Philadelphia, Here I Come! by Brian Friel

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Analysis

In Philadelphia, Here I Come!, the main character, Gareth, is divided into two different people (played by two different actors) and experiences a constant struggle between his private self and his public self. His public self is nice and polite, but deep down inside, his private self is fed up with nearly every person in his life. His father will not express any sort of emotion or even really acknowledge the fact that Gar is leaving Ireland for America, perhaps forever. The woman Gar loves wouldn't marry him because he couldn't offer her enough financial stability and he was too frightened to speak with her father about marrying her. His best friends turn out to be jerks, and his old schoolmaster is a drunk who keeps asking him for money.

In spite of all these reasons for leaving his home and everything he knows, Gar seems to spend the entire play hoping someone will ask him to stay. He thinks he may have a better life in America, and he fantasizes about it almost constantly, but he has many doubts. Although he may not show it on the surface, he doesn't want to leave his family behind, and he wants more than anything for someone—especially his father—to tell him that they don't want to be without him. At the end of the play, though, Gar is disappointed in this regard. Nothing happens to change his mind, and he continues to prepare for his trip.

The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Philadelphia, Here I Come! begins the evening before Gar O’Donnell is to leave home for Philadelphia. He has finished his last day of work in his father’s dry-goods store. He jokes with Madge, the housekeeper, as she prepares his tea, and then he begins to fantasize about life in the United States.

This fantasy, like all of his private thoughts, appears to the audience in the character of Private Gar, unheard by the other characters and unseen by anyone. Gar’s first fantasy is wild and exuberant, with images of flying in a plane and playing football. Madge enters, and they briefly discuss his father, who has apparently expressed no thoughts or feelings about his son’s departure. While Gar expresses disdain for old S. B. (Private Gar calls him Screwballs), he is clearly pained by the estrangement.

At this moment S. B. enters with a question about a delivery to the shop, and his immediate departure sets off a long fantasy scene between Public and Private Gar. Gar imagines his first day at work in a Philadelphia hotel, then, accompanied by a recording of Felix Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, thinks of his long-dead mother. He breaks the melancholy mood with some Irish music, but it, too, holds associations, recalling his proposal of marriage to Katie Doogan.

That memory scene appears in its entirety. Kate resists Gar’s insistent proposal because he does not make enough money for them to live on. Finally he confesses his secret income from selling eggs. Though the profits are smaller than Kate first imagines, she yields and takes Gar immediately to talk to her father, Senator Doogan.

At the Doogan house Gar can only stutter in front of the self-important senator, who promptly reveals his intentions for Kate to marry someone else. Gar leaves in disgrace, and the next memory is of the newspaper announcement of Kate’s wedding. In another attempt to break the mood, Gar imagines a farcical scene with his father, followed by a fantasy of picking up a woman in the United States.

Once again Madge breaks in on the fantasy, calling him in to his meal. She reveals, in passing, that her niece has had a baby girl and has promised to name it for her. As S. B. joins Gar for tea, Private mocks him mercilessly, providing accurate predictions of everything he will say. The pain beneath the mockery emerges as Private reveals, “Screwballs, we’ve eaten together like this for the past twenty-odd years, and never once in all that time have you made as much as one unpredictable remark.” He pleads (in his thoughts) for that unpredictable remark, that one thing that might tempt him to stay. His...

(The entire section is 1,829 words.)