Themes and Meanings

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The Killdeer focuses on the individual’s struggle to free himself from the debilitating influence of domineering parents who deny him his own identity and destiny. The three most important characters, Harry, Rebecca, and Eli, are all victims of parental domination. At the beginning of the play, Harry, the youthful protagonist, has no will of his own in the presence of his mother. He marries Vernelle Coons, his mother’s choice, not Rebecca, whom he loves. Young Eli fears his heartless mother, is haunted by his father’s brutality, and is emotionally abused and exploited by Clifford. Rebecca, too, must contend with a past in which she was victimized by adults.

The play shows that such exploitation of youth by manipulating, selfish adults can be overcome by love and sympathy. Harry’s love for Rebecca and his generous and sincere concern for Eli are responsible for the truth being revealed and the couple being saved from execution. Rebecca herself is forgiving, marrying Eli to untie “the evil knot.” She faces the world bravely, making a success of the farm left to her, and, like the killdeer, tries to protect those dependent upon her. Her love enables both Harry and Eli to mature and find some measure of happiness.

The play celebrates the spirit of hope and redemption. Both Harry and Rebecca remain optimistic and resilient even at the darkest moment, when Rebecca faces death at the hands of the hangman. James Reaney conveys...

(The entire section is 539 words.)