The other day I was writing about American plays that are more reflexive than entertaining and today I asked myself what are the things that broke the characters within. Loss of money, property, and physical health are obvious examples, but reading Miller, Williams and Hellman I became aware of how much loss of dignity, honour, trust, sanity and faith affect the psychic.
If Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman had accumulated all the wealth in the world, would he have a nice relationship with Biff? Would his son easily forget the episode of the Laughing Woman and trust and forgive him again? My guess is no. He would prefer to have his father poor to deviate his issues with him, instead of speaking clear text. The Woman was just the wake-up call to whom Willy really was: not a hero.
If Blanche Dubois in Streetcar Named Desire wasn’t living a separate life in her head when she approached her sister in a call for help, would she be able to get used to the simple life? If she had the choice, she would probably prefer living inside her head, even if it broke her.
John Proctor in Crucible proved that he preferred to die in order to protect his dignity and honour instead of selling his life to shame on his and on his family’s name. His move broke him, but it did not break the family for all eternity.
In Night of the Iguana if the priest hadn’t been kicked out of the church, would he be in peace? Obviously not, since calling God a ‘senile delinquent’ in a sermon shows an inner breakdown and some serious questions about the way he had been leading his life. People finger-pointed Shannon in Mexico not only because of the way he did things according to his mood and liking, but because he was a priest doing these things. But he did not care. It was a cross that he still could lift, after all, he had never lost faith.
These examples, among so many others, show that most characters chose to be broken and that their pain was expected. They were not victimized. What truly breaks a man are bad decisions that others make them do. If people are broken for their own choices, they are not that broken, after all.