Book: Broken Glass
Author: Arthur Miller
Number of Pages: 138
Plot, according to the back of the book:
It’s the late 1930s in New York. Phillip Gellburg is an executive and the only Jew among the WASPs at a very Establishment Wall Street bank. His wife, Sylvia, is obsessed with news of Nazi Germany. After seeing a photo of old Jewish men forced to scrub the sidewalk with toothbrushes, she becomes mysteriously paralyzed in the legs. The only one who perceives Sylvia’s fears and longings is Dr. Hyman-a man as passionate and empathetic and Phillip is repressed.
Plot, in my own words:
I actually thing the back of the book covered everything quite nicely.
Thoughts, comments, questions, concerns:
Okay, okay, I know I said that books (or in this case plays) that I had to read for school would not count towards this book club challenge. But as Joey Potter once gracefully pointed out, it’s a woman’s prerogative to change her mind. So expect some of the books I read for class to be part of this discussion.
Now, with that out of the way, I shall go on. This play was required reading for my Jewish American Lit class. I was rather interested in reading this, though I should probably say I have not read a play written by someone other than Shakespeare in almost a year and a half. Let me just say, as much as I like the Shakes, and we all know I do, it was a refreshing change. The characters were interesting in the fact that I never really got attached to anyone but Sylvia. I liked the main characters well enough, but I connected with Sylvia. When I read books I often picture them in my head as if I were watching the movie to go along with it. (I think this is very common for anyone who has ever read a book.) But when I read plays, I tend to pick a character I identify with, or a character I like best, and instead of picture this as a play I am watching, I picture myself in that role. I try to feel what the character feels, think of how she feels or what she would be doing in each scene. Miller’s stage directions are very helpful in the fact that he gives clear-cut sentences on what should be happening with the characters. For example, in the middle of a speech you find, “she hits her own head” or “grinning familiarly” or “pause, thinks…” or any other number of feelings the characters need to show on stage. Not only does this help you to put yourself in that characters shoes, it also helps to get a better understanding of how the scene plays out. This is how you get into a playwright’s head.
The story itself is quite interesting. Sylvia has gone mysteriously paralyzed. Why? No one knows. Two doctors (one a specialist) have done extensive tests, and there appears to be nothing wrong with her; that is, nothing wrong with her physically. Dr. Hyman seems to think there is a mental problem that is the base of everything going on in her life. Throughout the entire play he is led to believe the husband, Phillip, is the cause of stress and fear in Sylvia’s disorder. There is also much speculation about her fixation on the Nazi party in Germany. Being a Jew Sylvia is naturally frightened, though being a Jew in America tends to have everyone thinking she has gone insane as she is safe.
Perhaps the biggest mystery of all is the matter of Sylvia faking everything. Is she able to walk when no one is looking? Is she doing this to spite her husband Phillip? Is she doing this to gain attention from her sister, doctor, and really anyone else who is willing to give her the time of day? She seems quite content with life and with her condition. But just when you think you have it figured out, Miller starts to dig deeper into the characters lives and uncover many secrets and lies that lead you down a different path entirely.
This play was an extremely short, easy read. If you are not big on plays, but you are going to give them a chance, I suggest starting with this one or one similar. (Don’t go straight for Shakespeare, as you will end up right where you started.) The characters are really something else, and the plot is very, very intriguing. I really suggest giving this play a chance.