The second play in Simon’s autobiographical trilogy, Biloxi Blues continues the saga of Eugene Jerome’s coming-of-age as he survives ten weeks of Army basic training in 1943. The play opens in a railroad carriage as five draftees travel south toward the Army base in Biloxi. Eugene introduces each character to the audience by reading from the “memoir” in which he records his thoughts—throughout the play, Eugene comments on the action by speaking directly to the audience.
The scene shifts to a barracks, where a drill sergeant introduces the crew to military discipline by finding arbitrary reasons for ordering them to perform one hundred push-ups and forcing them to down every morsel of unappetizing food. Simon uses humor to make serious points. Admitting the need for strict discipline, he remarks: “If nobody obeys orders, I’ll bet we wouldn’t have more that twelve or thirteen soldiers fighting the war. . . . We’d have headlines like, ’Corporal Stanley Lieberman invades Sicily.’”
More than in previous plays, Simon explores significant themes. Eugene and his fellow Jew, Arnold Epstein, encounter prejudice and endure anti-Semitic remarks. When a fellow soldier is arrested for engaging in homosexual activity, the rest of the squad expresses compassion over his probable prison sentence (perhaps unrealistically, considering the prevalent homophobia of the 1940’s). The soldiers at first believe that Epstein is the...
(The entire section is 498 words.)