Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 446

The central theme of The Hasty Heart is most succinctly expressed in the familiar phrase from the seventeenth century poet and clergyman John Donne, “No man is an island.” The play contends that human beings are vitally interconnected with one another regardless of whether they want to admit it. Human beings must care for one another, accept and tolerate differences, and work to make community possible. The individual who tries to deny friendship, interdependence, and caring merely denies that better part of humanity that yearns for human intimacy.

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John Patrick communicates this theme through Lachie’s experience with the men in the hospital, but the effectiveness of the story is enhanced by Patrick’s preparation for Lachie’s initial entrance. Patrick uses well over half of the play’s first act to introduce the individual men in the ward. They represent diverse, often normally antagonistic nationalities, and Patrick gives each man a distinctive character, a distinctive dialect, and a fierce nationalistic pride. However, the men’s sniping at one another is good-natured and embodies Patrick’s social ideal of harmony within diversity. Once this ideal is embedded in the audience’s mind, even subconsciously, Patrick can introduce Lachie, who denies the ideal but then discovers his error.

Patrick also prepares his audience for his message by giving Yank, the leader of the men, a virulent hatred of Scots. Yank has the most animosity to overcome when Lachie joins the group and must change more than any of the men besides Lachie during the play. Yank’s change of heart is subtle but steady, so that the focus is kept on Lachie but the theme of interdependence is quietly reinforced.

Finally, Patrick communicates the theme by drawing the audience into the emotional maelstrom of the play. When Lachie first appears, he is genuinely unpleasant, a test of anyone’s forbearance. Though audiences laugh at Lachie’s brusque resistance to kindness, they also participate in the men’s struggle to like him, and at the end of the play the audience must also evaluate Lachie’s charge that the generous feelings toward him were only a shallow kind of pity.

Patrick’s final comment on the theme is that brotherhood is understood by the heart and not the mind. Lachie’s denial of brotherhood is seen as a psychological aberration, not as a rational choice. Through conversations with the men and Margaret, Lachie is revealed as desirous of friendship but pathologically afraid of rejection. He has covered up his fears of rejection by hardening himself against human intimacy. The convoluted mind with its fragile ego has misled him. The heart leads the way to the acceptance of brotherhood.

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