Themes and Meanings

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Aunt Dan and Lemon examines the nature of evil, looking at how the most corrupt impulses arise in ordinary people, even in intelligent, educated, seemingly rational individuals. In “Notes in Justification of Putting the Audience Through a Difficult Evening,” the introduction to the published edition of the play, Wallace Shawn writes that most people consider themselves “the sort of people who can recognize evil when it presents itself . . . and immediately reject it if it ever should approach” them. Shawn’s didactic purpose is to shock his audience into acknowledging this capacity for evil within themselves. He does this by initially making Aunt Dan an admirably moral character. Dining with Lemon’s family, she thanks God for giving humans the ability to know that they are alive and the opportunity to appreciate the “splendors” of life. She offers a reasonable argument when she tells Lemon to respect the work and dignity of those who perform what the educated and the wealthy consider to be menial tasks.

Her defense of Kissinger begins along similar rational lines but gradually degenerates into hysterics. She admires Kissinger “for his ardent love of a country and a people that have offered him, and perhaps could still offer the entire world, the hope of a safe and decent future.” Then she tells Susie that if Kissinger does not stop North Vietnam “any country in the world will be free from now on to do anything they like, and we’ll be free to do nothing.” In her longest speech, Aunt Dan begins raving about the journalists, “these filthy, slimy worms,” who...

(The entire section is 655 words.)