Themes and Meanings

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Seascape concerns the necessity for individuals to examine their lives in order to live life fully. All four characters in Edward Albee’s play are at crossroads; they need to make choices, but choices based on a consciousness of mortality. Albee explores animal nature and human nature in a juxtaposition of these apparent opposites. This opposition forms the dramatic tension of the play. Charlie is content to remain passive, while Nancy urges activity and involvement; Leslie is wary of the unknown, while Sarah is receptive to new ideas; the emotional development of the humans is more advanced than that of the sea creatures. Act 1 presents numerous examples of the differences between Charlie and Nancy: their proposed retirement plans, their past life together. Even their encounter with Leslie and Sarah points up their different responses to new experiences: Charlie is afraid and defensive; Nancy is awestruck, open, and welcoming. The necessity of exploring and questioning relationships and values becomes the focal point of Seascape.

Both couples have experienced what Albert Camus calls “absurdity,” a feeling of alienation. Sarah and Leslie no longer seem to belong in their underwater home. Nancy and Charlie are experiencing the changes retirement brings. All have been moved to question their existence. In act 2, after preliminary comparisons of their lives, the discussion of alienation begins to draw the couples together. The second act, then, becomes a process of education and evolution in the understanding and awareness of the parallels between the couples’ different but related worlds. As a result, they grow toward an interconnection born of sharing and love. Both couples make the decision to take the next step in the cycle of life.

The play highlights the evolutionary process in human life, the process of moving from one level of consciousness to another. Progress, only possible when people become dissatisfied with their present lives, is necessary for growth to self-knowledge. Nancy, who accepts flux as a part of life, is the instrumental force in moving the other three to an awareness and acceptance of this concept.

At the heart of this process is communication, as it is in many of Albee’s plays: Communicating honestly opens people up, raising their consciousness. In act 1, authentic communication in which there is honest sharing does not exist between Nancy and Charlie. Nancy essentially tries to revive Charlie’s lifeless spirit; however, having “turned off” life, relationships, and experience, Charlie turns a deaf ear to her attempt at communication. Seascape asserts that there are discoveries still to be made about life and living, but those wonders are experienced only through active participation, through climbing “the glaciers and the crags,” as Nancy suggests. The world may be precarious and absurd, but one can achieve transcendence through self-awareness. The death of one level of consciousness leads to the birth of a higher level.

Seascape confronts the reader or theatergoer with his or her own passivity and urges an optimistic existentialist view: Loving and sharing produce awareness and responsibility, belonging and community.


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Communication and Understanding
At the thematic center of Seascape are issues related to communication and understanding. Though all of the characters speak English, when each of the four tries to communicate with the others, only varied success is achieved. The theme of communication takes on several forms in the play.

First, there is the communication between each member of a couple with their respective mate. Nancy tries to engage her husband, Charlie, in a mutually beneficial discussion about her needs and their future, but he derides her ideas. Nancy wants to explore and be adventurous in their retirement, while Charlie wants...

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to rest and do nothing. Throughout the play, their inability to communicate and understand each other's wants and needs creates tension and hostility.

Leslie and Sarah have fewer problems communicating. Leslie is dominant in their relationship, and Sarah is generally content to play a subservient role. Leslie consults Sarah on most decisions and generally respects her input. Sarah speaks up when she feels Leslie is acting inappropriately, and Leslie usually listens.

The other significant form of communication is between the two couples and is different between the genders. Nancy is very curious about and open with the lizards. Though she does become slightly frustrated by their limitations, she tries to help them by explaining aspects of human life they do not understand. Her general kindness toward them and offer of help when the lizards are deciding whether to stay on land or to go back to the sea influences their decision. Charlie is less forthcoming and more suspicious. He has a hard time accepting the lizards and quickly becomes testy when they do not understand his explanations.

The lizards' communication is somewhat similar to their human counterparts. Like Nancy, Sarah is more open to the humans and more interested in their world. She is also emotional, and when Charlie asks her a question that is hard for her to understand (what she would do if Leslie disappeared), she becomes distraught, leading to a confrontation. Leslie shares Charlie's attitude; he does not trust the humans and regards most everything they say with skepticism. Despite these problems, at the end of the play, some measure of trust is reached between all of them. Leslie decides that he and Sarah will stay on land when Nancy and Charlie, albeit reluctantly, offer to help them.

Evolution and Progress
Another prominent theme in Seascape is that of evolution and progress. This theme manifests itself in several ways in the play. One is subtle. The relationship of Nancy and Charlie is in the process of evolution. They are on the verge of a major life change, retirement. Charlie would like to use this time to rest and do nothing. Nancy sees this desire as regression rather than evolution. Her family responsibilities fulfilled, Nancy wants to explore the world, perhaps moving from beach to beach, meeting new people and having new experiences. The couple's relationship will change, and Nancy tries to move it forward. Charlie wants things to stay the same.

Evolution has a different meaning in terms of the lizards. Leslie and Sarah are literally evolving. They were creatures that lived in the sea but apparently developed beyond their species. They were compelled to move to the land, though they do not really understand why. Though Leslie and Sarah are somewhat fearful of the change, they do accept the help that Nancy, enthusiastically, and Charlie, reluctantly, give them. At the end of the play, rather than go back into the sea where they might feel safer, they remain on land.

A more subtle undercurrent in Seascape is the idea of alienation. In terms of this play, to be alienated means to feel withdrawn or exist in an unfriendly environment. Alienation was one of the reasons that Leslie and Sarah left the sea. In act II, Sarah tells the humans, "It wasn't ... comfortable anymore. I mean after all, you make your nest, and accept a whole ... array ... of things ... and ... we didn' t feel we belonged there anymore." It could be argued that this alienation was a step in their evolution. Nancy and, to some degree, Charlie also feel alienated in their lives. In act I, Nancy describes several ways in which she feels alienated, mostly in her relationship with Charlie. She does not share his views on what their life was, is, and could be; she wants to do more than retire. Though not as vocal, Charlie, in turn, feels alienated from her because of her curiosity and her desires. The strains caused by alienation affect the direction of the characters and the action of the play.


Act Summaries