Complete summary of Archibald MacLeish’s J. B.. eNotes plot summaries cover all the significant action of J. B. J.B.: J.B., verse drama by Archibald MacLeish, produced and published in Acclaimed for its emotional intensity and poetic drama, the play is a modern. J. ALD MACLEISH AUTHOR BIOGRAPHYPLOT SUMMARYCHARACTERSTHEMESSTYLEHISTORICAL CONTEXTCRITICAL.
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MacLeish wondered how modern people could retain hope and keep on living with all the suffering in the world and offered this play as an answer.
J.B.: A Play in Verse, by Archibald MacLeish, | The Core Curriculum
MacLeish had been j.b.archibqld his living as a poet for fifty years before this, his third verse play, was published. Shortly after the publication of the book, the play was j.b.archlbald on Broadway and underwent substantial revisions. There are, therefore, two versions of the play available for readers: Both were published inand neither has ever gone out of print.
More important, the play sparked a national conversation about j.b.archibapd nature of God, the nature of hope, and the role of the artist in society. Mwcleish father was a successful businessman, and his mother had been a college instructor; they saw mavleish it that MacLeish was well educated. He attended public schools in Glencoe, and at the age of fifteen he was sent to a college preparatory academy in Connecticut. He began college studies at Yale in Before college, MacLeish had been only an average student.
At Yale, however, he began writing poetry and fiction for the literary magazine, excelled in water polo and football, earned high grades, and was elected to the Phi Beta Kappa honorary society.
After graduation inhe entered Harvard Law School, hoping that a career in law would give him a way to j.b.achibald order out of chaos, just as poetry did. He married Ada Hitchcock in ; served briefly in the army; published his first book of poetry, Tower of Ivory, in ; and graduated first in his law school class in He taught government at Harvard for a short time and then worked as an attorney in Boston, but never lost his devotion to writing poetry. InMacLeish moved with his family to Paris, determined to become a serious poet.
During this period, many important American and European writers were living in Paris, and MacLeish became friendly with them, determined to learn from them. He taught himself Italian, so he could study the work of the fourteenth-century poet Dante Alighieriand he studied the history of English poetry as j.b.atchibald. These five years transformed his work, giving him a mature style that pleased macleis him and the critics. When he returned home, he was able to earn a living as a writer and to buy a small farm in Massachusetts where he and Ada lived together until his death.
He published more than fifty books of poetry, drama, and essays, but he also accepted positions as macleiish Librarian of Congress, Assistant Secretary of Stateand part of the U. His distress at the bombings of Dresden, London, and Hiroshima led him to wonder how humans could respond with hope to such suffering.
He posed this question in the play, J. Inhe received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He died on April 20,just three weeks before a national symposium honoring his life and work. The first characters to appear on stage in J. Zuss and Nickles, a balloon seller and a popcorn seller in a run-down circus. They approach and then mount a sideshow stage in the corner of a circus tent to play out the story of Job from the Bible, with the stage as Heaven, the ground as Earth, and the lights as the stars.
From the beginning, he is as arrogant as one might expect a man who believes he is right for the role to be, and he is indignant at the idea that Job would dare to demand justice. As the two men point out, there is always someone to play Job. Zuss and Nickles don masks that they find in a pile of costumes.
The Godmask is white, with closed eyes, showing his indifference. When the lights go down for the play to begin, a Distant Voice speaks the first line: Zuss and Nickles take over, and the lights dim.
As scene 1 begins, the raised stage where Zuss and Nickels stand is in darkness, while gathered around a table in the light are the wealthy banker J. They are a wealthy New England family, celebrating Thanksgiving. Sarah would like the children to be more thankful for the bounty they enjoy.
She believes that there is a kind of bargain with God: The focus shifts again to Zuss and Nickles, whose first impulse is to belittle J. Nickles believes that once J. Why then, asks Nickles, must Job be made to suffer at all? If God knows Job will pass the test, then why administer the test? Because, Zuss answers, Job needs to see God clearly. The two actors put their masks on and speak lines from the Bible. Satan challenges God to a bet: Six or seven years have passed.
Two drunken soldiers come to J.
In a bumbling fashion, they reveal that David has been killed—not heroically in the war but j.b.archiba,d and stupidly by his own men after the hostilities. As Sarah tries to understand that God has really taken her son, J. Nickles encourages them to challenge God, but they do not hear him.
They persuade her to approach a couple who will come by soon and to catch their attention so they will be facing the camera when the reporters tell them that two of their children have died in a car accident. The couple, of course, are J. The dead teenagers are their children, Mary and Jonathan, killed by a drunk driver when their car crashed into a viaduct.
Sarah despairs and asks why God would do this. Nickles, who is visible, grins appreciatively. The biblical story includes two messengers, and here they are played by police officers. Rebecca, the youngest child, is missing. Rebecca has been raped and murdered by a teenaged drug user. Two messengers enter carrying Sarah. She has been rescued from a collapsed building after a bombing destroyed a whole city block. The Lord taketh macliesh. Zuss and Nickles discuss J. Zuss is pleased with J.
Although they are playing out a story that both know well, Nickles believes that this time the story will end differently, that J. Zuss and Nickles understand that they are to continue.
An atomic blast has killed thousands, and J. Women standing nearby comment on the sores covering J. Sarah is bitter and angry, but J. Nickles observes that if J. Maccleish cannot accept J. She turns her back on J.
J.B.: A Play in Verse
Now macleisy alone, J. The three spout empty rhetoric and jargon to explain J. Nickles acknowledges that Zuss has won the bet, but Zuss is uneasy with his victory.
He loses all enthusiasm for playing his role and starts to climb down from the stage, but Nickles reminds him that there is one more scene to play. In the biblical story, God restores everything Job has lost. Nickles is sure that this time J. To make sure, he goes to J. Sarah maxleish on the doorstep, holding a forsythia branch in bloom. She discovered it on her way to drown herself in the river, found hope in it, and came back to Mwcleish.
Bildad is one of the three comforters who come to reassure J. Spouting jargon-filled cliches, Bildad explains J.
Thirteen years old at the start of the play, David is the oldest son of J. As a young man, David becomes a soldier. He survives the war only to be accidentally killed by his own comrades before he can j.b.arxhibald home.
At two points in the play, while Zuss and Nickles are arguing in their roles as God and Satan, another voice from offstage is heard speaking lines attributed to God in the King James Bible.
In the list mac,eish characters, the voice is named The Distant Voice. As MacLeish himself explained several times, the. Eliphaz is one of the three comforters who come to reassure J. He feels that he is essentially lucky and that all will turn out well in the end. As he suffers each subsequent loss, J.
Even after he has lost his family, his wealth, and his physical well-being, J. God restores everything J. The central question of the play comes down to this: How can he choose life in a world with no justice? Jonathan, the younger son of J.
He and his sister Mary are killed by a teenage drunk driver in scene 4. Mary is the oldest daughter of J. When the play opens, she is twelve years old, a year younger than David. She and her brother Jonathan are killed by a teenage drunk driver in scene 4.