The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Biloxi Blues is a comedy about a young writer’s experiences during ten weeks of army basic training for World War II. The play consists of fourteen related scenes in two acts and numerous narrative monologues that link them.

The curtain opens on a railroad coach in which four soldiers lie sleeping and a fifth, Eugene Morris Jerome, sits writing in his notebook. Throughout the play, Eugene alternately participates in the action and steps out to narrate, explain, or comment on it. During this scene, the soldiers, all aged eighteen to twenty, awake and engage in locker-room banter and horseplay. One by one, Eugene introduces them to the audience: Roy Selridge, who has a trying sense of humor; Joseph Wykowski, who has an enormous sexual drive; Donald Carney, who sings in his sleep; and Arnold Epstein, a sensitive intellectual with a weak stomach. Eugene introduces himself as an aspiring writer determined to “become a writer, not get killed and lose my virginity.”

The next scene shows the boys settling into their barracks. Sergeant Merwyn J. Toomey enters, takes roll, and begins military indoctrination. Ultimately, he foments tension in the platoon by casting Eugene as a sycophant and making the others do a hundred push-ups on his account. The scene shifts to the mess hall, where the soldiers struggle to eat army food and meet another member of their platoon, James Hennesey, a quiet boy who arrived days earlier. Toomey comes to tell the boys that they will take a fifteen-mile midnight hike through the swamps. When Arnold claims that he needs a good night’s sleep, Toomey excuses him from the hike but orders him to clean the entire latrine instead. In a monologue to the audience, Eugene describes the hike in comic terms but acknowledges the value of army discipline.

Later that night, Arnold tells Eugene that while cleaning the latrine he was degraded by two oversize kitchen workers, who lowered his head into a dirty toilet. The other soldiers return, and a discussion ensues about the likelihood of dying on a European battlefield. Eugene asks what they would each do with their last week alive, and they have an animated contest to determine the best fantasy. The others fantasize about sex and money, but Arnold envisions making Toomey do two hundred push-ups in front of the platoon. He wins unanimously.

In the next scene, as the boys eagerly prepare for a weekend leave, Wykowski discovers that he has been robbed and immediately suspects...

(The entire section is 1018 words.)