Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Drama, Revised Edition)
Come Back, Little Sheba is centrally concerned with human loneliness and personal isolation. These themes are related to a concern with the loss of youth and attractiveness, an issue often in the forefront of Inge’s mind. It surfaces as a controlling device in some of his other plays, particularly Picnic (pr., pb. 1953).
The dream sequences probably reveal more about the play’s underlying concerns than anything else in Come Back, Little Sheba, except perhaps for Doc’s fondling of Marie’s scarf. Lola has a recurrent dream about the loss of Sheba, representative of her lost youth and beauty. In the first dream, Lola takes Sheba downtown on a leash and is proud because everyone turns and looks admiringly at the dog.
In the last dream, Lola and Marie watch a javelin contest. Turk has explained to Lola earlier in the play that a javelin is a long lance that is held erect. He tells her how he lets it fly, and it goes through the air until it lands and pierces the earth, where it quivers. In her dream, Lola is transported to her high school, where she was a beauty queen. She and Marie are in the stadium watching the Olympics with thousands of other spectators. Lola’s father, in charge of the games, disqualifies Turk. Doc replaces Turk, takes his position, and throws the javelin so high that it never lands. Rain begins to fall, and Lola notices that Sheba is not with her. She searches the crowd for her, then sees that she lies dead in the field, her white (virginal) fur smeared with mud (loss of innocence), but no one stops to take care of the dead animal (parental and social rejection). After this dream and Doc’s return, Lola knows that Sheba is gone for good. Inge has Lola make a new beginning, yet he offers only a qualified kind of hope as a possible thematic resolution.