Character Sketch of Celia Coplestone in The Cocktail Party
Table of Contents
Celia’s Love for Edward
Celia Coplestone is a young lady of great charm belonging to the social circle of the Chamberlaynes. In the beginning, she seems to exist at no higher level than the other guests at the party. She is Edward’s mistress, and in him she has been trying to find the divine. She has created a god in man’s image, and the real man could never have lived up to her image of him. The shock which she receives when Edward decided to abandon her in favour of his wife, shatters her illusions about herself and her way of life. The first feeling is one of humiliation, and then comes the realization that she has been living in a world of unreality:
“The man I saw before, he was only a projection,
I see that now-of something that I wanted”
No, not wanted-something that I aspired to,
Something that I desperately wanted to exist.”
The first signs of spiritual awakening in her are, “an awareness of solitude”, that ‘one always is alone’, and all friends and human relationships are mere illusions. Not only Edward, but everyone, “all the world I live in seems a delusion”, so that, “it no longer seems worthwhile to speak to anyone”. Therefore, she feels,
“It would really be dishonest,
For me, now, to try to make a life with anybody.”
The second symptom of spiritual awareness in her is, “a sense of sin” which is strong in her, despite the fact that she has, “always been taught to disbelieve in sin”. This sense of sin is not merely a feeling of wrong doing:
“It is not the feeling of anything I have ever done,
Which I might get away from, or anything in me,
I could get rid of but of emptiness, of failure.
Toward some one, or something, outside of myself.
And I feel I must……. atone-is that the word?
Can you treat a patient for such a state of mind?”
She suffers from a feeling of sin because she is a member of sinful humanity. She may either choose the ordinary man’s way or the saint’s. She chooses the second way, the way of “loneliness and communion”, the saint’s way which leads to a painful death. It has been said that there is a discrepancy in her character, for, instead of complete withdrawal from life, she joins the active pursuits of an austere, nursing sisterhood, and is killed by the natives. However, as Maxwell points out, “Sainthood finds various forms, and whichever way of realisation is chosen, the character which elects remains unaltered. Celia changes her mind, but the character which drove her to choose originally is radically consistent. Sainthood in her expresses itself in the service of others, even at the cost of her own life. She was, ‘more conscious’, spiritually more aware, than others, and so “paid the highest price in suffering”. Her painful death is not, “an essay in morbid asceticism”. Her horrible death is a dramatic necessity, it is necessary to bring home to the readers the real significance of her choice. It was the only way”, says Maxwell, “to bring home to the audience just what Celia’s choice means, of stressing its urgency”.
Celia’s Martyrdom: Its Repercussions
The last Act of the play shows the repercussions of Celia’s martyrdom on the life of others. It must have made a difference to the natives, or to the state of mind in which they died. Peter’s self-assurance is shaken, and he realises that he has been selfish, “too much interested” in himself. Lavinia regrets her earlier spitefulness towards Celia and her failure to understand her. As Reilly tells them, they will have to live with these memories, and make them into something new. Only by acceptance of the past, can they alter its meaning. In short, writes D.E. Jones, Celia has set a standard by which others will try to live. “She has also borne witness to a deeper reality than that of ordinary life”. Celia’s death has brought the Chamberlaynes closer together, as well as tied them to Peter. The life of the spirit has been invigorated and the bonds of society strengthened.
Celia’s death is a triumphant fulfilment of her life. Her life has not been wasted, it has fertilized the lives of others.
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