Themes and Meanings

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

A Dream Play consists of numerous variations on the theme of the essential unhappiness and meaninglessness of human existence. This is the same theme, in sum, of ancient Greek tragedy and of twentieth century existentialist literature. Indra’s Daughter (as Agnes) explains it mythically shortly before her ascension: Brahma, the potential energy of the universe, permitted Maja, the World Mother, to activate him so that there would be complexity; the union of the divine Brahma with the earthly Maja was the Fall. Brahma’s consequent descendants must, in order to free themselves from earthly bonds, cultivate asceticism and suffering, but the need to suffer is in conflict with the inherent predisposition toward pleasure and love. Ultimately love finds its greatest pleasure in the greatest suffering; the struggle between the suffering in pleasure and the pleasure in suffering produces the power that sustains the world; peace and rest are to be found only in death. Agnes’s explanation, in concert with her understanding of the Nothing behind the cloverleaf door, reads like a passage from the new physics: Matter comes from nothing, from a state of complete entropy (or potential energy); energy’s consciousness of itself kineticizes itself, and the material universe with all of its complexity results, but the complexity (the struggle) will eventually wind down as the universe returns to complete simplicity (complete entropy), possibly to be reactivated by its...

(The entire section is 477 words.)