Brighton Beach Memoirs

by Neil Simon

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Discuss the role of Eugene as both the narrator and as a character in Brighton Beach Memoirs. Is it an effective method of telling the Jerome family's story? Why or why not?

Quick answer:

Having Eugene as both the narrator and a character is effective in telling the Jerome family story because it provides an appealing protagonist with whom the audience can empathize. Telling the story from the boy’s perspective also generates information useful to the audience, as a child must learn family dynamics and history. Yet as an adolescent, he can also provide mature insights. A negative aspect is that confining observations to any one character raises questions of reliability.

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The character of Eugene is an effective narrator for Brighton Beach Memoirs because he is young, likable, and perceptive. As a child, there are many things that he must learn about his family, including its history and the complex dynamics among the numerous members. His adolescent angst makes the audience—as former teenagers themselves—empathize with him, which in turn increases the likelihood of their engagement with the play. While Eugene’s insights stem partly from his personality, which is based on Neil Simon himself as a future writer, it is also believable that as an adolescent, as opposed to a younger child, would sometimes be capable of mature observations.

Specific features of Eugene’s character as an adolescent also contribute to the audience’s understanding of the family’s position during the Great Depression. He is on the cusp of assuming adult responsibilities, but does not face the decisions his older brother Stanley must make, much less shoulder the burdens his parents and aunt have. The family usually appreciates, but does not depend on, his contributions. His awareness of his status vis-à-vis other family members makes the Depression dilemmas come alive.

Negative aspects of relying on a combined narrator and character are basically those associated with first-person perspective: reliability. As everything is filtered through one individual, the audience cannot get past that person’s subjectivity and biases.

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