Purgatory (1953) is a play written by William Butler Yeats which only consists of two male characters in the story, Boy and his father, Old Man. The two characters are set outside from an old house which is actually the house where the young Old Man stabbed his own father using the knife he uses to cut food and to kill the Boy. Purgatory presents the different treatment of representing the class distinction not only in economy but also in gender. Boy is represented inhabiting the lower economic place while the Old Man is on the higher place. Boy is also represented only as Purgatory’s hearer while Old Man is as its speaker. Boy is placed by the play as subordinate to Old Man as if woman to man. It represents Purgatory’s another treatment of class-distinct body not only in economy but also in gender. The representation is gathered in two ways, first is done by Purgatory’s process of projection of images, and second, by Purgatory’s properties of stage.
Old Man’s head which is operated as the play’s images projector signifies his power of control. It can be seen on the play that Old Man’s voices dominate the whole plot. The story goes as well as Old Man speaks about his own story. He projects his whole body and soul not only to Purgatory’s audiences but also to Purgatory’s entire theatrical sphere (to the house, tree, and windows) which I argue as one of the aspects of discriminating “the silent Boy” as Purgatory’s lower body. It is Old Man who projects his voice to Boy who can only follow and even absorbs the voices, as writes Breen (1989) “talking and seeing, not listening, determine the father's (Old Man) relation to his son (Boy)” (51). It is indeed that Boy is also given the voices too in speaking but not for showing his independence and existence, but rather to speak for echoing the image which is projected by Old Man. In replying to Old Man’s image projection to Boy about “…come to sixteen years old my father burned down the house when drunk” (432), Boy is presented as a mimic of the Old Man in the same term of “almost the same but not quite” (Bhabha 1949). Boy tries to be the same as the Old Man by replying “but that is my age, sixteen years old,” (ibid) which signifies that the way Purgatory projecting its images supplies Old Man’s autonomy power in Purgatory.
Boy who plays the role only as an Old Man’s dark side reflection also represents how Purgatory deal with the class distinction. Old Man holds a power in projecting his father’s image to Boy by assuming that Boy will be the same as his father if he gives him the money (434). This scene of Boy’s failures in taking Old Man’s bundle of money represents Old Man’s economical power and Boy is economical-weakness. The situation which presents Old Man as economically powerful is also symbolized more thoroughly by the appearance of property belong to Old Man, “Grand clothes and maybe a grand horse to ride” (432). Boy as the subordinate body which is presented entirely not having any kind of property, not appreciated in speaking his equal economy privilege but only to lose and still following Old Man’s muttering, identifies that Boy is placed in a lower economy class than Old Man by the way Purgatory projecting its image to Boy and audiences only through Old Man.
Old Man asks the Boy to ‘study that house’, ‘study that tree’, and ‘look at the window’ without answering Boy communicatively represents that Old Man does not hear or even see Boy equally with him. Boy is only presented to hear the Old Man and Old Man is presented to come in a monologue (not communicating with anyone beside himself) implies Purgatory’s significance in representing Boy as an image of female which produced by the male’s point of view, as Breen writes;
In a play which focuses simultaneously on the inextricability of male from female identity and the irreconcilability of upper- and lower-class voices, language does not exist so much between characters as within the ear of each (1989: 51).
Purgatory represents its specific treatment of class-distinct body not only through its image projection but also through the stage and actor’s properties. The knife is to symbolize the Old Man’s both economical and sexual power over the Boy. Knife is also economical because it represents the situation of man owning property like what I argue before. Boy is designed as an object to Old Man since he is presented to follow all of the Old Man’s passions and to have nothing at all even his own privilege in controlling himself are one of the Purgatory’s elements of the subjectivity of Old Man over-controlling the Boy’s body and soul through a symbol of knife. Knife is economical when it extends Old Man’s mental and physical strength to control the body and soul of the weaker who owns nothing, the Boy Boy’s but it is also sexual when knife is used to kill Boy’s body and soul which is presented as a place of Old Man to project his sexual desire to reach an orgasm ;
“My father and my son on the same jack-knife! That finishes- there- there- there- [He stabs again and again. The Window grows dark.]” (435).
That Old Man kills Boy with passion. The play presents the character’s tension of a very strong feeling of satisfaction by “he stabs again and again”. The Old Man which is presented enjoying the sensation of stabbing the Boy’s body is regarded as sexual. Purgatory claims Old Man’s sexual power and desire over the body-without-soul by that stabbing action (put a vital ‘tool’ in and out towards a body). Through that sexual representation, it is Old Man who is presented as a subject who does something to Boy, as an object. Old Man is only satisfying himself but leaving a sorrow to Boy just like the cases of woman who is rapped by a man. It then comes as a representation of how the lower class body is treated sexually yet violently in Purgatory.