Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Drama)

The Birthday Party is about paranoia, the inability to communicate, and the search for identity and truth. Stanley has been hiding in this seedy boardinghouse for a year, afraid, knowing that someone will eventually come to punish him. Yet he does not try to run away when Goldberg and McCann appear, because he knows he cannot escape his fate. He tells Lulu that the only alternative to “here” is “nowhere.” Stanley is estranged from his father for some unstated reason, possibly something to do with his mother. Perhaps he is hiding not from criminals at all, but running from his own guilt and projecting his fears onto the visitors. The party, with both the young Lulu and the older Goldberg making sexual innuendos, pushes Stanley over the edge. Whatever his offenses might be, they seem more horrible for being unspecified. Goldberg and McCann personify the dangers always present in the contemporary world, waiting to steal one’s comfort, sanity, and even life.

The characters are helpless to defend themselves because they cannot make themselves understood to one another. The Birthday Party opens with Meg asking several times, “Is that you, Petey?” Even after he replies, “Yes, it’s me,” she asks, “What? Are you back?” That she says this while looking at her husband indicates the frequent meaninglessness of words for the characters. When Stanley calls the fried bread “succulent,” Meg responds, “You shouldn’t say...

(The entire section is 538 words.)