Printer Friendly

Changing a pronoun for Shanley's Defiance.

John Patrick Shanley's Defiance, the second play in the trilogy that began with Doubt, the winner of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, has two epigraphs. The second comes from the first poem in a collection of poems by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Like Dickinson's poetry, the poems are identified not by title but by first line. "In Goya's greatest scenes we seem to see" is divided into halves, each one grounded in a landscape. The top half is a series of images of the landscape in Goya's paintings on which his people "writhe" (A Coney Island of the Mind, New York: New Directions, 1958, 9-10). They explain why the people are "'suffering humanity,' "for they are images of death. Though Ferlinghetti does not name a particular painting, The Third of May, 1808 would be a good example because it depicts the execution of Madrid citizens by French soldiers. Beginning with "bayonets," the images end with the "final hollering monsters/of the/'imagination of disaster.'" Though not named, a good example would be Saturn devouring one of his children. Writhing on these images, the suffering humanity are so real that they seem to still exist. "And they do" but on a "changed" landscape marks the poem's halfway juncture.

The landscape in which the bottom half is grounded is that of mid-20th-century America, which can also serve for Shanley's contemporary America. The line with the pronoun to be changed is "They are the same people / only further from home." The pronoun They refers to the people originally in the Spanish landscape but now transported further from home to the American landscape. Since the speaker does not include himself with them, he is separate from both the people and the new landscape to which he transports them. An outsider, he is a commentator. The line that creates the epigraph to Defiance is "We are the same people, only further from home" (Defiance, New York: Theatre Communications Group, 2007). Although the speaker sees a link between the inhabitants of the new landscape and those of Goya's paintings, he includes himself in the pronoun We. Speaking from within the new landscape, he is one of the people.

The crucial part of the epigraph is the second half. The home in Ferlinghetti's poem is the paintings' landscape, but home in the epigraph cannot be that because the people in the We have not been transported. We are the same people as those in the top half; that is, 21st-century Americans, we are in the same situation as that of 19th-century Spaniards in that we too are suffering humanity. What, then, is the home that we are further from--a separation that will explain our suffering?

Examining the bottom half's images that are images of death but changed should yield an answer. Goya painted canvases. We have "painted cars," and we drive them on freeways "spaced with bland billboards/illustrating imbecile illusions of happiness." Instead of being executed citizens, we are "maimed citizens." Goya's landscape has an imagination of disaster; we have suffered a maiming of the spirit in a loss of imagination. An American landscape with "fewer tumbrils" than those of the Spanish landscape alludes to another Goya work: Carts to the cemetery. It depicts two men lifting a corpse into a tumbril while a third begins to lift a corpse from the ground. We do not lift corpses into our painted cars; we are corpses driving them on the freeways. And unlike Saturn devouring one of his children, they "devour America."

Why we are further from home than the transported Spanish people are should be clear. Whereas Goya's landscape has a ferocious vision, with its emphasis on materialism, ours is devoid of a vision. The home therefore that we are further from is ourselves. All surface, our culture is devoid of an inner life. The first epigraph to Defiance supports the answer. The tragedy of our age for W.E.B. Du Bois in The Souls of Black Folk is not that men do not know poverty, wickedness, or ignorance but that men "know so little of men." Thus the consequence of shutting down the inner life is not knowing oneself, and the consequence of not knowing oneself is not knowing others, thereby defeating growth as a human being. In Shanley's imaginative world, the pressing of the inner life--the unruly subsurface--against the ruled surface is the beginning of doubt about received beliefs, of growth, and of change in people and society.

Robert J. Andreach, Sea Girt, New Jersey
COPYRIGHT 2014 Notes on Contemporary Literature
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2014 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Andreach, Robert J.
Publication:Notes on Contemporary Literature
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2014
Previous Article:Annotations to Hemingway's poetry.
Next Article:Joseph Conrad and Mann's Doctor Faustus.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2022 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |