Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 504

Brighton Beach Memoirs is a play about a fourteen-year-old boy growing up in Brooklyn, New York, during an era of comparative innocence, in the years just prior to the American involvement in World War II. Eugene wants to be a writer—or a baseball player, if he can play for “the Yankees, or the Cubs, or the Red Sox, or maybe possibly the Tigers.”

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Neil Simon captures not only an era of innocence but also an age of innocence, as a young boy grows into manhood. The audience shares in those private moments that men go through as they reach puberty and pass on into manhood. Nora represents the glory of Eugene’s newfound interests. She symbolizes every man’s first love. “If I had my choice between a tryout with the Yankees and actually seeing her bare breasts for two and a half seconds, I would have some serious thinking to do.”

During the first act the audience listens in as Stanley and Eugene talk about such things as girls and masturbation. “There’s nothing wrong with it,” Stanley assures his brother. “Everybody does it. Especially at our age.” Later, in act 2, Stanley gives Eugene a postcard of a nude woman. In his memoirs Eugene writes, “October the second, six twenty-five p.m. A momentous moment in the life of I, Eugene Morris Jerome. I have seen the Golden Palace of the Himalayas . . . Puberty is over. Onward and upwards!” So ends the play.

In addition to the joy and wonder of passing through puberty, the play carries a more serious theme concerning the American family and what it takes to hold it together during periods of external and internal conflict. In the outside world there is near chaos, as nations move closer to the brink of a second world war.

Internally, the family is faced with the challenge of maintaining itself amid a series of financial crises and interpersonal struggles. As Eugene says in his memoirs:Pop must have been bleary-eyed because not only did he have to deal with Stanley’s principles, Nora’s career, the loss of his noisemaker business, how to get Aunt Blanche married off and Laurie’s fluttering heart, but at any minute there could be a knock on the door with thirty-seven relatives from Poland showing up looking for a place to live.

In all this confusion and uncertainty, Jack suffers a mild heart attack, a crisis that leaves Kate in control of the household. This play is also about the Jewish mother, a representation of an entire nation, who is the epitome of the suffering servant spoken of by the biblical prophet Isaiah.

Ultimately, this play is about people and what it means to love and care for others. Onstage, the characters reveal a family trying to exist and overcome everyday problems. What the audience learns is that each and every person is inextricably bound to the next. For life to mean anything, people must find their meaning in the way that they interact with others.

Themes

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 709

Coming of Age
Eugene Jerome, the main character of Brighton Beach Memoirs , is nearly fifteen-years-old and in the grip of adolescence. He is both a child and an adult. Eugene feels that he is a slave to his mother because he has to go to the store for her several times a day. Yet he does not have to work to support his family, and he still attends school. Eugene still has choices to make in his life: He wants to be a baseball player or a writer. His family wants him to attend college. Eugene is noticing girls for the first time and constantly asks his older brother for information about the opposite sex. Stanley tells his brother about masturbation and buys him a postcard with a naked woman on it. Eugene lusts after his beautiful sixteen-year-old cousin Nora. Eugene's adolescent concerns sometimes seem petty when compared...

(The entire section contains 1213 words.)

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  • Summary
  • Act Summaries
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