The play opens with a scene highlighting the abuse Loureen, a housewife in her early thirties, experiences throughout the duration of her marriage as we come to realize during her conversation with her best friend and neighbor, Florence, as the play progresses. Loureen is the protagonist of the literature piece and the character I find most interesting because of her conflicting reactions towards the vanishing of her husband, Samuel. Her recount of him turning to ashes still leaves us with the question of whether she had indeed murdered him, cremated his body and was in the throes of mental delusion by the weight of the guilt of having committed a crime. Was it really a magical occurrence that turned her abusive husband into ashes with the flash of light that opened the scene for Loureen’s monologue?
Loureen’s conflict is one faced by many women who find themselves in prolonged domestic abuse. She is free of her abuser and the absence of the physical, emotional and mental pain his presence brings but at the same time guilty or remorseful for the very absence she craves and loves despite the trauma. According to the author’s notes, “nearly half the women on death row in the United States were convicted of killing abusive husbands.” Loureen is already aware that that would be her plight if others outside of Florence and herself knew that she was involved in the disappearance of her husband.
Was it the author’s aim to highlight a seeming flaw of the justice system? Battered women are often not given the consideration of their actions being attributed to derangement or frustration or self-defense in response to the continuous abuse by their partners. Instead, they are considered criminals for the loss of life with no regards to the negative and sometimes lifelong repercussions that abuse can impart. Loureen’s conflict is also seen in her strange, erratic behavior. She grapples often with the fear of being found out and reported for the crime. Sometimes she is stricken by memories of good times in her relationship but she mostly seems elated that Samuel is no longer a factor of her misery.
Loureen is also made to be experiencing Battered Woman’s Syndrome, as is typical of abuse victims. This is highlighted when only after seconds of Samuel threatening her and disappearing she appears to be docile and subservient in her willingness to do as she was told perhaps earlier instructed by Samuel. For example, “Don’t be cross with me. Sure I forgot to pick up your shirt for tomorrow. I can wash another, I’ll do it right now. Right now!” This behavior is possibly motivated by the fact that his normal reaction would have been to hit her and in her anticipation, she knew better to comply. Even in death, she still somehow respected Samuel. This was shown by her haste to retrieve his favorite jacket from Florence to prevent its wrinkling as if Samuel would somehow return it and as is routine in the cycles of abuse, become physical if it was less than up to par in his eyes. We also see where she is reminiscent of good times evoked by the sight of their wedding picture rescued from his wallet housed in the same jacket. She then quickly transitions to justifying his vanishing being due to her words, almost in a proud manner.
Florence is the antagonist of the drama piece. She too is also in her thirties and lives upstairs from Loureen. Her husband, Edgar, is not physically abusive as Samuel but verbally and financially abusive. However, Florence finds herself as miserable as Loureen. It is perhaps this common factor of dissatisfaction with their lives and the men in them that strengthens their bond, so much so that Florence is the first person Loureen thinks to call in her state of panic. Another main difference between the two women is that Florence has children. Both women had made a pact to run away together “when things got real bad for both of us…” It is in this instance that we realize that although they share a common interest of men who treats them poorly, their daily experiences are perhaps ghastly different. For Florence to have stated that Samuel “must have done something truly terrible” in order for Loureen to carry out the act of making him disappear points to the fact that on some level Florence could not relate to the daily trauma Loureen was going through and the apex of her frustration that led Samuel’s transformation into ashes.
Florence also translates into the voice of the readers because she asks all of the questions that we have on our mind as we follow the author’s presentation, the most pertinent question which alludes to Loureen’s apparent psychosis when she asks “You smoking crack?” This line comes from observing Loureen’s weird behavior as she moved through the different emotions throughout the play, especially after interpreting Loureen breaking down only to find her “laughing hysterically.”
Loureen knows that she can trust Florence with the secret of her missing husband or she would not have called her in the first place. Florence concretes this trust by saying, “I didn’t see anything but a pile of ash. As far as I know you got a little careless and burned a chicken.” She further helps Loureen to find plausible reasons to not report the incident, giving us insight that although she may not have been physically present, she was aware of the extent of Samuel’s abuse, having overheard it happening on some occasions. Florence is indeed supportive of her friend and even asked if she could be the instrument for Edgar’s disappearance. However, Loureen declined and that alludes to the fact that she is aware that would be intentional and therefore a crime, a rather ironic view to have, seeing that the murder of her husband was reduced in her mind to him simply disappearing like a magic trick.
Florence’s support helps Loureen not only to gain some rationality about the situation, but it also helps to stabilize her panic. Florence becomes her voice of reason and this somehow seems to give her reassurance and peace with the fact that her husband is no longer around to abuse her. At the closing of the play, we see where the two ladies make plans to meet the following day to play cards as if nothing had happened and life simply will continue. Loureen literally sweeps Samuel’s ashes under the carpet. This is a brilliant line by the author as it is symbolic of the idiom “sweep under the rug” which means to hide something damaging or unpleasant and try to keep it secret.
The secret is Samuel’s murder. It could also allude to wanting to hide the circumstances leading to him vanishing. Abuse victims are usually embarrassed by the situation and many may not make others aware until after a few incidences. Sweeping Samuel’s ashes under the carpet also points to Loureen’s decision to put the past behind her and enjoy her new life without him. She could have swept the ashes out the door or returned it to a container but she opted for an easier way in order to sit and enjoy her dinner. This level of nonchalance signifies peace that could be temporary because sooner or later she may have to revisit the ashes under the carpet.
In my opinion, Loureen could have dealt with the situation differently in terms of not opting to murder her husband but it seems it was her only route of escape from the harsh circumstance. We are not exactly informed of the era the play was set in. Domestic abuse and violence are still rampant today as it was 50 years ago. We are told by Florence that numerous police reports were made which amounted to a lack of assistance, although rightly so. The provisions made by the law would render police officers a low level of power as domestic abuse is deemed a civil matter. Loureen’s frustration is understandable and in a way justifies her wanting to be free of her abuser.
I admire that Loureen came to a decision that she would no longer suffer at the hands of Samuel but it is unfortunate that he was ‘poofed’ away. It takes some mental toughness to have endured abuse but not without some negative effects. Throughout the play we see Loureen grappling with her sense of reality to the point where the reader is left to question whether or not one believes her story of her husband turning into ashes like magic seeing that she is convinced that that is exactly what occurred. In the end, Loureen seems to have made peace with the fact that her husband disappearance meant being a better emotional state.