William Trevor would be more well known among fiction readers than theatergoers if it were not for the popularity of his stories on radio and television and in popular film in Great Britain. Although he has stated that his favorite medium is the one in which he develops a relationship with the individual reader, he has, from the earliest stages of his writing career, written and adapted works for the stage, radio, television, and screen. This adaptation has come easily because much of his fiction explores themes and character motivation as presented through the character’s own words or perceptions and through juxtaposed scenes or episodes. In other words, his fiction, rich with dialogue, is itself dramatic. It is not surprising then that the themes, style, and evolution of Trevor’s drama parallel those of his fiction.
Throughout his work, certain themes emerge. The most persistent is the lonely, alienated, fragmented experience of contemporary human beings. Characters are cut off from others for many reasons. Many of them have been scarred by the abuse of another. The nature of that abuse is generally reported or implied rather than depicted. He also explores the abuse inherent in and resulting from one group or nation exploiting another. Loneliness also results from ordinary loss or limited possibilities presented by circumstance and chance.
Related to the theme of lonely, fragmented lives is the prevalence of evil, a force surprisingly mundane. Ordinary people inflict great harm, sometimes intentionally, sometimes through a thoughtless selfishness that motivates them to set off a chain of events or revelations that wreak havoc in other lives. His works demonstrate that past evils continue to infect the present. Evil committed by groups or individuals affect the entire social fabric. Fanatics emerge who cannot forgive what has happened in the past and continually subvert attempts at reconciliation through new violence. Evil, guilt, and violence are inextricably related.
His works also show the ways that difficult lives are endured. Because of his many stories of individuals coping with the inevitability of fate, Trevor is often compared to Anton Chekhov, who also describes characters’ recognition of their need to accept reality. Trevor still finds the possibility of hope and affirmation. Some characters demonstrate the redeeming effects of compassion and commitment, reflecting a hopeful vision that lives can be different when people connect with one another and the larger community.
Stylistically, Trevor’s drama holds more affinity to his short stories than to plays of other dramatists. Conflict and resolution are not what shape his works. They are instead shaped by exploration of character (the effects of loneliness, for example) or theme (the effects of the past). At times, characters, reminiscent of characters of James Joyce, achieve a new realization or epiphany; at other times, they simply struggle to cope with the circumstances in their lives.
Trevor’s style lends itself to drama. He has claimed that being an Irish Protestant in a predominantly Catholic society provided him with an outsider/observer perspective. Developing the habit of quietly listening to what people say, he perfected voice and tone, enabling him to delineate a variety of characters who reveal themselves in words, thoughts, and actions. Evidence of Trevor’s appreciation of film and detective stories appears in the juxtaposition of significant scenes, the revelation of significant details through innuendo, and incrementally disclosed detail. Parallel structuring and repetition reinforce themes....
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