Two for the Seesaw

by William Gibson

Start Free Trial


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 570

Two for the Seesaw is about an eight-month romance between a thirty-three-year-old Nebraska lawyer who has left his wife and an aspiring New York dancer of twenty-nine. Jerry Ryan has come to New York to escape a stifling marriage poisoned by a father-in-law whose money and influence makes Jerry feel dependent and trapped. While Jerry’s wife awaits the divorce, Jerry wanders the New York streets and museums, going to films and living on the five hundred dollars he brought from Nebraska. Then he meets Gittel Mosca. Young, vivacious, but unsettled as she pursues her illusory hope of becoming a famous dancer, Gittel’s romantic entanglements have always been brief and superficial until she meets Jerry. Their romance, though tempestuous, is intense and appears potentially redeeming for both.

After becoming Gittel’s lover, Jerry takes a job in a law office and plans to reassume his legal career in New York, while Gittel rents a loft and gives dance lessons, with Jerry eventually moving in and sharing Gittel’s apartment. After Jerry’s divorce becomes final, however, his wife decides that she wants to attempt again to make the marriage work, and Jerry decides to leave Gittel and return to Nebraska. He will try to resurrect his marriage under terms that do not involve dependence on his father-in-law. Jerry and Gittel part as friends, thankful for what they have gained from each other.

The original title of Two for the Seesaw was After the Verb to Love, which Gibson used as a curtain line for the end of the play: “After the verb to love, to help is the sweetest in the tongue.” With Gibson, love is not the clichéd, windswept passion of Hollywood or the soap operas. The prosaic concern for another’s well-being and the desire to aid is, for Gibson, a more concrete and realistic way to define love. Gibson is also precise about what he means by “help.” Jerry received one kind of help from his father-in-law, but it was not love because the help created a feeling of dependence and inferiority. The help to which Jerry refers is what Jerry and Gittel helped each other learn through their relationship. Gittel helped Jerry regain his sense of independence and self-esteem, while Jerry helped Gittel gain the self-respect she needed to insist on real romance rather than shallow, exploitive relationships.

Gibson’s conclusion, however, does not strike the audience or the reader as particularly uplifting, despite what the dialogue asserts. The play remains unsettling because after Jerry returns to his wife, Gittel is left behind with no prospects—a realistic but not particularly comforting or uplifting conclusion. Although Gibson attempts to soften Jerry’s departure with Gittel’s proclamation that the relationship has done her “a world of good,” the sense of Gittel’s abandonment is perhaps a vestige of Gibson’s original script. In the original script, Gibson intended Jerry to be a much more ruthless character, a “taker” rather than a “giver,” and in The Seesaw Log Gibson relates how Henry Fonda, who played Jerry, and Arthur Penn, the director of the Broadway production, demanded that Jerry be made more sensitive and sympathetic. Whether the final script is superior or inferior to the script with which Gibson began remains unsettled, but it is clear that Gibson retained even in the final script the disturbing portrait of the failure of love rather than its success.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access