Themes and Meanings

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In Jumpers, the philosophical crisis experienced by George Moore, the hero of the play, is reflected in all aspects of the plot and characterization. George attempts to prove the existence of God—“the Necessary Being, the First Cause, the Unmoved Mover!!”—in order to provide his own philosophical arguments with stability. However, he is never successful in proving this existence, only in describing his need to believe in God in the face of an increasingly popular logical positivism. “The truth to us philosophers,” Archie tells Crouch, “is always an interim judgment.” Logical positivism is but one manifestation of a more general loss of faith. A lack of a moral absolute affects all the diverse worlds of the play: the philosophical world, the musical stage, the murder mystery, and the world that exists around them.

In the first act of the play Tom Stoppard sets up the many examples of this moral and ethical instability. The Radical-Liberal Party has taken over the government and the media by force and rationalized the churches; Sam Clegthorpe, the Rad-Lib Spokesman for Agriculture, has been made archbishop of Canterbury. A two-man team has traveled to the moon; however, an equipment malfunction has made it possible for only one to return, and Captain Scott selfishly strands his crewmate to die.

Each of the main characters is affected by this loss of idealism. Dotty’s inability to reconcile her romantic vision of the moon with the scientific lunar explorations leads to insanity: Unable to distinguish the different moon songs, she wanders from verse to verse aimlessly. George’s lecture is never conclusive; he cannot prove the existence of God, any more than he can gain his promotion or keep his marriage together. Similarly, the detective Bones is unsuccessful in his attempts to find the Jumper’s murderer.

This mystery is unsolvable not because there is not enough evidence but because there is too much. Each of the characters except for Archie seems to be trapped because he or she refuses to give up some vestige of faith in an absolute standard; characters such as George and Bones insist on finding some sort of truth. According to the play’s logical positivists, alternative systems of morality and belief are all valid. Standards of behavior and judgment lose their potency and become a hazard to those who still insist on them. Even Clegthorpe is killed at the end because he starts to believe that he truly is the archbishop. Logical positivism itself, when defined as a rigid belief, becomes subject to relativism. The dead McFee had confessed to Crouch that his beliefs were threatened by the persistence of extreme instances of human faith, such as altruism; McFee, it is apparent, had begun to doubt logical positivism itself.

Only Archie, who is able to “jump” from position to position, can succeed in such a world. The play itself ends without a resolution to either the mystery or the philosophical questions. Archie is victorious in the symposium, yet George is clearly the most sympathetic character. He struggles to maintain some integrity and some faith, however irrational, in the face of the chaos that envelops all the worlds of the play.

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