Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
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.)
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Act I Summary
Act 1 of Biloxi Blues opens on the coach of an old railroad train. It is 1943, and inside the coach are five soldiers, new recruits from the Northeast, who are being transferred to boot camp in Biloxi, Mississippi. After basic training, they will be sent to fight in World War II. The soldiers are grumbling, unhappy, and apprehensive about what the future holds.
The new recruits arrive at the camp and enter their barracks. Almost right away, Sergeant Toomey, who is in charge of their company, comes in. He begins harassing the soldiers, who have not received army training and do not act appropriately. The privates immediately begin to learn how Sergeant Toomey's army works. He punishes randomly and unfairly. He stirs dissent among the privates by making everyone but Eugene do pushups. Early on, Arnold emerges as the rebel. He refuses to eat the food served at the mess hall, although he knows he will be punished.
One evening, Eugene proposes that each soldier share his fantasy of what he would do if he only had a week to live. They each contribute five dollars, and Eugene chooses the winner. Eugene selects Arnold's fantasy as the best—making Sergeant Toomey do two hundred push-ups in front of the platoon. However, the privates argue about whose fantasy is the best. Wykowski makes derogatory comments about Jews. Arnold refuses to allow Wykowski to talk that way. As the two men are about to fight, Sergeant Toomey comes in and breaks it up....
(The entire section is 465 words.)
Act II Summary
On their leave, the other soldiers visit a prostitute, Rowena. Wykowski spends half an hour with her. Selridge is only with her for a minute or so. Carney decides to stay faithful to his girlfriend. A nervous Eugene chats with her and then goes on to lose his virginity to her.
Meanwhile, the other privates have returned to the barracks, where they have discovered Eugene's journal and are reading it aloud. They learn Eugene's private thoughts about them—that Carney is not to be trusted, that Selridge calls out his mother's name in his sleep, and that Wykowski is "pure animal but will likely win a Medal of Honor.’’ When Eugene returns, they do not tell him they have his notebook, but he quickly realizes that it is missing. Wykowski begins reading from the journal. Eventually, the notebook comes to Arnold, whom Eugene begs not to read it. Arnold does, however, and discovers that although Eugene has a high regard for Arnold, he believes he is gay, and that makes him uncomfortable.
In the next scene, Toomey comes into the barracks in the middle of the night and wakes everyone up. He reports that two soldiers were caught in a sexual act in the latrine, but that one escaped through the window. Toomey wants the guilty party to step forward. When no one does, he suspends everyone's base privileges and weekend leave. The soldiers all believe that the other man was Arnold, and for the first time, Eugene learns the power of the written word. The...
(The entire section is 589 words.)