Machinal

by

Sophie Treadwell

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Stones Symbol Icon

After Mr. Roe tells Helen that he killed several Mexican bandits with a bottle filled with small rocks, she fixates on stones. From this point on, Treadwell’s treatment of stones takes on a metaphorical aspect, in which stones represent Helen’s burdensome responsibility as a wife and mother. Indeed, Helen tells George at one point that she feels like she’s “drowning” with stones around her neck, though they’re merely sitting in the living room on a normal night of their domestic lives. Helen then starts hearing voices that chant and echo Mr. Roe’s words; “Stones—stones—precious stones—millstones—stones—stones—millstones,” the voices say. The use of the word “millstone” is important, as a millstone (originally a large stone used for grinding grain) is normally understood as a symbol of heavy responsibility that a person wears around their neck. This image also comes from the Bible, in which Jesus tells his disciples that wicked people who cause “these little ones to stumble” should be thrown into the sea with millstones around their necks. As such, Treadwell evokes both the idea of responsibility and the idea of death and punishment, two notions that have strong emotional importance to Helen. Therefore, when these voices chant about stones, Helen is simultaneously reminded of Mr. Roe, of her supposed responsibility to make George happy, and of her own feeling of sinking under the pressure of her domestic life. With these thoughts whirling through her mind, she kills George with the same weapon Mr. Roe used on his attackers: a bottle filled with stones.

In addition to the symbolic significance of stones outlined above (responsibility and death), Helen’s choice of weapon also indicates her distrust of the mechanical world. Opting for to use a wine bottle filled with rocks, she chooses the most rudimentary possible way to murder George, thereby lending a sense of elemental simplicity to the already thematically-charged presence of stones in Machinal.

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Stones Symbol Timeline in Machinal

The timeline below shows where the symbol Stones appears in Machinal. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Episode 5: Prohibited
Marriage and Gender Inequality Theme Icon
...by Mexican bandits. To escape, he got them drunk one night, filled the bottle with stones, and killed them with it.  (full context)
Episode 7: Domestic
Marriage and Gender Inequality Theme Icon
Communication Theme Icon
The Mechanical World Theme Icon
Fragmentation and Expressionism Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Marriage and Gender Inequality Theme Icon
Fragmentation and Expressionism Theme Icon
...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—millstonesstonesstones—millstones,” the voices echo. “You only need a bottle with small... (full context)
Episode 8: The Law
Fragmentation and Expressionism Theme Icon
...before calling the police. Shifting his attention to the bottle and a small collection of stones, the lawyer asks when Helen first saw the items together. “The night my husband was... (full context)
Fragmentation and Expressionism Theme Icon
...don’t remember about a year ago bringing this bowl into your bedroom filled with small stones and some water and a lily,” the Lawyer for Prosecution asks Helen. He then tells... (full context)