Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Drama, Revised Edition)
The Great God Brown proceeds from the premise that selfhood is never singular but that, at the least, everyone has a public image as well as a private persona. Normally these, either by nature or by training, are compatible. A conflict can arise, however, when the extremely sensitive spirit of the inner person (an artist, for example) is very different from the ordinary people who surround him or her. If the person’s responses are not allowed expression, then that inner self will feel isolated or even held in contempt, and an identity crisis can result. The person of integrity and independence has not only the normal problem of coping with changes that occur as one matures or as life’s circumstances alter but also the problem of being understood in spite of the person’s complexity and loved despite his or her differences.
In Eugene O’Neill’s play, the struggle for self-determination and the right to fulfill one’s dreams is most evident at first in the polarization of talented Dion Anthony and mediocre Billy Brown. A more subtle struggle takes place, however, between the dual natures of Dion Anthony himself: the sensual, ecstatic artist (Dion) and the ascetic, saintly mystic (Anthony). That particular division makes him ambivalent in his relationship with Margaret, who is both attracted to his life affirmation and puritanically repelled by its extremes. Sexual desire exists in her but is restrained. The role she prefers for herself is...
(The entire section is 514 words.)
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In O’Neill’s masterpiece, Long Day’s Journey into Night, Mary Tyrone insists, ‘‘None of us can help the things life has done to us. They’re done before you realize it, and . . . they make you do other things until at last everything comes between you and what you’d like to be, and you’ve lost your true self forever.’’ Like Long Day’s Journey into Night, The Great God Brown focuses on the search for identity and the devastating consequences for those who are unable to discover a true sense of self.
Dion loses his sense of self at a young age when his best friend, Billy Brown, betrays him. He explains that when he was four, Billy ‘‘sneaked up behind when I was drawing a picture in the sand he couldn’t draw and hit me . . . and laughed when I cried.’’ Consequently, his trust in his friend and humanity was shaken and, as he notes, ‘‘I became silent for life and designed a mask of the Bad Boy Pan in which to live and rebel against that other boy’s God and protect myself from His cruelty.’’ Ironically though, the mask further isolates Dion and prevents him from allowing others to gain a glimpse of his inner self. The act of betrayal turns an ashamed Billy into ‘‘the good boy, the good friend, the good man.’’ The two also commit acts of betrayal against themselves. When they wear masks that project false, public...
(The entire section is 745 words.)