Themes and Meanings

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Summer of the Seventeenth Doll tells how life’s illusions—both public and private—inevitably shatter. First, in the Australian context, the play debunks the bush myth and the corollary idea of mateship. Roo and Barney are in truth “no-hopers,” as Roo admits, not heroic figures. While Barney is a paunchy, loud-mouthed sort, Roo is a forty-one-year-old canecutter who can no longer compete with the younger men. Barney fails to see the truth about himself; even at the end of the play he reasserts his optimism, long fed by the belief that the bush offers limitless opportunity, indeed the only real life: “And there’s a whole bloody country out there,” he tells Roo, “—wide open before us.” Roo, however, cursed or blessed with self-awareness, only looks at Barney, and, as the stage directions indicate, “in this brief meeting of eyes there is no bravado or questing hope, it is a completely open acknowledgment of what they have lost.” Like Barney, Olive refuses to accept defeat, for she ignores Roo when he tells her that “it’s gone—can’t you understand? Every last little scrap of it—gone.”

The public myth is inextricably bound with the private, for national illusions translate into personal ones. Australia has been called by its inhabitants “the lucky country,” a place where all things are deemed possible, where irresponsibility and a carefree existence are within reach. The two couples had lived this myth for...

(The entire section is 413 words.)