Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 674
It is under the guise of naïveté that The Blue Bird makes its sophisticated points. Indeed, the play’s value for young audiences may well be that Maurice Maeterlinck presents some of life’s hardest questions in a form usually reserved for escapist literature. When Mytyl and Tyltyl begin their search for the Blue Bird of Happiness, there is never any doubt that they will find the creature right in their own backyard. It is the search, not the discovery, that is Maeterlinck’s point. Specifically, the playwright wishes the young audience, in the midst of an incredible adventure, to come upon the fundamental problems of growing up, problems that cannot be blinked away even in fairy tales.
In the Land of Memory, for example, the children must deal immediately with the first, and most inescapable, fact of life: death. While there is nothing gruesome about the presentation, the children do meet their dead grandparents and, sadly, a good number of dead brothers and sisters. Young people expect that adults might die, especially older adults such as grandparents, but brothers and sisters are another matter. Young audiences are thus brought without compromise to a confrontation with death. Death is humankind’s fate and constant companion, promising an end to the future just as it fills the past with memories. Maeterlinck starts his emotional journey through life by bringing his audience to the contemplation of death. Until one accepts death, there can be no happiness in the present.
Facing unnamed fears is also a burden of every human, and thus the next stop for Mytyl and Tyltyl is the Palace of Night, where ghosts, diseases, and nameless terror are waiting behind every door opened in the search for the Blue Bird. Luckily, the children have the strong vision of their friend Light to guide them. In the Palace of Night, they find a blackbird that seems to turn blue but when taken into the light reverts to its midnight hue. Dreams are not to be trusted, but then again—since the children exit the Palace without harm—nightmares, once faced, are not to be feared.
It is with more complex but ordinary problems that the seekers must spend the most time. In places such as the Palace of Happiness, the children are permitted to see the internal essences of animals and trees, only to discover that most of these entities resent humanity’s blithe misuses of nature. Even the creatures closest to humans, Tylo the dog and Tylette the cat, have been misused. Tylette, the more intelligent of the two, resents her enslavement deeply and attempts to manipulate the children and gain control. Tylo is the more cruelly misused because he has been so dominated that he cannot conceive of any state other than abject enslavement.
Perhaps the most significant experience in the Palace of Happiness is the encounter with the Joys. Not surprisingly, the Palace of Happiness is filled with enticing and joyous blue birds, and the children gather many of them, only to find that they die as soon as they are caught. As Light remarks, “Generally the Joys are very good, but there are some of them that are more dangerous and treacherous than the great miseries.”
The last two stops are the Graveyard and the Kingdom of the Future. The Graveyard reintroduces the ultimate question with which the living, even the younger of those alive, must deal. Before the Graveyard, there is the Kingdom of the Future. Here, the seekers meet the souls of children yet to be born, many of whom will never be born because there are more wishing life than there are available lives. These unrealized babies are the profound answer to Tyltyl’s complaint about the elusive birds: “Is it my fault they change color, or die or escape?” As Light points out, “There are many more happinesses on earth than people think.” In The Blue Bird, Maeterlinck asks young people to face squarely the issues of maturity and to rejoice in the gift of life.