When the lights turn on for Episode Seven, Helen and George sit silently in their home reading newspapers. When they see headlines that interest them, they read them aloud. The ones that interest George are: “Record production”; “Sale hits a million—”; “Market trend steady—”; and “Owns a life interest.” Between each of these headlines, Helen reads aloud the titles that interest her: “Girl turns on gas”; “Woman leaves all for love—”; and “Young wife disappears—.”
This small detail is yet another illustration of how ill-suited George and Helen are for one another. George can’t take his mind off business, and his interest in sales and the market makes him seem almost brutishly stupid, as if anything that doesn’t have to do with money is incomprehensible to him. Helen, on the other hand, melodramatically seeks out the saddest, most depraved headlines, all of them having to do with women unhappy with their current lives—in turn, this fascination foreshadows her own rebellion.
The telephone rings, and George speaks to his business partner. Upon hanging up, he says, “They signed!—aren’t you interested? Aren’t you going to ask me?” Indulging him, Helen asks him a series of questions that give him the opportunity to deliver a cliché—“Did they sign?” she asks. “I’ll say they signed,” he replies. “On the dotted line?” she asks. “On the dotted line.” Pleased, he moves toward Helen and pinches her cheek, saying, “The property’s mine! It’s not all that’s mine!” As he does so, Helen leans away, a movement he notices and remarks upon, saying that she hasn’t shied away from his touch in a long time. “You used to do it every time I touched you,” he says. “Oh, I liked it,” he later says. “Purity.” As she refutes this, the phone rings, and George tells yet another business partner the same exact things he told Helen about the deal he’s just made.
The fact that George understood Helen’s shyness and repulsion as “purity” aligns with the notion that he’s completely out of touch with what she actually feels. Though she used to shrink away from him because he disgusted her, he thought her actions were based on a set of societal notions of proper female behavior. Of course, this is ironic, because societal expectations are the last thing on Helen’s mind when it comes to her problem with George’s intimacy. On another note, his repetition of the same few phrases—“I’ll say they signed,” “On the dotted line,” etc.—casts him once again as a somewhat robotic, mechanized person, a man who adheres to order and is unable to deviate from his very narrow interests.
Shortly after George gets off the phone, another call comes in, and he repeats himself yet again. Meanwhile, Helen distractedly reads the newspaper, clearly restless and uncomfortable about something. “My, you’re nervous tonight,” George remarks when he’s finally finished on the phone. Later, Helen finds a headline in the paper that says, “Sale of jewels and precious stones.” Putting her hand on her neck, she tells George that she feels like she’s drowning with stones around her neck. “You just imagine that,” he says. “Stifling,” she replies. Shortly thereafter, George asks her to close the window because he can feel cold air. “You just imagine it,” she tells him. “I never imagine anything,” he responds.
Helen’s use of the word “stifling” is interesting because it can be applied either to the idea of drowning or to George’s insistence that Helen’s problems are the result of her imagination. When she later tries to discredit George in the same way—now telling him that he’s the one imagining things—he says, “I never imagine anything,” delivering what is perhaps his most self-aware statement in the entire play. After all, it’s quite true that George doesn’t imagine anything, as he’s already proved himself incapable of thinking of anything but money and his own desires. Indeed, he is himself something of a machine, and thus has no access to the emotional world of the imagination.
Helen gets up and says she’s going to bed, but George reminds her that it’s still early. Standing there indecisively, she says, “Oh—I want to go away!” When George asks her where, she says, “Anywhere—away,” continuing by admitting that she’s scared and that she hasn’t been able to sleep. George assures her they’ll go away someday to Europe, because he wants to buy a Swiss watch. He then reads another headline aloud: “Another revolution below the Rio Grande.” This grabs Helen’s attention, and she asks if anybody was hurt or if there were any prisoners—George disinterestedly tells her everybody involved went free.
Yet again, George proves that he’s completely immune to Helen’s emotions, this time blatantly turning her intense need to go away into a trip that will benefit him in the form of a Swiss watch. Of course, Helen wants primarily to get away from him, and his subsequent mentioning of the Rio Grande certainly evokes thoughts about Mr. Roe, further exacerbating her desire to escape her husband.
Just then, the sound of a hand organ playing Cielito Lindo begins faintly in the background, and Mr. Roe’s voice can suddenly be heard recounting once again his escape from his Mexican captors. A chorus of voices repeat his words, saying, “Free—free—free—.” “I filled an empty bottle with small stones,” says Mr. Roe. “Stones—stones—precious stones—millstones—stones—stones—millstones,” the voices echo. “You only need a bottle with small stones,” says Mr. Roe’s voice again. As these words swirl along with the music of the hand organ, Helen leaps to her feet, crying “Oh! Oh!,” and the stage goes dark. “Stones—stones—stones,” the voices chant while the hand organ’s notes twist in the blackness until the lights go on for Episode Eight.
In the Bible’s New Testament, Jesus tells his disciples that anybody who causes his followers (or children in general, depending on the interpretation) to stumble should have a “millstone” put around their neck and be thrown into the sea to drown. The chorus of voices chanting Mr. Roe’s words add this word (“millstone”), thereby evoking an old punishment as well as a more modern interpretation, which defines a “millstone” as some heavy responsibility that weighs a person down. Of course, this definition certainly applies to Helen, who as a mother and wife in a patriarchal society feels the burden of responsibility to act out her duty as a woman—at the same time, though, this responsibility is dragging her down, killing her. Faced with this impossible conundrum, she appears driven to action as she jumps out of her chair.