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Essay on “The Sound of a Voice” by Henry Hwang

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Life is a puzzle. Whatever it offers or what it fails to offer bears a corresponding consequence. It matters less therefore, the nature of the offer, whether good or bad, the bottom line remains; each has a flaw attached therein. Oscar Wilde gives some insight to this issue to unravel the mystery behind the life. Wilde asserts that, having what one desires is a tragedy just like not having it. Though the words may differ in terms of one’s’ interpretations, they are true and to the point.

For instance, most things that people yearn for, do not even cost money, viz. love, attention, to mention but a few. The tragedy strikes in when the world fails to avail them whereas it can offer a well paying job an example of what people desire. As people strive to meet the job’s demands, a tragedy inform of a mess crops up in their families, as they are too busy with the job to attend to the families’ needs.

Playwrights have set out to address this reality, and among them is, Henry Hwang.

The Sound of a Voice is among Hwang’s captivating tragic Chef-d’oeuvres, featuring two categories of lonely characters, male and female. Hwang wants to see how the two interact in their endeavors to obey the attraction-repulsion powers of love. The two need the others’ love for their emotional satisfaction. Their world finally fails to provide, hence a tragedy. However, the psychological strength offered, turns out a tragedy as the two groups struggle to maintain their mental uprightness, when they all surrender to their emotional needs.

This scenario, coupled with others, concurs with Oscar Wilde words that, “In this world there are only two tragedies: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.” For instance, the company that the play’s protagonist gets from his female friend after a long period of loneliness is the cause of her death, as elaborated next.


The company that the woman gets from the man is the root cause of her death. Once a person receives what he/she has been longing for, he/she handles it with a pronounced care and attention. This stands out in the play as the woman gives a warm welcome to the cold-stricken man, who enters her house. The woman in the play has been lonely for a long time since people claim that she is a witch thus avoiding her.

When the man enquires to know how frequent she is visited, she says, “I don’t know…perhaps ten years…” (Hwang, 2003, p. 973). As a result, she longs for company, which she gets from the man. To show the depth of her desire for the man, and how satisfied she feels after getting him, she offers him tea.

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As the woman enters the house to find the man dressing, she assumes he is leaving and gets annoyed of it because this is not what she desires. This atmosphere does not continue for long. In fact, the woman reveals to the man that there are other men, who visit her with a hidden agenda of killing her. She insinuates that the man could be one of them. This realization marks the dawn of her tragedy.

The man begins to torment her. The woman says, “Stop that…tormenting me…to kill me” (Hwang, 2003, p. 985). From this scenario, it stands out that, though the woman wanted the man for company, what she gets as a result is none but threats of death and torments, which concords with Oscar Wilde’s words.

The man is in need of a long-lasting relationship with a caring beautiful woman. However, as the play unfolds, though he gets the woman, the relationship is just but limited and his efforts to maintain it marks his tragedy because they bear no fruits. The story opens with the man visiting the woman.

His pronounced loneliness stands out as he spends the previous night in the cold besides a waterfall. To show the degree of his loneliness, he reveals to the woman that, “The sound of the waterfall put me asleep…you see, I can’t sleep in too much silence” (Hwang, 2003, p. 971).

These words are a package, sufficient to tell that the man is actually in need of company, and one can insinuate, he has found one in the woman. However, this is not enough of what he is looking for. He symbolically tells the woman that he has a long journey to cover, implying a long-lasting companionship. The woman ought to be caring, and as he can prove from the warm welcome, she really is. The woman passes for a companion as expounded next.

She is beautiful and always ready to satisfy the desires of the man. She plays some sweet melodies to him and this pulls him closer to her. He can afford the words, “We are a team, you and me” (Hwang, 2003, p. 977). However, the deal seems too good for the man and thus he ought to think twice. He thus talks of rumors that men, who happen to visit her never, return. This reveals the real character of the woman. The woman is abusive.

She says, “Then you are a fool to come here…they are blind as well as ignorant” (Hwang, 2003, p. 981). The way the play ends symbolizes the man’s effort to look for a long-lasting companion. It ends with the woman exiting the room with the man rushing after her, only for the woman to hang herself leaving the man alone. He fails to get what he wanted: a long-term relationship, hence a tragedy as Oscar Wilde calls it.

The love that the man develops turns out to be the cause of his weakness. As the man enters the woman’s house, he is yearning for love, which he gets from the woman. In fact, he tells her that she is beautiful and loving, confessing that he has actually been drawn to her. When the woman tells him to kill her, if at all this can make him not to leave her, the man reveals that he lacks, even the energy to kill himself, owing to the evident weakness brought by his love to her. In addition, the woman bears more skills compared to the man.

She bears the strength of a man. Though she thought that the skills would help her draw love from the man, they turn to be the source of the man’s unhappiness. The man tells her, “Yes! Go! …the techniques” (Hwang, 2003, p. 980), which among other episodes, show how what the two characters had and what they did not have, turns out to be a disaster.


Though people desire a lot for their own satisfaction, life seems to offer only two options. They will either get or fail to get what they want. Surprisingly, regardless of whether people get or fail to get what they want, the upshot is a tragedy. Hwang, in his charismatic masterwork, confirms this through his characters, the man, and the woman.

For instance, the man, whom the woman gets after a long period of loneliness, begins to threaten and torment her. This, among other play scripts, concurs with Oscar Wilde word that, ‘in this world, there are only two tragedies: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.’


Hwang, H. (2003). The Sound of a Voice . New York: Theatre Communication Group.