Perhaps the most important theme in Brian Friel's play Philadelphia, Here I Come! relates to sense of self. The main character, Gareth (Gar for short), is played by two different actors when this play is performed, because Gar sees himself separated into two different entities: Gar Public and Gar Private. The former is the Gar that he shows to the world and the one who normally interacts with his father. Gar Private is arguably the "real" Gar, as this Gar is composed of Gar's true feelings and thoughts. This is an important part of the play, because Gar, like the rest of us, has to find a way to reconcile these two separate parts of himself in order to become whole.
Coming of Age
Another theme in the play is growing up, or coming of age."Gar decides to leave his home in Ireland and move to America, and he must deal with the loss and guilt he feels for leaving his family behind. He is becoming an adult and making his own decisions, and this is not always an easy process, as we see when he repeatedly attempts to make some sort of meaningful connection with his closed-off father before he leaves.
Themes and Meanings
Philadelphia, Here I Come! is, on one hand, a traditional play about a young man’s coming of age; on the other it is an experimental presentation of the complex contradictions that form personality. These two themes work together in the study of a family that is pathologically unable to communicate.
The theme of coming of age, tracing a young man’s difficult separation from his family and his first halting steps toward autonomy, is familiar in modern drama. Parallels may be seen in Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie (pr. 1944), Frank Gilroy’s The Subject Was Roses (pb. 1962), and Neil Simon’s Broadway Bound (pr. 1986). In the case of Gar, the process of leaving home is complicated by his role as only son of a father who, though unable to express his love, or any feeling at all, nevertheless depends on him. Gar recognizes this dependence in their final conversation about business details that S. B. must now look after himself. However, like Tom in The Glass Menagerie, he must leave, driven away by the dependent parent.
He is driven away by more than his father. He sees few opportunities for himself in Ireland, in contrast to his fantasized world of opportunity in America. Furthermore, at home he has failed in love, having proposed to a woman who soon after married someone else. He has even failed to form significant friendships. America, even with Aunt Lizzie, must offer more than Ireland and his father.
Though Gar seems resolute in his decision to leave home, he is in fact wracked with doubts. He must regularly and deliberately cajole himself back into a mood of optimism. The conflicts and complexities underlying his decision are revealed in the conversations and debates between his public and private selves.
The debates expand to other issues as well, revealing the...
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