Themes and Meanings

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The respected drama critic Harold Clurman characterized The Screens as “epic nihilism,” while the distinguished scholar Raymond Federman called it the “theatre of hate.” Ostensibly, it concerns the historical exodus of the French colonials after 130 years of relentless exploitation of generations of Arabs in Algeria, and the bitter recriminations that resulted. The conflict nearly tore France apart as politicians attempted, unsuccessfully, to disengage France from the viper’s tangle of cultural, religious, political, and economic complications of its Algerian involvement. Jean Genet, while utilizing the historical time and place, is much more concerned with venting his hatred on the French colonials. His hatred spills over into the victims, the Arabs, also. His real target, however, is civilization itself, particularly modern civilization. One critic referred to The Screens as an “acid bath of loathing.”

Genet was undoubtedly influenced by the earlier French playwright Antonin Artaud and his concept of the Theater of Cruelty. Genet certainly subscribed to Artaud’s idea that the modern theater should seek to shock its audience into the realization that not only is the world a cruel and vicious place but indeed the world is “nothing.” For Genet, experience is process, and the process can be viewed only through a series of perceptions that form themselves into images; these images humanity mistakes for reality. The truth...

(The entire section is 460 words.)