Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Drama, Revised Edition)
With its claustrophobic atmosphere, Short Eyes emphasizes a theme of inside versus outside: Inmates come and go only by the power of others, and their attempts to create structure and power systems strangely mirror those of the outer world. The repetitive use of “on the gate” drives the point home: Each man is isolated and must make community from the unsavory characters around him. Such a confined state forces alliances, as it threatens characters’ sense of ownership and identity.
Establishing a stance or an alliance becomes paramount to survival, both literally and psychologically. Each character must navigate and interact across ethnic and racial boundaries, and each must assert an identity to survive the horror and violence of prison life. The audience witnesses the inmates devolve from the friendly, if often violent, gathering of the play’s opening to participants in the violent assault on Davis at the end of act 2. The counsel that meets to decide Davis’s fate also points to the inmates’ need to form structures and hierarchies that mirror the outside and are as ineffective as the system that contains them.
Davis’s entrance and his crime—the lowest crime in the inmates’ eyes—stand as the catalyst of the play. His detailed confession to Juan suggests a need for connection to another human being, even if such a connection may be dangerous. Although Juan rejects Davis and does not condone his aberrant sexual...
(The entire section is 376 words.)
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