Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

The Will and Courage to Change Yourself

September 11th, 2009 · 1 Comment

Let me begin by saying that Pitmen Painters was the best play I have seen thus far.  It seemed to me that almost everyone enjoyed the play quite a bit.  Pitmen Painters was full of passion, philosophy and humor.  However, it was the passion and philosophy which truly captured me during the play.

The socialist overtones were quite apparent throughout the play, but I’m not entirely sure if it was a glorification of socialism.  It’s true that Oliver turned down the stipend and instead decided to continue working in the mine; an obvious case of promoting the proletariat.  However, what comes of his actions?  Instead of having a much different life, Oliver (and the rest of the miners) doesn’t seem to grow, either artistically, which Helen points out, or personally.  The miners latch on to the socialist movement hoping for change, but that change never came as was pointed out by the projector screen at the end of the play.

So what is there to show for in the end?  Quite a bit in my opinion.  The play was not a promotion of socialism, art or even the Pitmen Painters.  It was both a warning and revelation about change.  The play wanted to make clear to the viewer that a person cannot expect to latch on to an ideology and expect to be saved.  Ideologies are merely abstract concepts of the world at a particular moment in time.  They cannot be true because the world (and us as human beings) is constantly in flux.  True change, personal rebirth, transcending yourself or whatever you want to call it can only come from within and without the help of false idols or flawed ideologies.  To say that Oliver would have sold out by accepting the stipend is simply not true.

In the end, each of the Pitmen Painters sold out by rejecting the opportunity for personal change.  Oliver, the rest of the miners and the dentist all decided to join the socialist movement, placing the opportunity for change in someone else’s hands.  The unemployed man decided to join the war effort not because he really wanted to, but because he was convinced by recruiters that it could fulfill something missing in his life (probably the “honor” of having a job at last and being part of something “important/larger than oneself”).  In both cases, each character, instead of looking within themselves to find what they truly wanted from life, decided to look outwards for something they thought could fill that meaning.  Though their lives were tragic and their dreams left unfulfilled, the play and the characters in it is a message to the viewers that change is possible only if you have the will and courage to make it so.

Tags: Andrew F

Give us the money Lebowski (and bourgeois?)

September 11th, 2009 · 3 Comments

So it seemed like everyone was enthralled by the play, The Pitman Painters, last night. It was amazing, simply put.  However, as I have already mulled to a few of my classmates, I am uncertain of its socialist/communist tendencies. I felt more like it was a critique of socialism (which I realize is not the historical case). It ended up just feeling very nihilistic to me, rather than inspirational. Maybe nihilism isn’t the best word but if nothing else the play was laced was dramatic irony. I look at the play, and I think of all the dreams, passion, and attempts to stand up on one’s own feet, and all I see is failure. Small details like the unemployed guy (dies when he enlists) or Oliver (stays a pitman; I’ll talk more on this as it is arguable he succeeded), or even their teacher (who gets the great position yet will soon be forgot and left to obscurity) are quite noticeable; however, it is the grander theme of a system or dream letting us down is what leads me to feel this falls into the realm of nihilism rather than a socialist commentary. The last scene in particular shows this I think. Oliver has turned away from the bourgeois’ attempt to enslave him with money (hurray for the working class!), and he paints a banner for the socialist movement. Everyone is having a beer and cheering, saying “surely they’ll have to listen to us now.” But we as viewers know this not to be true. And then, when you think it is only a subtle joke between you and the playwright, the projector lights up explaining to us that there was never and academy at Ashington and the group broke up soon after the play took place. We further understand that the socialist movement in Britain did not succeed; they probably all died poor miners. In all likelihood (as Paul pointed out) Margaret Thatcher personally beat up each of the Pitman Painters.

The only thing I could think of as a positive explanation was this: the play was supposed to represent a moment, a snapshot, of human existance where people got it right. Just like in a painting, for one second the world is still and clear. We have no idea what Mona Lisa did right after her portrait was taken; she could have been attacked by wild dogs. However, in that one moment truth was found. And then the moment passes, we become disillusioned, our skills fail us, or our dreams betray us.

But onto happier things: I loved the accents, not just because linguistic anthropology has always given me goosebumps but also because I thought it is an interesting device to show class struggle and friction; it is something we rarely get to play with in the United States (other than your usual southern jokes). What I liked best was how we as the audience were able to understand the pitman more clearly as the play went on, as if we were becoming part of their group, integrating as the art instructor did. This might have been done on purpose, or their might not have been any change at all to the dialogue and I was simply able to understand more easily. Either way, it was a neat technique.

Anyway, cheers

Tags: Andrew R