The Balcony Themes (Jean Genet)

Jean Genet

Themes and Meanings

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The Balcony is a play demonstrating how fine a line exists between illusion and reality. Madame Irma’s house of illusions, protected by the governing system of the day, offers men who are bored with the tedium of everyday reality an opportunity to abandon their drab existence for a depraved world of fantasy.

No matter how perverted these illusions become, however, there is always an element of realism that exposes them as fantasy: Although the Bishop relishes forgiving sins, his playmate asks what he would do if hers were real; he shudders at the thought, saying, “If your sins were real, they would be crimes, and I’d be in a fine mess.” When Madame Irma offers Carmen the role of Saint Theresa, they discuss the “authentic detail” of the costume, the nun’s wedding ring establishing her as God’s bride, and the “fake detail,” the black lace under her skirt.

The two worlds also exist in bitter confrontation, and when they violate each other, there is chaos and misery. Carmen must renounce her real life (symbolized by her daughter in the country) for the life of illusion in the brothel. The Bishop laments being dragged from his life behind shutters and padded curtains into the light, where he will have to face reality, no longer able to hide in his illusion.

The rebels have savored temporary victories precisely because of their fervor to do away with an illusory life. Reality offers a drab existence, though, and the leaders, despite Roger’s...

(The entire section is 615 words.)


(Drama for Students)

Illusion and Reality
The primary theme in The Balcony is the tension between the illusions that rule inside the brothel...

(The entire section is 703 words.)