Themes and Meanings
In Picnic, William Inge has chronicled the angst of those who cannot articulate their own desperation because it remains to them a nameless gnawing in the soul. Much has been made of the legacy of the Kansas small-town life that Inge knew intimately and its influence on his work. This legacy is portrayed in Picnic as a smallness of ambition and desire, a predicament that the landscape itself perhaps perpetuates with its brooding, thundering skies and stark plains. These physical surroundings become emblematic, especially of the abandoned or disadvantaged women that Inge captured so evocatively, and they—not Hal or Alan—are the real center of the play. While in some sense Hal is the fulcrum of the play’s thematic force, he is in the center only because Madge and Rosemary—and, in subtler ways, Mrs. Potts and Millie—inadvertently place him there by their own groping for identity and purpose.
For Madge, Hal is daring and adventure, in contrast with Alan’s predictable safety and structure; to succumb to Hal is to break out of the routine and escape the foreordained. In this preference she shares the same spirit her mother Flo had manifested earlier, and with probably the same eventual disappointment awaiting her. Madge is weary of being told that she is pretty, of being venerated for a physical appearance she had no choice in assuming. Alan’s infatuation with her beauty only reinforces her sense of longing for something or...
(The entire section is 549 words.)