Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 543

The Hot l Baltimore explores the transitoriness of social institutions and human relationships and comments upon the ways that people try to maintain a sense of identity in a constantly changing world. The hotel itself represents this theme of transience. Built in the nineteenth century, this once-elegant hotel is now the home of prostitutes and the elderly. The e in its sign has burned out and been left unrepaired, a fact that represents the decay and dissolution of the neighborhood. Now the owners have decided to cast out its residents and demolish it.

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The play is comic rather than tragic. The characters try to find something to hold on to; losing one dream, they try to grab another or to embrace chaos. The Girl, for example, abandons what little stability her own name provides and talks of having traveled around the country, abandoning place entirely. Millie, on the other hand, very much wants rootedness. She puts her faith in a kind of transcendence that enables her to see ghosts. Jackie tries to achieve a utopian dream of returning to nature, only to have it shattered. She talks of helping others and being helped but uses a close relationship only to steal and betray; ultimately, she abandons even her brother in a flight from responsibility. Bill, who clearly feels much affection for the Girl, is unable to express himself to her and thus comes to the end of the play with his emotional needs unsatisfied. To the derision of all, Suzy leaves to look after a new pimp; everyone knows that she will soon return.

Ultimately, what draws the characters together and gives them a sense of place— more than the hotel itself can—is the sense of family, and Lanford Wilson explores this concept in the feelings of his characters for one another. Several of them have family members whom they attempt to care for. For example, Mrs. Bellotti argues with Katz for the fair treatment of her son, Horse, although she does so unsuccessfully. Paul claims that he is the only one who cares about his grandfather and does try to find him throughout most of the play; yet when confronted with hotel records documenting his existence, Paul gives up his search and leaves. Wilson contrasts this lack of feeling with the far stronger familial relationship among the hotel’s residents. When the group scorns Suzy and her new pimp, she first leaves angrily, but then she returns, crying, to hug them all and say, “I’m sorry. I know you love me. I can’t leave like that. Mr. Morse. We been like a family, haven’t we? My family. Baby. I’m not that horrible. I can’t be mad. Bill. I’ll always remember this.” A family is not something received, but something worked for, something earned.

The play ends with an expression of this emotional investment when April, the most amusing and pragmatic of all the characters, forces the abandoned Jamie to dance with her. “Come on,” she says; “you’re so shy, if someone doesn’t put a light under your tail, you’re not going to have passions to need convictions for.” Only by continuing to move can humanity avoid the decay confronting the Hotel Baltimore.

Themes

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 625

Choices and Consequences
There are several instances where it becomes clear that in choosing prostitution, the women in the play face the dangerous consequences of their choice.

Suzy is beaten and locked out of her room by a customer early in the play. Later, she announces that she is moving into an apartment with her new pimp. Her friends are concerned that this man will treat her as badly as the previous one did.

Although April makes fun of her customers’ fetishes, she has been put at risk by freaky and dangerous customers. Wilson does not emphasize it, but it is clear that prostitution is a risky way to make a living.

Human Condition
Jamie’s abandonment is a tragic situation that underscores the precarious nature of the human condition. The young man is almost helpless without Jackie to care for him; his ability to think and rationalize is limited. It is unclear how he will be able to survive without his sister to help him. The picture of this teenage boy bringing all his possessions to the lobby is heartbreaking. The other residents know that Jackie will not return, and the audience knows it as well. The last image in the play is of April trying to distract Jamie as she teaches him to dance.

The majority of the conversations between the residents concern their memories of the past. Millie tells the other residents about her childhood and the large mansion that was inhabited by ghosts. The Girl talks about her travels around the United States. These pleasant memories help to alleviate anxiety over an uncertain future. It is particularly important to focus on the past when in a short time they will all be homeless.

Memory and Reminiscence
The majority of the conversations between the residents concern their memories of the past. Millie tells the other residents about her childhood and the large mansion that was inhabited by ghosts. The Girl talks about her travels around the United States.

These pleasant memories help to alleviate anxiety over an uncertain future. It is particularly important to focus on the past when in a short time they will all be homeless.

Morality
Wilson treats prostitution as just another profession. There is certainly no moral judgment about these women’s choice of careers. April’s descriptions of her customers and their desires is intended to amuse and evoke pity, but at no point is the audience expected to criticize her actions. She is simply working and trying to earn a living.

The same is true for Suzy and the confrontation with her customer. The audience is expected to laugh at Jamie’s shock, but there is no expectation that she will call the police.

The only critical comment comes from Bill when the Girl is called with a job. Yet it is understood that he is likes her and wants to protect her. Wilson never makes a moral judgment about these women, and he does not allow any of the characters to do so either.

Wealth and Poverty
Paul Granger’s story about his missing grandfather creates a dichotomy between wealth and poverty. Paul’s parents are wealthy, but his grandfather was a working man. His parents are ashamed of him. Initially Paul searches for his grandfather because he wants to offer him a home. Later, he loses interest in locating him.

Wilson never suggests a reason for Paul’s sudden disinterest. Perhaps the hotel provides insight into the kind of existence that his grandfather has lived and he realizes how different his grandfather’s life has been from his own. Paul may realize that his parents are correct and there is no room in their lives for a poor old man on a railroad pension.

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