Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window initially appears to be a departure from the playwright’s first success, A Raisin in the Sun. Rather than focus on a working-class family in a black ghetto, it examines an ethnically and racially mixed cross section of the liberal intelligentsia in New York’s Greenwich Village. Its chief concern, however, remains the existential choices that propel characters toward a mature morality in what Iris, Sidney’s wife, terms “a dirty world.” Specifically, it inquires to what extent one is willing to become a saleable commodity, as Walter Lee in A Raisin in the Sun thinks of doing.
As the play opens, Sidney, whose restaurant venture has failed, determines to “presume no commitment, disavow all engagement.” Before long, he has bought a newspaper, promising to “steer clear of politics.” He desires most of all to retreat, banjo in hand, to the mountains of Appalachia, there to have Iris dance for him. Yet soon he is supporting Wally O’Hara for political office, complete with a sign in his window. When Wally unexpectedly wins, Iris reveals that he is under the control of the corrupt political bosses, causing Sidney to despair. Where before Sidney had mocked the philosophical position of the absurdists embodied in the works of his neighbor, David, a playwright, now Sidney falls into cynical derision himself.
Sidney’s naïveté about public matters is complicated by his...
(The entire section is 622 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Sidney Brustein and his friend Alton Scales are lugging wire racks with drinking glasses—salvage from the failure of Sidney’s folk-music coffee house—around the Brustein’s apartment—the site of Sidney’s newspaper office. Later, Sidney argues with his wife, Iris, when he belatedly reveals to her his purchase on credit of a weekly local newspaper. The couple had earlier discussed Iris’s continued desire to be an actor and her continuing psychoanalysis. Alton returns to the apartment with Wally O’Hara, a lawyer who is trying to persuade his friend Sidney to back his reformist campaign for office. Sidney, however, had earlier decided to withdraw from political concerns, so he rejects placing O’Hara’s political poster in his apartment window; still, he is drawn to the poster, despite Iris’s warning not to get involved.
The following week, Alton, Sidney, and a local artist are discussing the art and content for the front page of Sidney’s weekly paper. The paper will now include political content as well. After the meeting, Alton and Sidney put up a banner for the reform party in the apartment window. Alton confirms news of his having asked Iris’s sister Gloria to marry him. The news came to Iris in the form of a letter from Gloria, whom Sidney and Iris first identify as a traveling high-fashion model.
Sidney has a sharp exchange with Iris, which, as usual, belittles her intellect and her acting abilities. They also discuss...
(The entire section is 1388 words.)