Blood Brothers Themes
by Willy Russell

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Blood Brothers Themes

The main themes in Blood Brothers are nature versus nurture, class conflict, and doppelgängers and doubles.

  • Nature versus nurture: The play explores the conflicting forces of nature and nurture in shaping human lives, as dramatized in the divergent paths of twins Mickey and Edward.
  • Class conflict: The interactions and clashes between Mickey and Edward, and between the Johnstone and Lyons families, show the immense influence of class differences.
  • Doppelgängers and doubles: Many of the characters in the play, mirror, reflect and serve as foils to other characters. The play often uses such patterns to expose key differences and oppositions.

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Themes

Nature Versus Nurture

Critics often view Blood Brothers in terms of the classic nature-versus-nurture dichotomy. The narrative explores which of the two forces has a greater impact on an individual’s character and destiny: genes or environment. Within this context, Mickey and Edward make for a perfect case study, being twins separated soon after birth and brought up in very different circumstances. While Mickey grows up poor, as one of six children of a single mother, Edward has a wealthy upbringing as the only child of a rich couple. 

The first time they meet, the contrast between their personalities is evident. Mickey is described as “bored and petulant,” whereas Edward is “bright and forthcoming.” Further, Mickey, who represents the dangerous world of the street, teaches Edward the “F-word,” which the latter uses on his mother soon thereafter, leading her to ban him from “mixing with boys like that.” Thus, the narrative establishes that behavior and actions are not inherited but largely a result of socioeconomic forces. As Mickey and Edward grow up, the contrast between Mickey’s taciturn, rough nature and Edward’s open eloquence becomes ever more obvious. Mickey struggles to tell Linda of his true feelings for years, whereas Edward sings to her:

If I could stand inside his shoes I’d say
How can I compare thee to a Summer’s Day.

The reference to Shakespeare underscores Edward’s image as a “poshy,” as Sammy derisively calls him. Strikingly, “nurture,” or environment, determines that Sammy and Mickey land up in prison, whereas Edward becomes a powerful Councilman. However, the plot does not make the simplistic assumption that an impoverished environment produces morally flawed individuals. 

This nuance becomes clearer when moving from the Mickie/Edward dichotomy to that of Mrs. Johnstone and Mrs. Lyons. The wealthy Mrs. Lyons is far more morally compromised than Mrs. Johnstone, whose greatest weakness is arguably her gullibility. Mrs. Lyons manipulates Mrs. Johnstone’s poverty and takes away her baby by methods that are coercive. Further, she is the first one to renege on their mutual agreement, firing the needy Mrs. Johnstone without compunction and robbing her of access to Edward. Thus, the narrative makes the point that while a wealthier environment may produce more successful people, it does not necessarily promise more ethical people. What’s more, it can be argued that some of Edward’s more endearing traits, such as his warm and open nature, are inherited from his biological mother, Mrs. Johnstone. Therefore, the narrative establishes that both nature and nurture play a part in an individual’s destiny, with socioeconomic forces forming the central component of “nurture.”

Class Conflict

As Blood Brothers draws to a close, the Narrator poses an important question before the audience:

And do we blame superstition for what came to pass
Or could it be what we, the English, have come to know as class?

The key words in the Narrator’s question are “the English” and “class.” Russell sets his play in the Britain of the 1970s and 1980s, when class was an extremely important aspect of social existence. Class often determined an individual’s fate and could be decoded not just from outright wealth but also subtler signs, such...

(The entire section is 1,312 words.)