Themes and Meanings
The Great God Brown proceeds from the premise that selfhood is never singular but that, at the least, everyone has a public image as well as a private persona. Normally these, either by nature or by training, are compatible. A conflict can arise, however, when the extremely sensitive spirit of the inner person (an artist, for example) is very different from the ordinary people who surround him or her. If the person’s responses are not allowed expression, then that inner self will feel isolated or even held in contempt, and an identity crisis can result. The person of integrity and independence has not only the normal problem of coping with changes that occur as one matures or as life’s circumstances alter but also the problem of being understood in spite of the person’s complexity and loved despite his or her differences.
In Eugene O’Neill’s play, the struggle for self-determination and the right to fulfill one’s dreams is most evident at first in the polarization of talented Dion Anthony and mediocre Billy Brown. A more subtle struggle takes place, however, between the dual natures of Dion Anthony himself: the sensual, ecstatic artist (Dion) and the ascetic, saintly mystic (Anthony). That particular division makes him ambivalent in his relationship with Margaret, who is both attracted to his life affirmation and puritanically repelled by its extremes. Sexual desire exists in her but is restrained. The role she prefers for herself is...
(The entire section is 514 words.)