The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Deathwatch opens in a prison cell, where Green Eyes has just separated Maurice and Lefranc, who have been fighting for his attention. They both idolize Green Eyes, the supreme criminal hero, who has been convicted of murdering a prostitute and is awaiting his execution. The enormity of his crime and his coolness of temper create a mystique they crave for themselves. Maurice treats Green Eyes almost as a figure of religious awe and is deeply angered by Lefranc’s suggestion that Snowball, a black criminal, is actually superior. In fact, the play turns on how these two young men perceive Green Eyes: Is he their champion, a pure example of the criminal mind, or no more than a petty convict like themselves?

Lefranc has identified a vulnerability in Green Eyes: He is illiterate and cannot express himself in writing. Lefranc has been writing letters to Green Eyes’ girl for Green Eyes, but he has evidently used words and phrases that declare his own feelings. Green Eyes, however, is hardly damaged by his inability to control what Lefranc says, because he has decided to break off with his girl—indeed, to give her to one of the boys or to the Guard who comes to announce her arrival. His utter aloofness from what would be normal jealousy or suspicion restores some of his godlike stature, especially when he proposes that one of his acolytes murder her. Which of them will do his bidding and prove his faithfulness?

However, Green Eyes himself...

(The entire section is 539 words.)