Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 384

Einstein on the Beach is a visual and verbal panorama of the twentieth century that recognizes the passing of time as relentless but relative. Though time produces noticeable changes, these are essentially superficial. People may wait for a train, a bus, or a spaceship, but they wait nevertheless, and the machines which carry them away all perform the same function, though they differ radically in appearance. Lovers love, then destroy each other; this is true whether they are dressed as Victorians emerging from a gaslit train, as astronauts emerging from a space capsule, or as a pair waiting on a park bench for a bus destined for no certain place. Einstein, who propounded the theory of relativity and whose work in theoretical physics made the atom bomb possible, becomes a symbol of this relative way of considering time. His persona recurs throughout the work, sometimes evoked by the violin-playing actor who portrays him, sometimes multiplied through the Chorus, which adopts his distinctive dress, sometimes recalled by screen projections behind the actors, sometimes merely hinted at through the black-hole eclipse which blots out the handless clock face, or by the enormous bed (possibly recalling Einstein’s comment that his best ideas came to him through dreams).

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Seemingly topical issues are also timeless when considered from this perspective. The black woman defendant of act 1, scene 2 invokes the name of Will “Bojangles” Robinson, a black dancer whose talent was exploited; his identity and plight become hers and...

(The entire section contains 384 words.)

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