In Caryl Churchill's Cloud 9 she has many central themes and issues but two of the biggest ones are gender distinction in the Victorian time period and colonial rule by the British.
From the beginning Churchill shows her audience an immense division between males and females. Churchill breaks the standard gender and sex roles, by having the characters experiment with homosexuality, bisexuality, and sexual relationships between children and adults. For instance, the character Harry Bagley who on the surface is the mythic adventurer and is considered to be a legend in his own time, in actuality is bisexual and involved with the black servant, Joshua, who is played by a white actor. The play's setting also takes places in an era where women are thought to lack intellectually, physically and psychologically to men. Cloud Nine begins in Africa in 1880 and ends 100 years later, in 1980. Each woman in the play shows a sense of inferiority, especially Betty, who's first lines in the play are: "I live for Clive.
The whole aim of my life is to be what he looks for in a wife. I am a man's creation, as you see, and what men want is what I want to be" (Cloud Nine 1). Issues addressed in Cloud Nine tend to distinguish women as nothing but flesh put on Earth to satisfy the desires of man. Perhaps Churchill's desire was to inform the public of women's unwarranted inequality, and by writing a play addressing such controversial issues. Also Churchill shows the audience about the Victorian's views on sex and gender expectations. Throughout the play Clive tries to teach his son, Edward, "to be a man." It is hard for Edward because he likes being around the women and playing with his sister's dolls (Cloud Nine)
Churchill also shows us how the British colonial rule influenced the characters such as Joshua, the black servant, repeatedly rejects his people and says he lives only for his Master Clive. He says, "My skin is black but my soul is white. I hate my tribe, my master is my light." Joshua refers to his tribe as "Bad People," and when his parent's die he rejects Clive's offer to go to the funeral saying his parents were also "Bad people" (Cloud Nine 8). Churchill gives the idea that Joshua knows he is black but he must alter his mentality to survive. It makes Joshua oppress his true feelings and move with the ideas around him. The view of the characters in the second act is that they are embracing their sexuality and are explicit about their feelings such as, when Martin tells Victoria and Betty, "Whatever you want to do, I'll be delighted". In Act I, the characters have to reveal their true feelings but they must do so in secret, at one point during a game of hide and seek. Clive's value system calls for a covering of identity if that identity disrespects England. Clive believes that nontraditional sexual identities are sicknesses that might be cured. Churchill seems to suggest otherwise, that while gender can be rearranged, sexual identity cannot be. In the second act, Betty, Edward, and Victoria, now distanced from Clive, continue the difficult search for identity. Although they are now free of Clive's direct influence, they face the new challenges of establishing an identity in a world far different from Victorian era Africa.