Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 466

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The Connection is a play about the making of a play that investigates the human condition through the central metaphor of waiting. Therefore, The Connection is also a play about the nature of improvised, experimental drama and about the blurred distinction between drama and reality. The main actors of the play-within-the-play are heroin addicts—a group of people who are rarely represented in traditional drama. The audience learns much about their lives and is invited to understand the addicts and to feel compassion for them and their lives of constant waiting and worrying, interrupted by only brief periods of happiness.

The Connection is not, however, primarily a play about heroin and its users. The addicts are representative of the general human condition, which crosses boundaries of race and class. They represent, as Solly says, a “petty and miserable microcosm.” While The Connection is not a defense of drugs, it argues that drug addicts are not dissimilar to more conventional members of society: The former seek happiness through an illegal vice, whereas the latter seek it through financial stability. Both groups are addicted to their own means of finding happiness. The line between conventionality and marginality is crossed by the second photographer and Jaybird, who accept the heroin offered to them, while Leach dreams of crossing this line in the other direction and of getting a job in order to establish credit and then live on his credit cards.

The heroin addicts—and people in general—are in a fragile condition and feel a need for salvation. Sister Salvation considers Ernie a good prospect for saving, but she herself needs to be saved from her loneliness. When Cowboy explains that Sister Salvation “saved” them, he adds, “For the moment, that is.” Like the happiness that comes after the use of heroin, salvation can only be temporary and uncertain—as is Leach’s survival after taking an overdose. In this fragile world, heroism is an anachronism, and people need to be protected from themselves. The absurdity of human existence is underlined by Harry’s surreal entrances.

Another level of absurdity is added by the play’s blurring of the distinction between drama and reality. Jim Dunn and Jaybird can maintain control over their play only briefly; they soon get caught up in the action presented onstage. Jaybird’s criticism of the players for not improvising in the way he had laid out for them remains ineffectual because the players refuse to alter their personalities or opinions for the sake of the play. While Jaybird started the project because of his interest in innovative drama, he is willing to accept only such “improvisations” as he can control; Jack Gelber may be using Jaybird as a metaphor for a dramatist who pretends to be experimental but cannot be so wholeheartedly.