William Inge’s artistic preoccupation is with the quiet desperation of middle-class midwestern American lives, in which the burdens and frustrations of convention and responsibility are shown to defeat the romance of ambition and dreams in direct proportion to the physical or intellectual limitations of the dreamers.
Of the characters in Picnic, only Rosemary gets what she wants—the certainty of marriage. Yet, it is the form and convention of marriage that she wins, exactly what Madge has feared being led into. Neither Rosemary nor Howard displays the vaguest symptoms of love. Theirs will be a material partnership, as opposed to the exclusively subjective relationship of Madge and Hal, with their deep and overriding passion. It is clear that actual happiness is to find neither couple: Rosemary and Howard will have conflicting and unreconcilable notions of what their marriage must be; Madge and Hal will live in uncertainty, financial insecurity, and, as it is intimated, an eventual separation not unlike that of Madge’s parents.
The essential unhappiness of human life, which is the theme of Greek tragedy wrought through larger-than-life characters, is brought by Inge into the ambience of realistic middle-class Americans. In Picnic, he spans the generations from teenage to octogenarian to illustrate the persistence of frustration: Millie and Madge are in their teens; Hal and Alan are in their twenties; Rosemary and Flo are...
(The entire section is 497 words.)