Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Drama, Revised Edition)
The thematic idea that unites the three plays that make up America Hurrah is that American society and culture breed alienation, disaffection, and desperation. In the first part of Interview, Interviewers and Applicants alike participate in a repetitious and fundamentally meaningless ritual in which the Applicants are humiliated by having to beg for work. The Interviewers are faceless functionaries of a society that is incapable of treating anyone as an individual. The second part of the play presents an image of the desperation that such treatment creates. Each of the characters calls out for attention and help but receives no reply.
If Interview evokes the anonymity of American society, TV suggests the way mass media define and ultimately trivialize the lives of the individuals within that society. The situation comedies and Westerns on the television, which parallel the romantic triangle in the office, promise easy solutions to the raters’ problems and entanglements. As the television offers them images of glamorous people and products, however, it also suggests the true nature of the society in which they live. Interspersed with the promises implicit in the programs and commercials are bulletins about American involvement in Vietnam and the inhuman destruction of civilians. In the end, Hal, Susan, and George retreat from the complexities of the real world into the harmless world of situation comedy, allowing their own realities to be set to a laugh track.
Motel depicts the destructiveness that results from the anomie of a materialistic consumer society. The motel itself represents that society. It is “homey,” as the Motel-Keeper says, but synthetic; the few handmade articles in the room are overwhelmed by mass-produced decorations ordered from catalogs and finally serve only to authenticate the mass-produced objects. The vacationing couple, like the Motel-Keeper, are themselves products of the consumer landscape they so vehemently attack. Their destructiveness is both a response to the falseness of the environment and a natural product of a consumer landscape that posits everything as expendable.