The Real Thing is above all else a play about the thin line between language and life, ideals and reality. Like Tom Stoppard himself, Henry is a writer, and Stoppard admitted in an interview with Mel Gussow in The New York Times Magazine (January 1, 1984) that the play contains many self-referential jokes. As a writer, Henry recognizes that human fictions and the language which embodies them do indeed shape one’s consciousness. If human love is talked about only as biology in boiler-room, four-letter language as Henry’s daughter, Debbie, suggests, then the reality created by such perception will differ significantly from one in which human relationships are romanticized and idealized. Life and love do indeed often imitate people’s fictions.
On the other hand, precisely because human fictions are neat, self-contained, and sometimes antiseptic, it is also possible for them to become a refuge from reality. This is what Charlotte means when she calls Henry virginal; in her view, he lives securely untouched in his world of words and romantic ideas, never making genuine contact with any human person. Women are initially attracted by his romantic attitude only to realize later, as she does, that it is a form of indifference. Indeed, The Real Thing may well be considered a debate between the creative and limiting powers of romantic language. Which is “the real thing”?
To this extent, Stoppard’s work may also be...
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