Anna Christie

Anna Christie

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Anna Christie and Mat Burke: two individuals who emigrated from Europe as children to become a couple. Mat Burke, a seaman, unsure of his own self worth, falls in love with the daughter of a Swedish coal barge captain. The daughter of Chris Christophson reveals that she was not a nurse, but a prostitute, who left Minnesota in hopes of recuperating from a recent brothel raid. She expects little from him, but finds that her father is repentant and wanting to make amends for the years he abandoned her.
At the end of Anna Christie we believe that Anna and Mat Burke will make the attempt to find happiness with one another. Despite Anna's past, the couple will be wed. The future is not so bright. Mat Burke is set to sail to South Africa to earn his living. This means that he will be immediately separated from his wife, who he just found out was a prostitute. Time has not passed for the couple to mend their relationship that has been severely damaged by the discovery of Anne's past. Mat will be a newlywed, on a ship, separated from his wife, and he's not supposed to have doubts about her fidelity? It is only natural that he would doubt, and therefore suffer because of those doubts.
Mat Burke fell deeply in love with Anna Christie, so much in love that he is willing to overlook that she was a prostitute. He is uncomfortable with ladies and behaves inappropriately with her despite his best intentions (O'Neill 28-9). Being a sailor, his interactions with women tend to be with prostitutes; he is uncomfortable in his own skin. Strong and coarse, Mat Burke is concerned with his own libido, his own sense of pride. He wants Anna Christie to dull the angst in his pants and to make him a man in a way that no prostitute can: he wants her to quell his loneliness (O'Neill, 26). Being lonely, however, does not mean that he is suddenly supposed to forget the truth.
Anna Christie's love for Mat is an opportunity for her to be reborn, to leave the pain of rape behind. In the fog, on the barge, she has the opportunity to become a virgin again. Many used her body but she surrenders her heart to Mat alone. To become a virgin again, she must shed her pain, and the lie.

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Anna Christie confesses her past to Mat, to be rebuked, shunned, and scorned. This is a natural response by a man who believes that prostitutes are "fallen women" as Ann M. Lucas correctly identifies in her article, "Race, Class, Gender and Deviancy: The Criminalization of Prostitution" (2). If a woman who "crossed the great divide between chastity and unchastity had no way back," (Lucas, 2) then Mat had every right to believe that his wife was permanently damaged. If he cannot forget the truth, he will be tormented by this fact while he is at sea, secretly resenting, and perhaps eventually hating, his wife. It is not to difficult to imagine that Mat would suspect his wife of returning to prostitution or engaging in some other kind of illegal activity since prostitution was linked to " every form of corruption, crime, and vice," (Lucas, 2).
Eugene O'Neill's play is not about the redeeming quality of love. Mat lusts after Anne, and does all he can to possess her, but she is like a drug. He admits that a sailor's life is a lonely one, and his desperation to fill that void is evident. According to Chris, Mat declares his love for every whore at every port he docks in (O'Neill, 39), a sign of Mat's loneliness and pursuit of love. He is a man who is seeking to resolve his angst at all costs. Marrying Anna Christie does nothing to solve this problem. Mat may be married, but he is still a sailor, at sea, who will be encouraged by his shipmates to indulge himself with prostitutes at the next port. We have no reason to believe that Mat would not since his prior behavior (sleeping with prostitutes) makes it more likely that he will do so again.
Even if Anna Christie remains loyal to Mat, the play does not suggest that Mat has an obligation to remain sexually loyal to his wife. He may sleep with prostitutes, and Chris would have no power to stop him since exposing Mat's activities would destroy his daughter's chance at happiness. It is very possible therefore, that Mat may catch a venereal disease while at one of these ports, and return home to give it to his wife who has not been with another lover. Because of his insecurity and constant fear that Anna Christie will return to prostitution, he would most likely blame all his problems on his poor wife. From venereal diseases to his loneliness to his unhappiness, Anna Christie would become the root of all of Mat's problems because she is weak. Women who cannot be redeemed are forced to depend on men for salvation. This puts them at the mercy of men who have the power to treat these women well or poorly.
This perspective ignores the role of males who purchase sex and places full responsibility on females. Once a woman engages in prostitution, she is permanently labeled a prostitute and becomes unable to escape from the lifestyle. Men face no similar stigma; they may purchase the services of as many prostitutes as they please and never suffer the consequences of their actions. Even the diseases spread by men who purchase sex was blamed on the women who contracted the diseases, (Lucas 3), rather than on the men who created the conditions for the spread of disease.
The criminalization of female prostitutes further ignores the conditions that drive them to prostitution. Women like Anne Christie, who suffer from rape, often felt that they were ruined for other men, and found answers to their severe depression and psychological traumas by becoming prostitutes. If they could never be good enough to have a husband, then they had to deal with the realities of housing, feeding, and clothing themselves. Given the role of women during the Progressive era, this left abused women with little opportunity for employment outside of prostitution, where men further victimize them. Having been a prostitute also means that society expects that reform from this lifestyle is impossible (Lucas, 2). If a woman can never be reformed from prostitution, then she is condemned to forever be a prostitute; her past can never slip into the past tense. Her faults remain, forever, in the present.
Mat loathes prostitutes because of their immoral qualities. Like the concerns expressed by Progressive leaders who sought to end prostitution, Mat expresses his dislike for the fallen women. Not only are they having sex and declaring love for every man they meet (making them liars and abusers of their own bodies), but, "They're looking to steal the money from you only," (O'Neill, 28). Sexual deviation, therefore, became the basis for female decadence (Lucas, 2). If Anna Christie's past will forever remain in the present tense, then Mat's wife will always be the kind of woman he loathes.
Given the times, it would have been very unlikely that Mat Burke could accept that his wife was a prostitute without it becoming a major source of conflict. Despite her confession of actions that took place in the past, Mat had a hard time dealing with the truth. He drank himself into a stupor, fought his way (literally) into denial, and pled with Anne to tell him that none of her past was true (O'Neill, 53). Mat is less interested in the pains of his "love" than he is in his own honor, and in the way he was tricked. He gives into his own desire to posses Anne than forgives her. He spends every moment of the play trying to forget the reality instead of dealing with it. In the end, he blames the sea, and fate, for the troubles that lie ahead for him and his wife to be. Mat will be thinking about whether his wife is cheating on him while he is at sea, always doubting. If he ever leaves the sea, to stay closer to her, he will hate her for taking him away from what he always loved. Either way, Mat appears ready to make Anne pay for loving him. He is like a jackal ready to tear into unsuspecting prey.
Perhaps equally terrifying are the problems that Anne and Mat would face if they had a child. Given the fact that Mat would be away, it is very likely that Anne would like to have a child to keep her company. Given Mat's likely insecurities, it is quite possible that Mat would always doubt that he was the father of any child Anna Christie gave birth to. Instead of being the cement that brings the family together, a child would likely ruin the lives of Mat and Anna.
How would Anne respond? There is no way for her to survive this but at the hands of Mat, who may or may not beat her for suspicions he may or may not be able to prove. He will always be able to call her a whore, and she has no defense. If he throws her out on the street, she has no other way to survive but to return to prostitution, a life she was ready to condemn herself to many times before Mat takes her back. She is always in an insecure position, and she does not appear to have a way to escape.
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