Themes and Meanings

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Getting Out is a play about the difficulty of shedding the past and beginning a new life. The fluidity with which the play moves in and out of memory reinforces the omnipotence of the past. The past is felt both in the progress of Arlie’s transformation while still in prison and in Arlene’s struggle for self-determination during her first day home. Arlie is the embodiment of Arlene’s past, a permanent reminder of the part of her that she has tried so hard to tame.

Arlene’s memory is dramatized to give understanding to the present. The seeds of her rage are introduced in act 1: She is molested by her father, neglected by her mother, and pronounced hopeless by the school principal. She is bullied and betrayed by peers, denigrated and threatened by prison officials. Arlie fights back, brutishly and without remorse.

The audience witnesses a change in Arlie in act 2. The birth of her son Joey gives Arlie the desire to seek a way out of prison life. A prison chaplain, the first to call her Arlene, gives her the belief that change is possible. When the prison authorities take Joey away from her and she is told that the chaplain will no longer be coming back, her desire to find a way out of confinement intensifies. Furthermore, getting out no longer means simply getting out of jail—Arlie now associates “getting out” with gaining freedom from the hateful part of herself.

Arlene looks to the Bible for a means of...

(The entire section is 495 words.)