Brighton Beach Memoirs

by Neil Simon

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Although Brighton Beach Memoirs was written for a general audience of theatergoers, it has a special appeal for young adult readers. Four of the seven characters are in their teens, and, although each of them has a unique set of problems, there is nothing that Nora, Laurie, Stanley, and Eugene face that young people of their age group cannot recognize.

One source of tension in the household is sibling rivalry. Because Blanche is so obviously partial to Laurie, using her supposed health problems as an excuse for spoiling her, Nora feels the loss of her father even more acutely. One positive result of Kate’s outburst is that Blanche is finally able to understand the feelings of her older daughter. Kate never realizes, however, that she is always catering to Laurie at Eugene’s expense. Fortunately, Eugene has a superb sense of irony; moreover, he views his mother as a character in the play that he will write someday.

The two older young people in the household are also impatient to be independent. Although she knows that her uncle has her best interests at heart, Nora finds it difficult to take Jack’s advice and turn down a producer’s offer. She would like to be on her own, or at least head of the Morton household, rather than a dependent of the Jeromes. Stanley, too, wants to get away. As long as he lives at home, he must account for every penny that he makes. He leaves to join the Army not only so that he can avoid telling his father about his gambling losses but also because he wants his freedom. He returns because he knows that he cannot leave with his father ill and Blanche not yet established in her own home. In time, he will leave, probably to fight in the impending war, and Nora, too, will eventually attain the independence that she craves.

Another reason that Stanley is needed at home is to act as Eugene’s mentor while he struggles toward adulthood. During this one eventful week, Stanley has taught Eugene much about his sexuality. With his information about first cousins, Stanley has even persuaded Eugene to turn his attention away from Nora. Despite Eugene’s final declaration, it seems likely that in the weeks to come there will be other questions plaguing him. It is fortunate that Stanley will be there to answer them with his usual patience and understanding.

Although Brighton Beach Memoirs is a comedy, full of wonderful one-liners and hilarious scenes, Simon’s primary theme is a serious one: that while at times one family member may feel an overwhelming desire to see the last of another or of the whole lot, in the final analysis only family ties can provide individuals with a real sense of security. Even unwelcome advice, such as Kate’s warnings about the Irishman, is prompted by real concern, and sometimes, as when Nora contemplates leaving school, the intervention of the family can prevent a terrible mistake. Moreover, however poor the Jeromes are, they will always find room in their house and in their hearts for family members who are even poorer. The real message of Brighton Beach Memoirs is that among all the uncertainties of life, poverty and unemployment, poor health and death, even such convulsions as the Great Depression and the Holocaust, a strong family can endure.

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Critical Context (Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series)