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Posted on April 2nd, 2012, by


Interpretation of Tony Ksuher’s play Caroline, or Change

Caroline, or Change is a famous play written by Tony Kushner. Originally, he wanted to create an opera, however, it turned into a fascinating musical composed by Jeanine Tesori. It seems that the play is not oriented on a wide range of people. It has a deep message, however, Kushner chooses an extraordinary way to deliver it and that is why the play is sometimes misunderstood. The main character development is shown through social relations and reaches its culmination because of these relations. Moreover, poor social position which has become the reason of Caroline’s terrific life becomes that that leading power that pushes her on a new level.

The action takes place in Lake Charles, Louisiana in 1963. It is a small town where Kushner spent his childhood. This year became meaningful in the American history because it is time of the Civil Rights Movement in the USA and year of Kennedy’s assassination. It is obvious that such important social events have influenced the play and its development. Due to this fact, social relations are at the spotlight in the play. Caroline’s life, who is a poor representative of the African-American milieu and culture, is shown through these relations.

The plot of the whole play is developed around Caroline, a poor African-American woman, who works as a maid for a middle-class Jewish family. This family is represented by Noah Gellman, a Jewish boy, whose mother died  of cancer and who feels so lonely now; his father, who leads an isolated way of life and only plays clarinet. After his wife’s death he has married another woman, Rose, however, he still stays in his world of grief and memories. He is emotionally destroyed and pays attention neither on his new wife, nor on his son.

Caroline serves as a linking part between the members of this family. It is difficult to say that she herself has an easy life. She is 39 years old, her husband has left her alone with four children. She earns $30 a week. She is fighting for her existence and her children’s welfare. There can be found an interesting parallel between Caroline and Rose.

Despite the difference in their social and financial status, they have similar destinies. Caroline must fight for existence all the time in spite of the fact that inside she is fragile and feels lonesome without man’s support. Rose, in reality, is also lonely. She is fresh married but her new husband does not notice her existence and her stepson hates her. She does her best to have good relations with the family but she fails and stays lonely.

However, main line of the plot is concentrated on the relations between Caroline and Noah. These relations show how these characters develop and change. Noah desperately requires care and warmth after his mother’s death and he finds this in Caroline. Being a young boy, he does not see any difference between skin colour and social status. He becomes very much attached to her.

The main changes in Caroline’s character start from a small, it may even seem, insignificant incident: Noah leaves change in his pants when he gives them to Caroline for laundry. Caroline wants to return him money. However, Rose prompts Caroline to teach a careless boy a lesson. This situation repeats several times. Caroline’s inner principles are stronger than her wish to take this money and buy something pleasant for her children, who desperately need food, shoes and clothes. It appears that Noah does it deliberately: he wants Caroline to take this money, buy something and speak about him as a hero.

One day everything has changed. Noah leaves $20 bill in his pocket. It was a present form hos father. Caroline is torn inside herself: on the one hand, she realizes that earning $30 a week and being not able to buy the first necessary things, this $20 bill might be very useful for her and for Noah, who has never lived in poverty, it is not so precious.

On the other hand, it means to lose self-respect and stoop to stealing. That is the climax of the play and the main character conflict. At last, she decides to take money, however, she meets Noah and is to turn the bill. Being humiliated and losing rests of her character, she goes away and leaves her job.

It may seem that the character has chosen a dirty way and taken money from a young boy. It is the bottom of human existence and there is no way out. However, the audience realize that Caroline’s life does not stop on this incident.

This stress and such difficult moral choice are necessary for her to move from the dead place where she used to stay during last several years. Her low social status and poor life are not the main problems in her life. The main obstacle is her soul that has lost any hope for future and stayed in a frozen state. Caroline does not dream, does not feel happy about anything, she does not live she leads a grey existence without any sense. She comes to edge of the abyss but she does not fall down. It makes her open her eyes and look around. At the end of the play she hears about John F. Kennedy’s deaths and starts listening to Martin Luther King’s speeches. Human feelings and emotions start awaking inside herself. The play is abrupt, however, last scene and Caroline’s daughter Emmie leaves some hope for Caroline’s happiness.

The title of the play is not accidental, too, and it is based on the play of words. On the one hand, it means change that Noah leaves in his pockets and, on the other hand, it symbolizes Caroline’s inner change that occurs at the end of the play.

To sum up, the play shows memorable events of the 1960s on the example of one woman’s destiny. Caroline comes through a number of difficult tests and overcomes numerous obstacles, loses sense of life and stoops to stealing a bill from her master’s son, however, in the end she is able to become stronger and find sense of life that has been lost.

Caroline’s relations with Noah and similar moments in Rose and Caroline’s lives help her to look at the life from a new perspective. This play is dramatic, sometimes moving, sometimes ugly, but it finds emotional reaction and that is the main purpose any playwright has.

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