Themes and Meanings

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Despite its shocking subject matter—homosexuality, racism, and murder in a military installation—Streamers is clearly about larger human concerns. The subjects of racism and homosexuality allow playwright David Rabe to examine realistically human imperfection and sources of inner and overt conflict. In one sense, the barracks horror is a microcosm for the larger battlefield, specifically the Vietnam War, which hovers over this American scene like a curse.

Violence, moral laxity, and intolerance are simply the soldiers’ responses to a threatening situation and confusion about their fate, what roles they are expected to play, and why they are in this situation. The two boozy sergeants can be seen as the traditional military’s corruption of values: They are alcoholic, self-indulgent, amoral breakers of rules, and they are, or at least were in the past, killers. Cokes’s tired acceptance of war, killing, others’ homosexuality, and his own dazed irresponsibility can be seen as a moral decay. His role, however, ultimately seems a resolution, however temporary, of the opposing forces he has encountered: Americans versus Vietnamese; homosexuals versus heterosexuals; whites versus African Americans; career soldiers versus draftees; military versus civilian; camaraderie versus antagonism. The world around him has become unclear, more reminiscence and fantasy than immediate event. Though he cannot understand, he can forgive and let live.


(The entire section is 538 words.)