All the characters and relationships in Idiot’s Delight are defined or affected by the impending conflict between the Allied forces and Nazi Germany. The play’s perspective broadens as the play advances, beginning with the narrow sphere of the cocktail lounge and ending with the air raid that symbolizes a conflict that envelops all of Europe. Thematically, the play develops the idea that humans are too fearful, narrow-minded, and patriotic to resist the urge to defend national honor. Morally, war is regarded as abhorrent and evil, but, the play suggests, humans are too emotional and too easily manipulated by “patriotic jingoism” to live up to their moral convictions.
Each of the major characters represents a specific point of view about war, its nature, and its consequences. Harry Van, the optimist, believes that the desire for peace and goodwill are fundamental to human nature and will eventually triumph. Achille Weber, the most morally depraved of the group, believes that humans are driven by self-interest, as he is, and by national honor, which he exploits for commercial gain; patriotism, he declares, is simply a mask for greed and mistrust.
Quillery betrays the passionate believer’s weakness by succumbing to his own patriotic fervor, which turns into a ranting nationalism. His execution confirms the point that war is idiotic in part because it destroys harmless people like Quillery. The Cherrys represent the disruptive effects of...
(The entire section is 607 words.)