Themes and Meanings

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The challenge of The Floating World is that it seeks to tackle not one but many issues, which for John Romeril clearly are related. One issue involves a criticism of capitalism and consumer culture, especially the specter of Japanese economic dominance. For example, the first monologue denounces the Australians as Judas-like traitors for selling their rain forest, and Japanese consumer goods are mocked in the reading of poorly translated instructions for setting up a Dippy Bird, a toy derided as ludicrous.

There is also the voicing of working-class Australian resentment against upper-class British cultural domination, related to the larger issue of class conflict in general. Les often pokes fun at Robinson, and in his imagination he relives the harsh and sometimes ineffectual ways of his own officers. There is also just the hint at the orthodox Marxist view that capitalist societies cause wars to avoid dealing with their own class conflicts, as evidenced when Les relates his hard life during the Depression in his final monologue.

The Floating World is also savagely sarcastic in the mocking of the loutish, misogynist, and xenophobic aspects of Australian entertainment culture. The many comic routines and Les’s jaunty limericks are meant to be understood as an indictment of the culture that gave rise to this kind of humor. This message has often been seen as the play’s political thematic core by Australian critics.


(The entire section is 546 words.)