Brighton Beach Memoirs

by Neil Simon

Start Free Trial

Discussion Topic

Values held by characters in Brighton Beach Memoirs

Summary:

The characters in Brighton Beach Memoirs value family, hard work, and perseverance. They emphasize the importance of supporting one another through financial and personal struggles, reflecting the socioeconomic challenges of the Great Depression. Their interactions and sacrifices highlight the significance of maintaining strong family bonds and striving for a better future despite adversity.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What values does each character hold in Brighton Beach Memoirs?

Eugene, the main character in the play, values playing baseball and dreaming about his future greatness as baseball player or writer. He devotes himself to chronicling everything that is happening to the Jerome family and trying to escape blame from his parents. His father, Jack, values supporting the family through working two jobs and trying to guide his children and nieces as they mature in a supportive way. His wife, Kate, values controlling her family and protecting them, often to the point of obsessiveness. She also would like to see her widowed sister, Blanche, remarried. Blanche values being largely dependent and protected by her sister (Kate) and brother-in-law (Jack) and keeping protective watch over her two children. Stanley, Eugene's older brother, values helping his father and his family through hard work. Nora, Blanche's older daughter, values her looks and wants the adventure that would come from being an actress on Broadway, while her younger sister, Laurie, wants to get as much attention as she can by milking her heart condition for all it's worth. 

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What three values are important to the Jerome family in Brighton Beach Memoirs?

Set during the Depression era, Brighton Beach Memoirs by Neil Simon is an autobiographical two-act play about the Jeromes, a Jewish family in Brooklyn.

The Jerome family consists of Kate and Jack Jerome and their sons, Eugene and Stanley, along with Kate’s widowed sister, Blanche Morton, and her two daughters, Laurie and Nora. The protagonist is fourteen-year-old Eugene Jerome, whose asides to the audience as he works on his memoirs provide additional information for the play’s events.

The play covers themes such as family, honesty, and the clash between aspirations and reality. As they encounter challenges, the Jeromes show the following three values:

Respectability

As a family with immigrant roots, the Jeromes value being respectable. Kate expresses this through her insistence on cleanliness and strong family ties, which in her mind indicate refinement and civility in contrast to the Cossacks. As she relates to Blanche and Laurie:

I have to have things clean. Just like Momma. The day they packed up and left the house in Russia, she cleaned the place from top to bottom. She said, “No matter what the Cossacks did to us, when they broke into our house, they would have respect for the Jews.”

Kate then goes on to compare the neighbors the Murphys to the Cossacks and Eugene’s classmates as “Irish hooligans.” When Blanche and Mr. Murphy show an interest in each other, Kate protests because Mr. Murphy has a drinking problem and would prefer to fix Blanche up with one of Jack’s work colleagues.

In one of his monologues, Eugene notes that due to this respectability the family can’t bring themselves to talk about illness and death, including that of his Uncle Dave.

If my mother knew I was writing all this down, she would stuff me like one of her chickens ... They never say the word. They always whisper it. It was (He whispers)—cancer! ... There are some things that grownups just won’t discuss.

However, the Jeromes will find that there are unpleasant topics they must talk about such as their work situations which are not ideal.

Work Ethic

The Jeromes value a strong work ethic, which includes getting an education. They focus on work and often deny needing a break when they’re tired or sick.

Jack works two jobs to support everyone. The loss of his evening job creates hardship and a blow to his pride. Later, when he finds another part time job, he works himself into a having a heart attack.

Blanche and Jack both relate they don’t have much education and are relegated to low-paying jobs in tailoring and sewing. When Nora announces she’s been promised a part as a dancer in a Broadway show, the family’s response is mixed. Eugene is excited, Kate is uncertain, but Blanche is alarmed and insists Nora finish high school:

Dancing is just for a few years. A diploma is forever. I know. I never had one. I know how hard it is to find a decent job.

Nora then challenges her mother about the hypocrisy of sending her to dance school then denying her this chance. Despite her worry, Blanche defers the decision about Nora’s situation to Jack.The tension between mother and daughter results in a significant scene in Act Two.

Living by principles/Integrity

The Jeromes place importance of living by principles and having lives based on integrity, a value that is tested by the challenges they face. Jack uses President Lincoln as an example of a person with principles, which Eugene and Stanley echo back.

When Stan’s job security is threatened after he stands up for an African-American co-worker and defies his boss who values obedience to authority, Stan tells Eugene:

Stan: And I say, “Yeah, but we’re not in Germany, old buddy.”

Eugene: You said that to him?

Stan: No. To myself. I didn’t want to go too far.

When Jack and Stanley discuss whether Stanley should write a letter of apology to the boss, they have the following conversation:

Jack: That’s something to be proud of. It was what you believed in. That’s standing up for your principles.

Stanley: That’s why I didn’t want to write the letter. I knew you’d understand.

Jack: The questions is, Can this family afford principles right now?

At the same time, Blanche is questioning her situation and makes hesitant moves toward independence. An argument between her and Kate in which Kate blames Blanche for Jack’s heart attack leads Blanche to realize she must make changes. After her argument with Kate, Blanche tells Jack:

I love you both very much. No matter what Kate says to me, I will never stop loving her. But I have to get out. If I don’t do it now, I will lose whatever self-respect I have left. For people like us, sometimes the only thing we really own is our dignity...

Blanche then delivers a powerful speech about the value of self-respect and integrity during an argument with Nora.

And if you keep on feeling that way, you’ll end up like me-- with something much worse than loneliness or helplessness and that’s self-pity. Believe me, there is no leg that’s twisted or bent that is more crippling than a human being who thrives on his own misfortunes...

By the play’s end, Blanche makes plans for an independent life and Stanley decides not to join the Army. He returns home to tell his father he will live by “Hard work and principles.” Jack receives the news that the extended relatives have left Poland and will immigrate to the US. The coming war reminds them of the need to stay together.

The play ends on a hopeful note that the Jerome family, their Polish relatives, and America itself will survive the upcoming challenges if people who live by their values and principles support each other.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on