Themes and Meanings

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The Ham Funeral portrays a young man’s discovery of self and the resultant birth of a poet who had isolated himself from life. In the prologue he has just “woken,” just become aware that he “must take part in the play” that focuses on him. Although he speaks of the “poet’s tragedy”—“to know too much, and never enough,” he is a poet only in theory, for his only poem has been discarded in the trash can. Before he can walk out into the “luminous night” at the end of the play, he must grapple with life, must hold the stage and participate.

Once the play proper begins, the audience first sees the Young Man in scene 3—in his bedroom, his hands behind his head, staring at the ceiling. He is physically and emotionally isolated from the vital if repellent reality in the basement. Alma’s question, “Or am I speakin’ to a dummy?” suggests not only that he cannot speak (and communication is another of White’s themes) but also that he is not human. He is a fragmented personality, only partially developed. In Jungian terms, the Young Man, the animus, is the mind, the soul, incomplete without the Girl, the “anima” who directs his attention to the landlord and the basement, the world of the senses.

The Young Man must act in a play, not witness it, and must act in life, not retire from it. Action entails change and involvement in the cycle of birth, maturation, and death. Jack, who died as an infant,...

(The entire section is 471 words.)