UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Thematic polarities in the major plays of Jean Genet Raghunathan, Vaijayanthi


The characters of Genet's drama live in a world which is inadequate to certain basic emotional needs. The shortcomings of this world can be compensated for only in imagination, and so Genet's characters fantasize modes of living and social roles and gestures denied to them in real life. The identities and attitudes they create in fantasy are therefore the opposites of the same factors in life. Thus all the polarities in Genet's drama stem from the basic dichotomy between reality and illusion. The average man tries to keep reality and illusion distinct, but Genet deliberately confounds the two so that the identities he creates are continuously in a state of flux. When these identities become indefinable, contraries coincide. Genet's significant contribution to modern drama is accomplished in his deft exploitation of the interchange-ability of reality and illusion by which he gives theatrical expression to his view of the unity of opposites. This thesis is a study of four of the most closely related sets of polarities in Genet's drama: the central duality of reality and illusion and the three related dualities of life and death, love and hate and anarchy and order. It is demonstrated that while Genet recognizes these conflicting absolutes as unalterable facts of existence, he also shows them as providing the equilibrium necessary in turbulent human relations. The three major plays of Genet - The Balcony, The Blacks, and The Screens -are analysed from both a dramatic and a theatrical perspective. Although the examination of these plays in chronological order does not reveal any remarkable change in Genet's outlook as a dramatist, we do see a marked progress in his crafsmanship from The Balcony to The Screens. In the course of these three plays he develops and refines the dr&matic and theatrical expression of his fundamental concern with the dialectic of dualities, moving closer to this ultimate resolution of these dualities into a philosophy of nothingness.

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