J. B. Questions and Answers
by Archibald MacLeish

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What is J. B.’s wife’s line at the end of the play?

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At the end of the play J. B. by Archibald MacLeish, J. B.'s wife says:

Sarah: I loved you. / I couldn't help you any more. / You wanted justice and there was none— / Only love.

What Sarah is saying is central to the themes of the play. While she says this, she is sitting on the doorstep of their ruined house. She holds a forsythia branch that is in bloom. The last time we saw Sarah, she had despaired of life; after all the tragedies that her family suffered, she had left J. B. and was heading for the river to drown herself. But along the way she saw this blooming branch of flowers, and she found hope in it. She has returned to J. B., and she is helping him to settle a conflict—a conflict between love and justice.

J. B. and Sarah have been visited by the most terrible tragedies over the course of the play. They had five children, and all five children are now dead. Their home has been destroyed, and their lives are ruined.

At the start of the play, J. B. feels that God's bounty is the justice he deserves. His life is prosperous, he feels that he is a good man who lives ethically, and he believes that, as Voltaire might say, "life is happiness indeed."

This play is a retelling of the Biblical tale of Job, written by MacLeish in blank verse and presented in a broadly theatrical, circus-like style.

As each of his children is taken from the family, J. B. tries to make sense of it all. The characters who represent Satan and God, Nickles and Zuss, agree with J. B. that he is a good man who has done nothing to deserve what has happened to him. In the end, J. B. decides that his children must have sinned, and that they were punished for this. He doesn't know what else to think.

Sarah leaves him when she hears this.

Sarah: I will not / Let you sacrifice their deaths / To make injustice justice and God good!

But after her soul-searching, Sarah returns, and she tells her husband that justice is meaningless. Humans who love one another are reason enough to live in the world. J. B. hears her words, and together they begin slowly rebuilding their life together.

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