Themes and Meanings
The central themes of The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window concern the obligation of individuals to become involved and to take responsible action; withdrawal or detachment from the community leads to disintegration and failure. At the start of the play, Sidney is disconnected from the world around him. Alton labels Sidney’s detachment “ostrich-ism” and calls this the “great disease of the modern bourgeois intellectual.” Sidney considers his withdrawal an earned right; since his youth he has been involved in various causes and served on assorted committees trying to change the world—all to little avail. One of his intellectual mentors has been Henry David Thoreau, but Alton accuses Sidney of reading the “wrong” portions of Thoreau, those emphasizing the solace and strength the solitary individual can gain from communing with nature. Sidney’s mountaintop retreat, where he goes to find innocence, is his version of Thoreau’s Walden Pond. Thoreau, however, was also noted for his acute social consciousness, and Sidney stands charged with letting his political and social conscience atrophy.
Commitment to responsible political action represents only the outer level where Lorraine Hansberry’s characters engage one another. The personal interaction between Sidney and Iris and the social relationships among members of the Brustein extended family (not only Iris’s sisters but also the friends and neighbors wandering in and...
(The entire section is 591 words.)