Deathwatch Themes

Themes and Meanings (Survey of Dramatic Literature)

As many critics of Deathwatch have noted, the play constitutes an inversion of Christianity, so that evil rather than good is worshiped as the supreme value. Green Eyes is a Christ figure, worshiped for the purity of his motivations and actions but vilified for not measuring up to others’ definitions of a god. Like Christ, Green Eyes exists beyond the boundaries of society, an authority in himself, somehow fated to be an example to other men.

Another interpretation of this religious theme is that the play is about greatness. Both Maurice and Lefranc want to rise above their pettiness, above the bickering that Green Eyes despises and from which he stays aloof. Six years older than Maurice, Lefranc suspects that their idol has feet of clay. In fact, Green Eyes’ feet are bound in chains, an evocative suggestion that for all his power he is earthbound and certainly not a god. Lefranc, though, would simply replace one idol for another, Snowball for Green Eyes. He cannot imagine acting on his own initiative.

Maurice and Lefranc both suffer from the fallacy of imitative form. They believe that if they can repeat (or at least celebrate) what Green Eyes has done, they can share in his godhead. Their arguments have a ritualistic, circular quality, as though they were performing some rite of appeasement for Green Eyes. As a result, their actions cannot develop. They have neither the courage nor the audacity to act creatively. Their behavior, like their vocabulary, is repetitive. Incapable of any sort of originality, Lefranc murders Maurice and realizes that all he has accomplished is his own isolation.

An expression that captures this feeling of isolation is the “inner prison.” In his self-absorbed desire to have a god to worship, Lefranc commits a murder that he hopes will permit him to surpass Green Eyes’ evil, so that he himself becomes a god. In this respect, he is an “angel in revolt” against the prison hierarchy established by Green Eyes.