Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 368
One major theme of this play is that our minds will go to great lengths to protect us from horrible truths. They will, in fact, invent fictions that are less painful and emotionally easier for us to believe so that we do not have to continue to grapple with difficult realities. For example, rather than deal with the fact that her son Jake is a violent and drunken wife-beater, Lorraine blames others for his violence. She says that a "Woman who lives with a man like [him] deserves to be killed. She deserves it." Moreover, she says that Jake "Fell on his damn head the second he was born. Slipped right through the doctor's fingers. That's where it all started. Back there." In this way, Lorraine is able to blame the woman Jake married or the doctor who dropped him for his violence. She is also able to shield herself from any blame for the way he grew up. Lorraine even tells her son Frankie not to buy Jake any liquor "unless [he] want[s] someone else killed." In this case, it would be the alcohol's fault, and not Jake's own violent personality, that would be to blame.
Another major theme addresses the attractiveness of male–female relationships as well as their simultaneous destructiveness. None of the relationships between men and women in this play are happy or healthy ones. Jake beats Beth, but they go on loving each other anyway. Baylor is bitter that he's wasted his life caring for "feeble-minded women" as he calls them: first his mother-in-law (who he apparently had committed); then his wife, Meg, who seems to be going down the same path; and now his daughter, who has sustained brain damage that seems in many ways to grow worse rather than better. Even the relationship between Lorraine and Jake is messed up. He thinks she's plotting with Frankie against him, and he manipulates his sister, Sally, to cover up his escape. There is antagonism between Mike and Beth, despite his sincere attempts to help her recover in the hospital, and there is antagonism between Jake and Sally, probably dating back to his indirect murder of their father (for which she was present).