Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 489

Lydie Breeze is the first of four plays about this group of characters, although it concerns, chronologically, the last events. The others are Gardenia (pr., pb. 1982), Women and Water (pr. 1985, pb. 1990), and “Bullfinch’s Mythology.” Thus, Lydie Breeze is part of an epic exploration of failed idealism, which John Guare sees as the heart of American culture. Syphilis becomes the central metaphor for the corruption that eats from within at the American Dream. For Guare, ethics and ideals are destroyed not so much by the forces outside as by the rot inside people, which is the inescapable human tendency toward greed, ambition, lust, jealousy, and violent anger.

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Each character in the play suggests a particular perspective on the theme of failed idealism; Joshua’s bitterness, drunkenness, and self-pity are the manifestations of his sense of loss, not only of his wife and friends but also, more deeply, of his own innocence and optimism. He “ached for a utopia” but killed his best friend out of sexual jealousy and selfish greed, pettily symbolized by the bottle of Moxie he rips from Jeremiah’s mouth. Gussie places her faith in the power and materialism represented by Hearst and Amos, only to see her dreams of the good life, and Amos’s political ambitions, destroyed by the ghost of Aipotu. Jeremiah has achieved fame and wealth abroad, but just as he plays a monster on the stage, he is the monster of Lydie Breeze, forever haunted and finally destroyed by her.

People who are only mentioned in the play similarly suggest the pattern of the American dream and corruption. Mary Baker Eddy’s insistence that disease is only in the mind is an eerily ironic commentary on the suicides of Jeremiah and Beaty. William Randolph Hearst’s cynical attempt to wield power through Amos is ironically the only political consequence of Aipotu’s ideals. Most important, Lydie Breeze herself, who named Aipotu, who taught the men, as Beaty says, and whose spirit haunts all the play’s characters, in the end destroyed herself and the dreams through her passion for Dan, her seduction of Jeremiah, and finally her suicide, an act of despair and expiation.

In the fourth act, however, the play suggests the continuance of hope and optimism. As Beaty’s and Jeremiah’s bodies are symbolically washed clean of corruption by the sea, Lydie finds a reason to live through the naïve Christian Scientist Jude; Gussie runs off, full of new energy, with a quintessential American entrepreneur, Lucian Rock the inventor. Joshua, reconciled with his daughters, passes on their mother’s legacy of love and idealism to Lydie, her namesake, as they read together the words of America’s prophet, Walt Whitman: “A vast similitude interlocks all. . . . All souls All lives and deaths, all of the past, present, future, This vast similitude spans them, and always has spanned And shall forever span them and compactly hold and enclose them.”

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