Study Guide

Philadelphia, Here I Come!

by Brian Friel

Philadelphia, Here I Come! Themes

Themes and Meanings (Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Philadelphia, Here I Come! is, on one hand, a traditional play about a young man’s coming of age; on the other it is an experimental presentation of the complex contradictions that form personality. These two themes work together in the study of a family that is pathologically unable to communicate.

The theme of coming of age, tracing a young man’s difficult separation from his family and his first halting steps toward autonomy, is familiar in modern drama. Parallels may be seen in Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie (pr. 1944), Frank Gilroy’s The Subject Was Roses (pb. 1962), and Neil Simon’s Broadway Bound (pr. 1986). In the case of Gar, the process of leaving home is complicated by his role as only son of a father who, though unable to express his love, or any feeling at all, nevertheless depends on him. Gar recognizes this dependence in their final conversation about business details that S. B. must now look after himself. However, like Tom in The Glass Menagerie, he must leave, driven away by the dependent parent.

He is driven away by more than his father. He sees few opportunities for himself in Ireland, in contrast to his fantasized world of opportunity in America. Furthermore, at home he has failed in love, having proposed to a woman who soon after married someone else. He has even failed to form significant friendships. America, even with Aunt Lizzie, must offer more than...

(The entire section is 566 words.)