Themes and Meanings

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

In an interview, Romulus Linney defined the point of the play as “the very unusual ways in which people find their . . . personal salvation . . . their adjustment to life, their . . . philosophy.” Holy Ghosts incisively examines rural southern folk. Most of the characters are social or psychological misfits, rejected by a disapproving society.

Central characters Coleman and Nancy Shedman dramatically epitomize the struggle of tormented lives to cope with existence. Nancy undergoes a journey of self-discovery, as does her husband. Yearning for the respected role of wife and mother, she has entrapped herself in an unhappy marriage, from which she seeks to escape by seizing upon the communal comfort proffered by a bizarre religious sect. She discovers that neither a sect peopled by the desperate nor an equally desperate husband incapable of inner change can give her fulfillment; she must earn it herself. Consequently, she freely chooses to learn an independent livelihood in the outside world; in so doing, she displays great strength. Coleman has inherited a joyless view of life, which has led him to a joyless marriage. His scornful attitude toward the snakehandlers is reversed when he discovers that his frustration and self-loathing are equal to their own, and he experiences an emotional catharsis in the church’s ophidian worship. Like the lawyer Canfield, another converted outsider, Coleman realizes a needed dependency on the sect’s faith...

(The entire section is 447 words.)