Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 540

The Boys in the Band is a drama about coming to terms with oneself—in this instance, the acceptance of one’s homosexuality. The central figure of the play, Michael, is unable to accept his homosexuality, as his friend and onetime lover Harold tells him at the end of the play; thus, he remains a self-hating and unhappy man. However, Mart Crowley’s drama made such self-acceptance possible in many ways. When Michael finally tells Donald that homosexuals must learn not to hate themselves quite so much, he is speaking not merely of himself but also of the gay community at large. Crowley’s play was probably the first commercially successful drama to deal realistically—in both its language and its wide range of character types—with homosexuals. As a result, it is historically important in the American theater tradition. It was produced in early 1968, prior to the Greenwich Village Stonewall Inn riots, which, later that year, initiated the gay liberation political movement. Crowley’s play has come to be seen by some as dated, exploring fears of being publicly known as homosexual that for the most part have been set aside, particularly by gay men in large urban areas of the nation. In effect, homosexuals have learned exactly what Michael states they all must learn at the end of the drama: not to indulge in self-hatred.

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Crowley’s play was distinctive when first presented in that it offered the arch stereotype of homosexuals generally held by the heterosexual public in the character of Emory, but then proceeded effectively to break that erroneous image by presenting a diverse group of gay men of all types, with differing interests, personalities, intellects, professions, and physical mannerisms. The play told its audience, as the party told Alan—the symbolic antigay heterosexual—that homosexuals are everywhere, in every conceivable role. In a role reversal, Alan is the outsider in a world he does not comprehend, and he displays the typical reactions of the heterosexual world he represents: All gays are effeminate; all homosexuals should be closeted so the public will not have to deal with them as they actually are.

The events in the play gradually shatter Alan’s preconceptions. At the beginning Alan is censorious of Emory, but at play’s end he apologizes to Emory, whose honesty and compassion he has come to appreciate. Emory is more likable and sincere than the frustrated, angry Michael, who is filled with self-loathing. Further, the drama sharply criticizes Michael for not accepting his true nature. Crowley’s play was revolutionary in two ways. It developed the theme that homosexuals, to be happy, must accept themselves; second, the play educated heterosexual audiences by carefully redefining the nature of homosexuals. In so doing, the play, notwithstanding later gay political attacks on it, created an atmosphere of tolerance to the extent that it forced the audience to evaluate each character on his own merits and his particular individual faults. If Emory is superficially less acceptable at the beginning and Michael is more acceptable, by the end of the drama all viewers have come to a change of attitude about who is the better-adjusted individual. That message is clearly stated by Harold, in his final lengthy speech to Michael.


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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1210

Much of The Boys in the Band is concerned with the various ways that gay men thought of themselves in the late 1960s. Each of the different characters represents a lifestyle or perspective that has one meaning in mainstream society but that operates on an entirely different level within this small social setting of New York homosexuals. Michael, for instance, cannot come to any clear understanding...

(The entire section contains 1750 words.)

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