Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 473

Lazarus Laughed is a play about the modern curse of consciousness. Greatly influenced by Sigmund Freud and Friedrich Nietzsche, Eugene O’Neill tries to combine their central concerns in this play. Freud’s emphasis on the individual, on the unconscious wishes and drives that can wreck civilization if they are not controlled and repressed, is expressed in characters such as Caligula who verbalize the conflicts of the human psyche. Freud’s deterministic psychology, which suggests that human beings are in the grip of drives they have trouble mastering, is reflected in all the characters who have not reached Lazarus’s level of conscious acceptance. For Lazarus, however, death has put an end to self-absorption and worries over his own well-being.

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Lazarus is, in other words, a Nietzschean man, one who has surmounted the question of individuality. Having returned from the dead, he knows that the entire world goes through the same cycle; that is, the world is constantly dying and being reborn, and human beings have their wonderful part to play in the drama of existence. Nietzsche attacked Christianity for its emphasis on the individual soul and personal salvation. Such a religion, he thought, made humans cringing, frightened beings who lacked the imagination to see their links with all life. Taking his inspiration from Nietzsche, O’Neill creates Lazarus as a spokesman for life as an eternal return, a series of rebirths rather than (as in Christianity) a single rebirth, a single salvation. In Lazarus Laughed, O’Neill rejects Christianity as a historical religion, as the story of a Redeemer who came once for all. Redemption, Lazarus argues, is occurring every moment of existence, as all things go through the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth.

The Roman setting of the play is important in...

(The entire section contains 473 words.)

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