Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 459

Two themes common in all of Margulies’s plays are relationships and loss. In Dinner with Friends the impact that divorce has on close friends produces painful self-examination. While the play appears to cover well-traveled territory, Margulies’s deft, wry dialogue probes honestly the tender places that lie beneath any long-term relationship.

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The theme of loss is introduced at the outset as Tom is absent from the dinner Gabe and Karen have prepared for their friends. At the end of act 1, Karen’s angry departure suggests the rifts that quickly form between the couples. Only in a single scene in act 2 do all four characters appear together.

At its core, the play focuses less on the couple who divorce than on the impact the divorce has on Gabe and Karen. Underneath the cultured exterior of Gabe and Karen lies a creeping insecurity slowly unearthed by the aftershocks caused by Tom and Beth’s break up. Self-examination follows as seemingly permanent constants are shattered. Reflecting on Beth’s affair ten years earlier, Karen comes to question the years they shared with Beth and Tom. Gabe seems to be the most disturbed by Tom and Beth’s decisions. He passionately, if not clumsily, challenges Tom to validate the years their families spent together. “This misery you describe, this agony. Gee, I thought we were all just living out lives, you know? . . . I thought you were there, wholeheartedly there. And now you’re saying you had an eye on the clock and a foot out the door?” Tom is forced to admit that he could never commit to family life. This admission shakes Gabe deeply.

In the first act of the play, the differences between the couples become clear. While Tom and Beth are genuinely fond of their close friends, their rocky marital life prevents them from seeing themselves as equals. Unnerved by Tom’s unexpected return from the airport, Beth slips into casual conversation about her dinner with Gabe and Karen. Tom notices a new set of placemats. Beth’s reply foreshadows the anger she expresses later: “Karen and Gabe, God love’em, they know what a disaster I am in the kitchen so they’re always giving me things like trivets and cookbooks.” When Tom visits Gabe to tell “his side of the story,” Gabe seems unable to accept the finality of Tom’s decisions. Unless they are discussing the quality of Gabe’s food, Tom and Gabe are unable to connect meaningfully.

Wisely, Margulies makes neither heroes nor villains out of his characters. The viewer’s sentiments shift between these four, all-too-human people. In the end, Dinner with Friends probes the strength of commitment, the value of fidelity, and the depths of love in relationships both marital and fraternal.


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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 873

Marriage and Courtship
One of the major themes of the play is the different levels of relationship both mside and outside of marriage. There is the initial phase of marriage as portrayed in the flashback scene; Gabe and Karen are depicted as a newlywed couple, still infatuated with one another to the point of distraction. They are more inwardly-focused as a couple than they are in other scenes that depict them as a long-married couple.

There is also the portrayal of courtship as seen in the same flashback; Tom and Beth first meet one another and learn to maneuver themselves into a couple. Later, when Tom leaves Beth because he has found another woman, the stage of courtship is revisited. Beth also begins a courtship with the new man in her life.

In contrast are the scenes that involve the long-term marriage relationship. In the case of Gabe and Karen, marriage seems to have aged well, as their identities melt into one another. They complete one another's thoughts, one finishing a...

(The entire section contains 1332 words.)

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  • Summary
  • Themes
  • Characters
  • Critical Essays
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