Themes and Meanings
Torch Song Trilogy addresses the basic human need for love and respect. Harvey Fierstein’s semi-autobiographical protagonist, Arnold, is young, Jewish, and homosexual, yet he is an Everyman. His quest for love in the 1970’s is different in detail but not in essence from the universal, timeless human search for emotional esteem and security. Fierstein’s own stated goals for the play are remarkably simple and straightforward:There are no answers forthcoming. But you might just catch a line, like an old familiar half-heard song playing on a jukebox, that reaches out and touches something going on inside of you. And for that instant you are relieved of the isolation. That is the worth of a Torch Song.
In act 1, “The International Stud,” the superficially exotic is systematically demystified. Whatever shock or perverse curiosity there might be in watching Arnold transform himself from a man into a female impersonator is quite dissipated by his intimate soliloquy on the qualities of the good man and on his own private search for love. Arnold may be unusual, but his personal dilemmas have universal currency. He is not unlike the aged prophet Tiresias of Greek mythology, who gained a certain wisdom about love from having been both a man and a woman in his lifetime.
In act 2, “Fugue in a Nursery,” both Arnold and Ed are in committed relationships. The anxieties of the single life have been replaced with the day-to-day adjustments...
(The entire section is 445 words.)