Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
“Demos and Dionysus,” which first appeared in Theatre Arts Monthly and later in Dionysus in Doubt (1925), is a heated dialogue between two characters: Dionysus, whose name recalls the ancient Greek wine god associated with the resurrection of new life each spring, and Demos, whose name derives from the word for ancient Greek administrative districts that governed local citizens. Together they represent competing impulses within humanity. Dionysus defends human freedom, an independence of inner spirit that fosters love and art. Demos dismisses love and art as merely frivolous “playing” with “feeling and with unprofitable fancy.” Disgusted by “the insurgent individual/ With his free fancy and his free this and that,” Demos wants people to be controlled by a more economically productive rationality.
Dionysus speaks for Robinson, who viewed forced social conformity, including the eighteenth constitutional amendment prohibiting the sale of alcohol in 1919, as a threat to human happiness and creativity as well as to American democracy. Dionysus calls Demos’s version of utopia a prison of “amiable automatons” (robots) and “compliant slaves.” He also contends that Demos hides a secret desire behind his efforts to convert the world into a beehive of worker drones. He accuses Demos of deceitfully wearing a “suave and benevolent mask” to conceal his real motives, which he “dare not show” to his followers. His...
(The entire section is 334 words.)
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