UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Character change in the major plays of Jean Genet Clark, Valerie Stuart


In Jean Genet's three major plays, "The Balcony", "The Blacks" and "The Screens", there is a predominating emphasis on the manipulation of dramatic identities. This study traces Genet's changing and developing use of the dramatic convention of character change as a means of character development. Two characters are drawn from each play for examination from the point of view of character change. Character in the drama is identity in action and true change in a character's dramatic identity must be accompanied by the dissolution, or death of the first identifying action and the appearance or rebirth of a new. The form of death can vary and the new identity can manifest itself in different ways, but all character changes must be accomplished through some form of dramatic death and rebirth. In "The Balcony" character change is purely a mechanical intervention by the playwright, signalled to the audience by different costumes and new names. In "The Blacks" the staging of the character changes is more literal and concrete, and carries some of the serious intent of ritual. Finally, in "The Screens" character changes grow more organically from the situations and from the evolving needs of the characters. Dramatic life in Genet includes death, and the deaths of characters in these plays is most often a transition into the state of living death. As the plays progress, death is made more and more prominent until in "The Screens" it is of equal importance with life. Revolution is a social version of death and rebirth and is structurally parallel to the process of character change. The repetitious aspect of revolution as it is used in these plays also echoes the death/rebirth metaphor of character change. It is with the main character in The Screens that Genet is finally able to successfully interlock the themes of death and revolution. Said is the most well-developed character found in Genet's work. Genet's development as a dramatist led from purely schematic character changes to the organic, subtle evolution of characterization in Said. This study shows that Said's struggle for hieratic status through character change is integrated with the plot of The Screens, making Said the perfect embodiment of Genet's world view expressed through drama. Genet was gradually able to integrate plot with character development—one of the most important accomplishments in his playwriting. But character change is the essential mode of character development in "The Balcony", "The Blacks" and "The Screens", creating wider dramatic possibilities, carrying events forward, giving shape to the action and determining the shape of the plays.

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