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“Big Night” by Dawn Powell: Myra’s Final Choice Pragmatism

Introduction

Dawn Powell’s play “Big Night” portrays controversial relationships both within a particular family and in society in general. The author uncovers the sad but true reversal of values in 1930s America, when love, friendship, kindness, and other aspects of ordinary life were replaced by the desire to make a profit in business. Whereas each character has its own peculiarities, Dawn depicts the 1930s females as highly dependent on males, the former being some kind of adornment to the latter.

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The main characters, Myra and Ed Bonney represent a typical family of a working man and a non-working woman. What is not common about them, though, is that the wife did use to work, but quit her job when her husband asked her to do so. The analysis of relationships in this family, as well as between other heroes, allows noticing that they are built on utility. Each of the main characters treats others as a means to an end: a means to become prosperous and wealthy and make better social contacts.

Relationships Between Characters

The majority of characters in the play are not wealthy, so it is easy to trace their aspiration for a better future by means of exploiting their connections with those more fortunate. Ed Bonney, who is an advertising agent, strives to gain success by arranging cooperation with wealthy business owners. However, the tactic he has selected does not seem to be thriving. Ed throws parties to entice his prospective customers, but he does not have enough money to lead the lifestyle he wants. When his wife, Myra, points this fact out, Ed says she just does not understand how the business is done. However, the delicatessen delivery boy mentions that his boss told him “not to take any more checks” from Ed (Powell 23).

When the boy leaves, Myra reminds her husband about the electrician’s threat to shut off the lights because of the debt (Powell 24). Throughout the play, there are many indications of Ed’s inability to earn or save enough, and he frequently blames his wife for being extravagant. These instances demonstrate that Ed is willing to enhance his financial position by making friends with the ‘right’ people.

Ed’s competitor from a different company, Bill Fargo, demonstrates quite similar behavior. As well as Ed, Bill tries to make connections with prospective investors and chooses the method of partying as the prevalent one. Fargo calls Bert Jones, a millionaire he has just met and hopes to persuade to use his services, “old chum” (Powell 40). It is obvious that the fake friendship and amiability are not making any impression on Jones himself, but the way everyone is trying to win his attention is both humiliating and flattering. It is embarrassing to observe how Ed and Bill are fighting for Jones’s support because they both see him as their means to an end.

By signing a contract with such an important man as Jones, any advertising company can have a secure future. However, even though Jones understands the reason why everyone is trying to please him, he is not happy about it. As the man himself admits, “It’s a cheap outfit, this New York crowd” (Powell 82). From these words, it becomes evident that Jones realizes the true nature of the people trying to pretend that they are his friends.

Utility-based relationships can also be noticed in the behavior of female characters in the play. Myra Bonney and Lucille Fargo are entirely dependent on their husbands and have no choice but to follow their directions. Ed Bonney makes his wife throw parties she hates merely to satisfy his prospective clients. Bill Fargo does the same, even though he admits at some point that he owes “everything” to his wife (Powell 45).

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The Bonney’s upstairs neighbor, Vera, attends parties in the hope of finding someone to improve her financial state. In the meantime, she does not lose an opportunity to flirt with Ed in the presence of his wife, as well as with Jones, as soon as she sees him (Powell 19-21, 44-45). Even the two ladies who accompany Chet Davies, the singer, seem to perform the function of some decoration to a man they are with, going wherever he wants and doing whatever he asks (Powell 62-63). Overall, it is obvious that women in the play treat men as a means to an end. However, it is also necessary to notice that they do not have much of a choice.

Myra’s Character Analysis and the Rationale behind Her Final Choice

While the utility-type relationships present an important area for analysis, it is also crucial to investigate the character of Myra and the effect of other people on her personality development. Problems in the Bonney household are vivid from the very start of the play. Myra is unhappy because she constantly feels unappreciated by her husband. Furthermore, she continuously tells him about her feelings, but he does not seem to listen. Ed calls his beautiful wife “such a dumbbell” and says that “the hardest work” she ever has to do “is to make a few sandwiches now and then” (Powell 17). One might have pitied the man for having such a lazy wife.

However, it was Ed himself who made Myra quit her job and join him in his pursuit of luck in the advertising business. When the man mentions that he has to do his “damnedest,” Ed means sitting in a bar drinking for two days with a prospective client (Powell 34). His boasting about his hard work sounds too ironic to take it seriously. Instead of looking for a profitable job, he blames his wife for not saving enough.

Meanwhile, Myra’s beauty seems to overshadow her intellectual capacity for Ed. The woman repeats, “I got brains,” but her husband does not seem to believe that (Powell 23, 29). Ed considers it unnecessary for a pretty woman to have brains or use them. Such an attitude makes the woman feel miserable and depreciated. Not only that – Myra also needs to remind her husband about having feelings (Powell 29).

And again, instead of showing his sympathy and understanding, Ed brushes her words off by saying that her only worry should be helping him to make his guests feel comfortable. These and many other examples from the text signify that Myra is deeply hurt, unhappy, and dissatisfied with the life she has. When they were getting married, Ed promised quite a different future to her. Hence, it is not surprising that Myra starts considering leaving her husband. While she does not say or think so in the first two acts, it is easy to notice from her behavior and utterances that she is not going to support her husband’s illusory plans any longer.

Bert Jones, whom Myra seems to have hated for several years, and who now is such a desirable partner for Ed, eventually becomes her savior. However, it is necessary to analyze what kind of rescue this is and what is in it to Myra. It is evident that Jones loves Myra more than her husband does. Since the moment of their last meeting, when she was a model working in a store, and he was a respectable customer who never took ‘no’ for an answer, Jones has been dreaming about her.

Despite having had many women in his life, Jones speaks of Myra as a unicorn: a mythical creature he longs for so much but has never been able to catch. When Fargo calls Myra “just a decoration,” and her own husband says that she is too stubborn to play even that little role, Jones objects (Powell 60). While Ed treats Myra as if he were selling her “for a white slave” (Powell 23), Jones compares her to an expensive thoroughbred that happened to go in the wrong hands (Powell 60).

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As Jones puts it, she is “a fine horse, with the wrong trainer” (Powell 60). By saying these words, Jones emphasizes that all of Ed’s complaints should be addressed to himself rather than his wife since it is because of him that she has become what she is.

Myra’s decision to go with Jones is based on two significant factors: Ed’s accusations and Jones’s confession about his true feelings to her. By the end of the party, Jones says that he has always dreamt of being with Myra, which makes her look at him differently and forget about her old offense (Powell 77).

However, at the end of act two, after they have kissed, Myra gives herself away by saying almost inaudibly, “you damned old swine” (Powell 78). Still, despite these words, it is apparent that Myra is considering leaving her husband for Jones. This decision is further reinforced by Ed’s reaction to her lies about having slept with Jones. Rather than being surprised, Ed immediately believes Myra’s words, as if it was the only thing he expected her to do. Without even considering that she is joking, Ed calls his wife a “red-headed she-wolf” (Powell 95). Although it is not the first time Ed insults Myra, this is probably the first occasion when he uses such abusive language.

Instead of feeling hurt, Myra seems to be relieved at such a reaction. She has finally managed to hear his true opinion of her: the one she suspected him of having had for several years but never to utter. The woman recollects how her husband made her quit her job because he could “use a good whore” in his business (Powell 96). Myra is convinced that Ed’s inclination to believe that she has spent the night with Jones is “the truth” coming “right out of” his heart (Powell 97).

But probably the breaking point of the whole situation is when Jones distracts Ed from saying disgusting things about Myra by mentioning that he will give him a job (Powell 98). It is the culmination moment when it becomes evident that Myra has always been right about her husband’s feelings toward her. Hearing about money, Ed immediately forgets about the probable adultery and his anger. All he can concentrate on at the moment is the prospect of becoming rich and important.

Whereas it may not be obvious at first sight, there is a considerable difference between the way Myra was used by Ed and the one she will likely be used by Jones. True, both men see her beauty first of all and view it as the greatest asset. However, Ed used to exploit Myra as a tool for enticing potential customers. Meanwhile, Jones will use her as an object of worshipping and as a unique gem in his crown. Hence, Myra has made a pragmatic decision when she has chosen to leave Ed for Bill. She realizes that she might not receive the opportunity to reveal her potential in this relationship, as well. Still, she will at least be treated properly and not taken for granted. Thus, even though Myra’s resolution is guided by sensible motives, she understands that Jones will love her more than Ed ever could.

Conclusion

Dawn Powell’s “Big Night” is an artistic portrayal of a relationship between male and female characters in 1930s America, as well as of business relationships in society. By using excellent stylistic devices, such as irony and satire, the author has managed to point out the most complicated issues and to explain what triggered such behaviors. The main character’s decision to leave her husband for another man can be explained by a down-to-earth approach to choosing her future life. At the same time, however, Myra, like any woman, wants to feel loved and appreciated. It is probably her desire to feel protected instead of abused that urges her to make a pragmatic decision in the end.

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StudyCorgi. (2022, January 6). “Big Night” by Dawn Powell: Myra’s Final Choice Pragmatism. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/big-night-by-dawn-powell-myras-final-choice-pragmatism/

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StudyCorgi. (2022, January 6). “Big Night” by Dawn Powell: Myra’s Final Choice Pragmatism. https://studycorgi.com/big-night-by-dawn-powell-myras-final-choice-pragmatism/

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"“Big Night” by Dawn Powell: Myra’s Final Choice Pragmatism." StudyCorgi, 6 Jan. 2022, studycorgi.com/big-night-by-dawn-powell-myras-final-choice-pragmatism/.

1. StudyCorgi. "“Big Night” by Dawn Powell: Myra’s Final Choice Pragmatism." January 6, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/big-night-by-dawn-powell-myras-final-choice-pragmatism/.


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StudyCorgi. "“Big Night” by Dawn Powell: Myra’s Final Choice Pragmatism." January 6, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/big-night-by-dawn-powell-myras-final-choice-pragmatism/.

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StudyCorgi. 2022. "“Big Night” by Dawn Powell: Myra’s Final Choice Pragmatism." January 6, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/big-night-by-dawn-powell-myras-final-choice-pragmatism/.

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StudyCorgi. (2022) '“Big Night” by Dawn Powell: Myra’s Final Choice Pragmatism'. 6 January.

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