Themes and Meanings

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Two forces—or sets of forces—are at work in Leonid Andreyev’s The Life of Man. One set is human and social: Man’s talent and innate nobility are ranged against the mediocrity and meanness of his natural inferiors. For all of its abstractions, the play does comment on the life and values of a particular milieu—the world of the successful professional. The portrayal of Man’s early poverty and final ruin, unlike that of his prosperous middle years, has more to do with artistic symmetry than with social issues. Andreyev is rounding out the curve of beginning and ending. The conflict between Man and his fellows arises not because Man is an architect—a creator—and they are not. The conflict rather arises from their envy of the fortune his talent has accrued for him, and their tally includes not only Man’s money, but his “luck” as well: his fame, his Wife, his beautiful Son. They envy what Man has, not what he is.

There are obvious autobiographical elements in the play, especially in the romance between Man and his Wife, in Man’s love for grandness and gesture, and in the crowds of hangers-on. Andreyev almost seems to predict his own artistic decline and death, twelve years before the fact.

The confrontation between spiritual superiors and inferiors on this earth is secondary to Andreyev’s chief obsession, which is the relationship between Man and the mysterious force shaping his life. Someone-in-Gray always seems...

(The entire section is 455 words.)