Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Drama, Revised Edition)
The central themes of The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window concern the obligation of individuals to become involved and to take responsible action; withdrawal or detachment from the community leads to disintegration and failure. At the start of the play, Sidney is disconnected from the world around him. Alton labels Sidney’s detachment “ostrich-ism” and calls this the “great disease of the modern bourgeois intellectual.” Sidney considers his withdrawal an earned right; since his youth he has been involved in various causes and served on assorted committees trying to change the world—all to little avail. One of his intellectual mentors has been Henry David Thoreau, but Alton accuses Sidney of reading the “wrong” portions of Thoreau, those emphasizing the solace and strength the solitary individual can gain from communing with nature. Sidney’s mountaintop retreat, where he goes to find innocence, is his version of Thoreau’s Walden Pond. Thoreau, however, was also noted for his acute social consciousness, and Sidney stands charged with letting his political and social conscience atrophy.
Commitment to responsible political action represents only the outer level where Lorraine Hansberry’s characters engage one another. The personal interaction between Sidney and Iris and the social relationships among members of the Brustein extended family (not only Iris’s sisters but also the friends and neighbors wandering in and...
(The entire section is 591 words.)
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Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: African American Literature, Revised Edition)
Hansberry believed that all plays have ideological content, that all contain a thesis or central idea about what sort of social order is best. Some plays may seem not to have such content, because nearly everyone who sees them accepts the main ideas. Only when a play contains ideas that challenge majority opinion do those ideas tend to become visible and to draw direct commentary. The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window contains many ideas that set viewers to arguing in 1964. The play also contains ideas that remain highly controversial, such as those regarding homosexuality. The quantity of intellectual conversation and the range of issues discussed might make the play seem mainly a drama of ideas. The center of the play, however, is human action. Many of the ideas flow from the nature of the main characters, people who are passionately concerned about how to live according to their best ideas and who, therefore, talk incessantly about those ideas. Accounts of the Broadway production, which ran for 101 performances, suggest that on stage the play was lively and engaging, despite initial doubts about the audience appeal of its intellectual tone.
The human action of the play points to the center of its meanings. Sidney Brustein wants to improve his world in some clear way. Most of the characters believe that suffering and stupidity are much more common than enlightenment and happiness. Sidney’s stomach ulcer becomes symbolically associated with...
(The entire section is 1160 words.)