Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Drama, Revised Edition)
The play’s intimate look into the lives of the Hunsdorfer family illustrates universal truths about the human struggle for acceptance and self-efficacy but reveals that each person adapts and responds differently to life’s harsh uncertainties. The play demonstrates that some people will thrive while others will barely survive under similar adverse conditions, much like the marigolds in the parallel world of science. For Tillie, science generates life and hope amid the despair of Beatrice’s self-imposed isolation.
Neither Beatrice, with her cynical withdrawal, nor Tillie, with her naïve optimism, presents a healthy solution for dealing with an imperfect world, yet each represents an authentic, if somewhat extreme, coping mechanism. By choosing to see only the potential good in atomic science, for example, Tillie triumphs over her mother’s fear and pessimism but is blind to the dangers of radioactivity. Both Tillie and Beatrice have been mocked and treated as social outcasts, but Tillie, who does not value the opinions of outsiders, cannot be wounded by their disdain. Beatrice and Ruth, on the other hand, place inordinate importance on the opinions of others and thus feel compelled to compensate for this perceived loss of esteem, the result of social rejection, by inflicting cruelty upon Tillie and each other. Beatrice and Ruth allow the negativity of others to defeat them, and it is their attitudes that seal their fate.
(The entire section is 418 words.)
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