Themes and Meanings

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

In Metaphysics of a Two-Headed Calf, Stanisaw Ignacy Witkiewicz explores the complex relationships of a family viewed against the context of an aboriginal culture represented by King Aparura. From his expedition to Australia and New Guinea with anthropologist Bronisaw Malinowski, Witkiewicz draws on his visual memories of a tropical landscape to render what he refers to as “tropical madness,” a condition used by such characters as Mikulin, Rivers, and Parvis to justify cruelty and rapaciousness. In the world of tropical madness, brutality serves as a powerful stimulus to sexual desire, represented by Mirabella, who along with his whip is used by Parvis to excite and tempt the other characters into even further excesses.

In the background of the brutality and rapaciousness lurks the dread of the plague. Terror of the plague, called Kala-Azar, known in Hindi as the black disease, becomes the driving force of the play and is embodied in the second act by the hooded figure dressed in black who introduces himself as the special envoy of the Golden Frog. Even in the face of terror of the plague, the Europeans are driven by their lust to possess, as when the governor sets out to the pestilential Fly River to capture a rare water bug “with green abdomen and rosy little wings” for his prized collection. When Mikulin, after his experiments on Leocadia with his worthless serum, introduces a serum that will contain the plague, the figure Kala-Azar packs himself into a trunk and is taken along by Rivers and Parvis on their journey to outback Australia. This packing in of Kala-Azar suggests that the plague itself has been...

(The entire section is 671 words.)