a sigh of relief. Paddy and Yank are seen speaking while others are leaning on their shovels in relaxed attitudes of exhaustion. Paddy, an Irishman, is reminded of the old days of happy life on the sea. He says that he is totally destroyed by this hellish life: “Me back is broke. I’m destroyed entirely”. Yank scornfully challenges Paddy’s remark which sickens him. He asks him to give up his habit of criticism for the sake of criticism. In the meantime a shrill note of a whistle, comes from somewhere overheard in the darkness. Yank thinks it is the Engineer who is warning the stokers to work and not to waste time. Yank orders his fellow workers to start feeding the furnaces with coal. Then Yank slams his furnace door shut and others followed him.

YANK’S CRITICISM OF PADDY

      Yank pulls Paddy up for his negativity and baseless sense of loss. He advises Paddy that he should take his job easy and avoid the habit of grumbling. He should not forget that they make the liner move by their superior strength and not the “yellow” engineers having “no noive”. They “do not belong. But we belong, see”!

RESUMPTION OF WORK

      Yank turns and flings his furnace open. They all follow his lead. At this instant the Second and Fourth Engineers enter from the darkness on the left with Mildred between them. She makes her descent to the stokehole foil of curiosity to see how the other half loves, feeling isolated from Nature and hoping “to be sincere, to touch life somewhere”. Mildred enters the room of blazing furnaces and observes horrified as Yank shovels and grunts taunts and threats the other stokers. When Mildred enters the stokehole she immediately sees Yank, filthy from work and shouting in rage at the demands of engineers. They are almost paralyzed to see each other. Mildred finds in Yank an image of her own alienation from elemental nature and recoils from the vision. On the other hand, Yank becomes conscious of a power beyond animal charisma and strength, discovering instead his vulnerability to the societal and economic forces he had scorned. Yank sees her, too, and because of her white dress he believes she is a ghost. He seems to be in a state of frozen trance. She starts, turns paler, her pose is crumbling, she shivers with fright in spite of the blazing heat, but forces herself to leave the Engineers and take a few steps nearer the men. She is right behind Yank.

YANK FACE-TO-FACE WITH MILDRED DOUGLAS

      Yank becomes furious to hear the noise of the whistle. The entire stokers look dumbfounded to see the spectacle of Mildred standing there. Yank deliberately avoids her by blinking upward through the murk to identify the source of the noise of the whistle. He brandishes his shovel over his head, pounding on his chest, gorilla-like, in a threatening posture. He hurls abusive words at the whistle-blower:

      Come down and I’ll moideryuh! Pullin’ dat whistle on me, huh? I’ll showyuh, I’ll crash yer skull in! I’ll drive yer teet’ down your troat. I’ll slam yer nose trou de back of yer head”!

      Yank is beside himself with rage. He threatens the whistle-blower with dire consequences. He calls him a “bastard” and threatens to murder him. He growls, draws his lips back over his teeth and his eyes gleam ferociously. He looks at Mildred and stares into her eyes. She looks like “a white apparition in the full light from the open furnace doors”. As for her, during his speech she has listened, paralyzed with fear, terror, her whole personality crushed, beaten in, collapsed, by the terrific impact of this unknown, abysmal brutality, naked and shameless. She instantly covers her eyes with her hands to avoid being observed by Yank’s gorilla-like face. Yank is stunned by her behavior. His mouth falls open, his eyes grow bewildered. Mildred, who is about to faint, asks the engineers to take her away from there. She calls Yank “the filthy beast” and almost collapses. The engineers carry her quickly back and an iron door clangs shut. Yank’s pride is hit beyond limits and has lost his temper. He roars and hurls his shovel after them at the door which has just closed. It hits the steel bulkhead with a clang and falls clattering on the steel floor. From overhead the whistle sounds again in a ling, angry, insistent command. After that one slight he will never be the same. Mildred’s one gesture of disdain blows him away. He sees himself; thrown of balance, the prime mover feels him moved at last from without. Like Mildred, Yank is rendered a waste product of steel and begins to search desperately for some now basis of identity.

      From then on he will not eat, sleep, or wash; instead he just sits alone in the pose of Rodin’s “The Thinker.” A shipmate tells Yank that Mildred’s expression was as it she had seen a hairy ape who had escaped from the zoo, a description that haunts Yank. Yank decides he must avenge himself against Mildred for her misguided sense of superiority over him.

Analysis

DRAMATIC SIGNIFICANCE

      Scene III is vital to the theme and structure of the play.

EXPRESSIONISTIC SETTING

      The entire layout of the stokehole is expressionistic. A line of men, stripped to the waist, is before the furnace doors. The bend over, looking neither to right nor left, handling their shovels as if they were part of their bodies, with a strange, awkward, swinging rhythm. They are outlined in silhouette in the crouching, inhuman attitudes of chained gorillas. The men shovel with a rhythmic motion, swinging as on a pivot from the coal which lies in heaps on the floor behind to hurl it into furnace mouths before them. There is a tumult of noise-the brazen clang of the furnace doors as they are flung open or slammed shut, the grating, teeth-gritting grind of steel against steel, of crunching coal.

YANK’S REALIZATION

      Yank’s feeling of belongingness suffers a severe jolt in his first encounter with Mildred Douglas. He is stunned by her rude and insulting behavior. He is hurt beyond limits on being called a “filthy beast” by Mildred. Yank feels himself insulted in some unknown fashion in the very heart of his pride. He roars and hurls his shovel after Mildred, who is being carried away by the Engineers, but it narrowly misses her.

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