The Play (Masterplots II: Drama, Revised Edition)
Jumpers begins with a party given by Dorothy Moore (Dotty), a retired music-hall singer. At this party, Dotty attempts to sing several sentimental songs, all of which include the word “moon”; it becomes clear, however, that she is suffering from a mental breakdown. The Jumpers, a troupe of rather mediocre acrobats, upstage her confused performance with a demonstration of gymnastics. As they pose in a human pyramid, the Jumper at the bottom of the heap is suddenly shot and killed by an unknown murderer. Though it is unclear whether she had a part in the murder, Dotty is left holding the dead body.
George Moore, Dotty’s husband, is now shown dictating to his secretary a lecture for a philosophical symposium titled “Man—Good, Bad or Indifferent?” George, a middle-aged professor of moral philosophy, launches into a long and rambling monologue expressing his doubts about the course of philosophy and telling of his own desire to find a moral absolute, to prove rationally the existence of God. Logical positivists, who are moral relativists, dominate the philosophy department; their position is represented by the Jumpers who performed earlier, philosophy professors who double as acrobats. George, unfortunately, does not “jump”; his insistence on standards of good and evil is at odds with the current philosophical tide. Consequently, he has not been promoted.
George’s musings are interrupted by Dotty’s cries for help. Annoyed at the disturbance, he confronts her in the bedroom. The ensuing exchange makes it clear that their marriage has deteriorated. George suspects Dotty of having an affair with Archie, the head of his department and a successful logical positivist; Dotty accuses George of neglect and tells him that her mental problems have recurred. These problems, she tries to tell him, stem from her sudden loss of idealism when the first man landed on the moon. For her the moon represented a perfect romantic ideal, attainable only through poetry and music. Her crisis is very much like the philosophical loss of faith in God, the moral absolute. However, George cannot grasp this parallel between her plight and his own trouble with logical positivism. He gives his attention instead to his small pets—a tortoise named Pat, a rabbit named Thumper, and a goldfish—which are missing.
After George leaves to resume dictating his lecture, he is interrupted by the arrival of Inspector Bones, investigating the murder of the Jumper. George, who knows nothing of the murder, assumes that Bones has come in response to a noise complaint that George had called in on the night of the party. Each is mystified by the behavior of the other. Bones is enamored of Dotty, who was formerly one of his favorite singers. Although he believes her to be the murderer, he is more interested in getting an autograph than in questioning her. When summoned, he eagerly goes in to see her, record in hand. When he arrives in...
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Dramatic Devices (Masterplots II: Drama, Revised Edition)
One of the most striking characteristics of Jumpers is its mixing of different theatrical worlds. Tom Stoppard combines a parody of philosophical language with music-hall songs, a detective story, and the acrobatics of the Jumpers. He has expressed his liking for what he calls “ambushes for the audience”; the mixing of genres enables him to create a variety of dramatic surprises. Each of the highly theatrical effects he creates is integral to plot and theme.
In the beginning sequence of the play, the secretary performs a striptease on a swinging chandelier, Dotty sings a confused medley of songs all containing the word “moon,” and an acrobat is shot out of the bottom of a human pyramid. The collapsing pyramid becomes a dramatic metaphor for the collapse of stability in the philosophical, political, and private worlds of the characters.
Stoppard draws attention to the lack of answers to the philosophical dilemmas of the play by giving the audience a number of dramatic puzzles, each of which has various possible explanations, all of which, it seems, become equally valid and compelling. The murder of the dead Jumper is given many alternative explanations: Stoppard hints that the murderer could have been Dotty, Archie, the Secretary, or even McFee himself. George believes that Dotty is having an affair with Archie; however, Archie tells him that his interest is merely professional and that he spends his time examining her. The...
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Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Sources for Further Study
Anchetta, Richard A. Tom Stoppard: An Analytical Study of His Plays. Chicago: Advent, 1991.
Bloom, Harold, ed. Tom Stoppard. New York: Chelsea House, 1986.
Corballis, Richard. Stoppard: The Mystery and the Clockwork. London: Methuen, 1984.
Harty, John. Tom Stoppard: A Casebook. New York: Garland, 1987.
Hunter, Jim. Tom Stoppard: “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead,” “Jumpers,” “Travesties,” “Arcadia.” New York: Faber and Faber, 2000.
Jenkins, Anthony. Tom Stoppard. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1990.
Londré, Felicia Hardison. Tom Stoppard. New York: F. Ungar, 1981.
Rusinko, Susan. Tom Stoppard. Boston: Twayne, 1986.
Whitaker, Thomas. Tom Stoppard. New York: Grove Press, 1984.