Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Drama)

The Dining Room is about the erosion of the nuclear family and the loss of American traditions and values that were once revered but now, because of time, indolence, or indifference, have become nothing more than relics of the past. The central character is really the dining room itself, an elegant room with a parquet floor, a sideboard, and an old-fashioned dark wood table with chairs at center stage, which anchors an Oriental rug. Traditionally, the dining room was, as Gurney has explained, “where the family gathered and traditions were either imposed or challenged.” Thus, the stage space becomes an apposite theatrical and visual metaphor symbolizing the traditional nexus of familial nurturing and bonding, and the thematic intent evolves forcefully and accumulatively as the characters express their disparate attitudes about these old, established American values by their treatment of either the dramatic space or the others within that space.

The play’s characters are all family members or servants of different WASP families and represent various stages in the historical decline of American values and traditions. The central conflict is the archetypal one between old and new, between those characters representing the rigid rules of the past and others bent on destroying those rules. Some characters, like the elderly father who bequeaths his son the dining room furniture because it is the best thing he has to offer him, represent those...

(The entire section is 506 words.)