The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

After serving an eight-year prison sentence for second-degree murder, Arlene enters a dingy apartment in Louisville, Kentucky, to begin her first twenty-four hours on parole. In the course of her first day home, she is visited by four people: Bennie, her sentimental former jailer, who tries to convince Arlene that she needs his help to adjust to life outside prison; her mother, blind to her daughter’s struggle to put the past behind her; Carl, a pimp and former partner in numerous crimes, who tries to entice Arlene back to the streets; and Ruby, an ex-convict, who helps Arlene cope with her new life without demanding anything in return.

Arlene’s most persistent visitor is her memory of Arlie, her raging younger self, played by a different actor. Arlie’s appearance is triggered by the people who come to visit and remind Arlene of the person she once was. The past and the present move forward on two simultaneous tracks: Arlene’s struggle through her first day home and Arlie’s transformation from a young hellion to a desperate inmate praying for a way out of confinement.

When act 1 begins, Bennie has driven Arlene from the Alabama prison to Louisville, and he plans to settle in town. As Arlene’s jailer, he has watched her for eight years, and now he tries to convince her that she needs his help. Arlene, however, distances herself from Bennie, because he is a reminder of the past she is trying to forget. Bennie’s visit triggers Arlene’s first memory of Arlie, who appears in a series of short interwoven scenes. The audience witnesses Arlie picking up a soldier in a bar, defying a policeman after an apparent burglary, demanding that a prison guard clean up the dinner she threw on the floor, and setting her blouse on fire in her prison cell.

When her mother comes to visit, Arlene reluctantly admits her. As her mother begins to clean the apartment, Arlene presses her for information about her son Joey, asks if she can come for Sunday dinner, and repeatedly has to remind her mother that she is “Arlene,” not Arlie, now. The mother recoils from her daughter’s attempts to reach out to her and blames her for the trouble she has caused. When the mother finds a man’s hat under the bed, she accuses Arlene of returning to prostitution and walks out on her. Her mother spurs Arlene’s memory, and Arlie appears. She defends her abusive father and pleads with her mother to believe that it was really a fall from her bike that hurt her.

Carl is the next visitor. When Arlene refuses to open the door for him, he breaks it down. Carl tries to entice Arlene into resuming their former alliance, and she struggles to resist him. Bennie returns with dinner and forces Carl to retreat. Carl leaves with a warning that he will return. Arlene tells Bennie of her hopes for her son, Joey. This triggers the appearance of Arlie, alone in her cell, where she talks to an imaginary child...

(The entire section is 1191 words.)

Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Getting Out incorporates a variety of dramatic devices to dramatize the interior struggle of a woman trying to reconcile her past and present. Arlene’s past life is enacted by a second actor who appears in a chain of flashbacks throughout the play. Arlie is “the violent kid Arlene was until her last stretch in prison.” Arlie makes it possible to move the play forward and backward in time to reveal the sources of Arlie’s rage and her desperate need for change.

The author’s specifications for the setting create a present permanently surrounded by the past. A prison cell, a catwalk, and other playing areas that represent the past surround Arlene’s “dingy one-room apartment.” As the author notes, “the apartment must seem imprisoned.” The bars in Arlene’s apartment window and the bars in Arlie’s prison cell visually link past to present. The set never changes. Arlie’s movement throughout the set allows the audience to see the ease with which the past intrudes upon the present. The specifications for lighting in the script suggest that the simultaneous existence of Arlie and Arlene should be sharply focused.

Sometimes the past follows the present sequentially. At the beginning of the play Bennie is carrying Arlene’s luggage up the steps to her apartment. He shouts “Arlie!” to Arlene on the stairs above, and in an instant the light comes up on Arlie as a violent kid telling the story of her revenge on the boy...

(The entire section is 552 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Brown, Linda Ginter, ed. Marsha Norman: A Casebook. New York: Garland, 1996.

Chinoy, Helen Krich, and Linda Walsh Jenkins. “Where Are the Women Playwrights?” In Women in American Theater, edited by Helen Krich Chinoy and Linda Walsh Jenkins. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 1987.

Gussow, Mel. “Women Playwrights: New Voices in the Theatre.” New York Times Magazine, May 1, 1983, pp. 22-34.

Murray, Timothy. “Patriarchal Panopticism: Or, The Seduction of a Bad Joke— Getting Out in Theory.” Theatre Journal 35 (October, 1983): 376-388.

Rubik, Margaret. “A Sisterhood of Women: Marsha Norman’s Getting Out and The Laundromat.” Gramma: Journal of Theory and Criticism, 1994, 141-147.

Savran, Bruce. “Marsha Norman.” In In Their Own Words: Contemporary American Playwrights. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 1988.

Schroeder, Patricia R. “Locked Behind the Proscenium: Feminist Strategies in Getting Out and My Sister in This House.” Feminist Theatre and Theory. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996.

Weales, Gerald. “Getting Out: A New American Playwright.” Commonweal 106 (October 12, 1979): 559-560.