Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Drama)
On one level, The Time of Your Life is about a young man’s paternalistic efforts to make other people happy and to live life to the fullest without the pain of dull routine. Looking at the play from an oblique angle, however, one can see also how the portrayal of Depression-era American urban society—all the “barflies” at Nick’s—wields a tremendous popular appeal.
In the character of Joe, The Time of Your Life questions the ability of contemporary life to offer possibilities for a meaningful existence. Since Joe has to some extent realized the quintessential American dream of wealth, his present desperate continuation of the “pursuit of happiness” suggests that making money cannot be equated with living a fulfilled life. Audiences may not easily swallow the stage direction’s naive assessment that Joe is “superior” to all of the other characters. Too much has happened since 1939 to validate the idea that the handouts of the young patriarch in the saloon will bring happiness to others.
If Joe is an ambiguous character, he nevertheless represents only a slightly jaded version of the American success story, even though his speech about the harm of “unearned” money was considered radical enough to be cut in many contemporary performances. In The Time of Your Life, the criticism of the United States and American values is generally rather subtle throughout. Willie, the Assyrian game-master, is to...
(The entire section is 405 words.)
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