Themes and Meanings

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The Police, like most of Sawomir Mroek’s other plays, is grounded in the playwright’s actual experiences in communist Poland, where daily life was characterized by fear of prosecution for disloyalty and by an absurdly complicated bureaucracy. Mroek regards life in Cold-War-era Poland as so absurd that his plays turn into grotesque, cartoonlike parodies. These nightmarish visions of his homeland led to Mroek’s exile in 1964, and his work was banned in Poland from 1968 until 1974. In the 1980’s, this harsh stance of the Polish government softened significantly, and Mroek’s plays were once more widely performed.

The Police dramatizes a society, undefined but certainly recognizable as a parody of Poland, in which a totalitarian government, led by an Infant King and his uncle, the Regent, has managed to suppress all opposition. The last vestige of resistance, the Prisoner, feels out of place and strangely nostalgic for law and order. To be an anarchist revolutionary is a lonely, depressing existence, and the lack of support from the general population finally persuades the former rebel that conformity, even with a previously despised political system, is gratifying and comforting. There is a marked difference between the Prisoner’s observations of his society from his cell window and those of the Sergeant in act 3. The perspective from a prison window is limited, and the interpretation of the scene depends heavily on whether one prefers existence inside the prison or the prison existence outside. The crematorium, a reminder of the infamous Nazi concentration camps in Poland during the Third Reich, is interpreted by the Prisoner as a sign of religious tolerance, by the Sergeant as a “non-productive investment.” The faces of the people, seen from the perspective of the Prisoner, who wants to be released, are “full of happiness and satisfaction”; to the Sergeant they wear sour expressions.

A totally successful totalitarian state is unthinkable, since it defines itself by and gains its strength from opposition. When all opposition has been crushed or “reeducated,” artificial enemies must be created. Once identified as a foe of the system and treated as such, the Sergeant no longer has a stake in supporting the party line. His eyes are opened to the cruel absurdity of the system, and he turns into a committed revolutionary. Even without such principled opposition, however, the totalitarian system will create enemies out of the inevitable internal power struggle among the politicians, the military, and the ideologues. The losers will without fail populate the prisons once more.

The Police analyzes the mechanisms of power and exposes the absurdities and inherent contradictions of totalitarian government. It points out the paranoia about opposition forces inherent in all totalitarian regimes and the paradoxical need for such opposition to guarantee the survival of the system. The play also shows how the lure of a higher standard of living can serve as a substitute for personal freedom; given such complacence, such a lack of popular support, the would-be rebel is reduced to absurdity. Finally, Mroek outlines the bleakly ironic process whereby revolutionaries turn into the most ardent supporters of the system they formerly worked so hard to overthrow.

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