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Ibsen and Albee’s Spurious Children Terry Otten Various critics have already suggested parallels between Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and established modern plays.l In offering yet another comparative study, I do not intend in any way to diminish Albee’s claim to originality. Rather I hope that in dis­ cussing the similarities between Ibsen’s Little Eyolf and Albee’s play I might argue for a more comprehensive view of the works than those previously presented. Let me begin by referring to James E. Kerans’ important, if con­ troversial, essay entitled “ Kindermord and Will in Little Eyolf ” 1 which attacks traditional approaches to Ibsen’s work, especially “ the critical raptures about idealism, transcendence, noble sacrifice, wise recognition, and the like,” which Kerans feels oversimplify the enor­ mously complex treatment of human behavior in Ibsen’s plays. Using Little Eyolf as a paradigm for his thesis that “ psychoanalytically oriented criticism acts best as a corrective and complicating influence,” Kerans presents a “roughly . . . psychoanalytic” reading of the play and reveals the profound psychological depths which Ibsen achieves through the use of the Kindermord motif as part of “ a myth of the will.” In accepting Kerans’ thesis that “the child is primarily a func­ tion of the psychic past of the hero,” we do not necessarily deny an­ other, perhaps metaphysical, dimension. Little Eyolf, I contend, is structured as ritualistically— but not necessarily allegorically— as it is realistically or psychologically. And Kindermord does depict meta­ physical values, even if they are not the superficial idealisms which Kerans justly condemns. Albee’s play, unlike Ibsen’s, has suffered from critics who deny its moral value as much as by those who find it “morally satisfying.” It has been called “perverse” and “ludicrous” 3; “ a bit silly” and limited “ to the useless’’^-; “ nothing more . . . than a dissection of an extremely ambiguously conceived sick marriage.” 5 Those who attack Albee tend to accuse him of gimmicks and gameplaying. This is nowhere more apparent than in Gerald Nelson’s essay “ Edward Albee and his Well-Made Plays.” He argues that after the second act, in which the exorcism, or killing of the illusory child, is achieved, “the play must be done, because the game is over.” 6 The third act, he concludes, is therefore dramatically insignificant. Underlying Nelson’s criticism is the assumption that the “child” is essentially a projection 83 84 Comparative Drama of the conflict between George and Martha, a conflict which he reduces to the struggle between Martha’s masculinity and George’s would-be masculinity. Such a reading is incomplete, I believe, because it makes of Honey and Nick mere bystanders and denies that any love exists between George and Martha. The play, like Little Eyolf, is both a realistic presentation of psychological frustration and a “religious” play in which ritual provides a metaphysical perspective. As in Little Eyolf, the central symbol is the child, who is both the means by which George and Martha compensate for their meaningless lives and, paradoxically, the means of their salvation— however limited that salvation may be. I In both plays the “ child” is a composite figure, representing the characters’ many-faceted failures. Eyolf symbolizes the crippled mar­ riage of Allmers and Rita. Rita married Allmers out of passion, a passion which denies the right of Eyolf to exist at all. She tells Allmers, “ I was fitted to become a child’s mother, but not to be a mother to him” (32). 1 Significantly, Eyolf was crippled when Rita and Allmers neglected him during an embrace. Allmers, for his part, married to acquire “gold” and “green forests,” to preserve “the family,” and, by implication, to save himself from an incestuous love for Asta, his sup­ posed half-sister. In a sense, Eyolf is as much Asia’s child as Rita’s. The name, of course, is Asia’s; and Eyolf recreates the childhood of Asta, who was herself the progeny of an illicit love, rejected for her femininity and denied her sex. Eyolf is crippled, a “ wounded war­ rior” whose masculinity can never be actualized, whose desire to be a soldier is a bitter irony. Allmers’ desire for a brother and Asta...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 83-93
Launched on MUSE
2018-07-11
Open Access
No
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