Sarah Kane has always been regarded as an elusive writer, so have her works. Even though her plays are often unrealistically violent and brutal, the characters in the plays usually have rather normal identities, like soldiers, journalists, and doctors. However, what astonishes readers the most is, it is just these ordinary professionals who commit the extremely unexpected behaviors in Kane’s plays. Journalist stays indoors, soldier leaves the war, and doctor complains about his life to a patient. Almost everyone reverses the stereotype of his career. Is it simply because these people are strange and crazy? Sarah Kane depicts a big picture in her plays, through which she explains that it’s not only these people, but all human beings tend to have counteractions when they reach an extreme point in life.
The first professional we encounter is Ian in Blasted, a forty-five years old journalist living in Leeds much of his life. Ian first leaves us the impression that he is a homophobic, xenophobic, misogynistic person and has a very passive life attitude. As he comments on families at one point in the play: “Who would have children. You have kids, they grow up, they hate you and you die” (Kane, 21). To him, life is full of disgusts. Even in the innocent kids he can only see the somewhat doomed future aspect. He is such a solitary person that he hates most people in the world. The only people who he does not discriminate against are people like him, pure native white men. This is not a very suitable kind of character to be a journalist. Journalists are destined to go outside and get in touch with as many people as possible to get the latest information and the newest stories. The only news story we hear from him in the play is about “a serial killer slaughtered British tourist Samantha Scrace in a sick murder ritual” (Kane, 12). The horrible story seems to prove some of Ian’s discriminations are actually reasonable. Women are stupid because they go to the isolated foreign forest regardless of common sense and get killed. Foreigners are cruel and uncivilized so they kill people for a certain ceremony. Apparently, this is not true, because incidents like that are too rare to be counted as solid evidence to define a group of people. However, it is fair to assume that as a journalist, Ian probably hears or reports this kind of story a lot. Ian talks about his job in the play: “I do other stuff. Shootings and rapes and kids getting fiddled by queer priests and schoolteachers.” (Kane, 48). It’s like his opinions are being proved over and over again. Just as the psychiatric indication will make people believe fake truth, Ian is convinced that the world is the way he imagines.
The more convinced he is, the less he wants to be anywhere near the people he hates, in other words, most people in the world, which goes against the feature of his profession as a journalist. He even refuses the story that comes to him, as he refuses the soldier’s request to tell his story, “This isn’t a story anyone wants to hear…It’s not my job…No joy in a story about blacks who gives a shit? Why bring you to light?” (Kane, 48). Instead of running for stories, Ian seems to be more interested in those who are innocent and ignorant. Ian is seducing Cate during the night: “You don’t know anything about it…Don’t know nothing. That’s why I love you, want to make love to you.” (Kane, 23). When Cate refuses to have sex with him, Ian rapes her.
At this point, Ian has already become this person who creates the story that a journalist like himself will do a piece of news about. He rapes the young girl like a “foreigner” in his own opinion, he keeps smoking even if he knows that is so dangerous that can take away his life, just like the woman without common sense, he becomes everything he hates.
Similarly to Ian, the doctor in 4.48 Psychosis also goes to an opposite way when his job reaches a certain point where he finds it too much to bear. The doctor asks the patient in a therapy: “What do you offer your friends to make them so supportive? What do you offer your friends to make them so supportive?” (Kane, 236). Facing a patient who suffers from serious depression, the doctor asks this question without any context. It is confusing. If the first time he asks is gentle and guiding, the second time he asks the same question is more like a request. Why does a doctor want answers from a patient who he knows well that will not give him an answer? The only possible explanation is that the doctor does not expect for an answer: he just needs to speak it out. As the play goes on, the doctor becomes the one who pours out all the hidden angst, “Most of my clients want to kill me. When I walk out of here at the end of the day I need to go home to my lover and relax. I need to be with my friends and relax. I need my friends to be really together…I fucking hate this job and I need my friends to be sane…I’m sorry.” (Kane, 237). The job is somewhat driving the doctor crazy, and the only way out for him is to stay together with his sane friends. However, friends are not shadows. There are definitely some time when they cannot be there for the doctor. Under this circumstance, he has no one to turn to help, and he has to be the one who helps during the day. His life is in an extremely unbalanced state. Finally, when the misery of the doctor’s life accumulates to a certain point, it explodes like a volcano. The doctor behaves like a patient in front of the real depressed patient, complaining his life and talking to himself as if he is out of his mind.
Going the opposite way seems to be a way out for people whose lives are extremely unbalanced and polarized. This is also the same situation that the soldier in Blasted is going through. In the early scenes where the soldier comes into the room just for food, he is still the soldier who’s taking absolute charge by the arms, as he tells Ian the reason why Ian should listen to him: “’Cause I’ve got a gun and you haven’t.” (Kane, 40). Soldiers are long-time considered to be as cruel and cold as the arms during the war, no exception for this one. However, as the conversation between the soldier and Ian goes on, the soldier makes some very weird remarks, like at one point they are talking about Cate, the soldier says: “Don’t [kill her], I’ll have to shoot you. Then I’d be lonely.” (Kane, 44). The soldier seems to have an unknown dependence on Ian, and this becomes even clearer when he fails to persuade Ian to write out his story, he almost pleads Ian, “…At home I’m clean. Like it never happened.” (Kane, 48). The soldier is literally trying to prove him to be an innocent person, or even a victim after telling Ian the horrible things he did to the girls. The feminine side of the soldier takes control of him at the moment. The loneliness and the desire for sexual action drive him to rape Ian, and after that he “smells Ian’s hair” and “is crying his heart out” just as what Cate does earlier in the play. The stereotypically cruel and cold-blooded soldier unexpectedly shows his feminine aspect.
Kane doesn’t explain what happened to the soldier that makes him suddenly so sensitive, but the background information about his girlfriend helps us understand this character. The soldier shouts at Ian at one point in the play, “You don’t know fuck all about me. I went to school. I made love with Col. Bastards [soldiers] killed her, now I’m here. Now I’m here.” (Kane, 48). The soldier used to be a school person, but what happened to his girlfriend made him choose to be a soldier. He hates the soldiers for killing his girlfriend and eating her eyes, driving him to be soldier and do the exact same things. The horrible accidents changes him to a person who is totally different from he used to be. After sucking out Ian’s eyes, the soldier explains: “He [the soldier who rapes his girlfriend] ate her eyes. Poor bastard. Poor love. Poor fucking bastard.” (Kane, 50). The soldier is lamenting his girlfriend, as well as himself. He’s become the bastard he used to hate. He hates what other soldiers did to his girlfriend, and he also hates what he did to the poor girls. From one extreme to another, the soldier is tired of the brutality of military. He wants to be the clean person he used to be, so he cries and pleads, but there is no way back, he chooses to end his life.
The endless terrifying stories make the journalist become one of the stories; the timeless listening changes the doctor to a talking patient; the long-time brutality esposes the soldier’s sensitive personality. Just as Lao Zi, the founder of Taoism, reveals, things will develop in the opposite direction when they become extreme. The world needs balance, so as long as these professionals reach a certain extremity in their professions, they turn to the opposite way. Kane’s plays are filled with the idea that the world is balanced. In Blasted, the three characters take absolute control one by one in the hotel room, while in 4.48 Psychosis the doctor and the patient both have problems and both don’t have solutions. It is not just the professionals, but all the people will have counteractions when they get to the point of extremity.
Kane, Sarah. Sarah Kane Complete Plays. London: Methuen Publishing Ltd, 2001. Print.
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