The class discussion today focused on the major themes and symbols found across all three acts of Ruhl’s Passion Play.
The major symbols we discussed today were the red sky, the fish, the birds, the wind, transportation, and fertility. We discussed the latter two in greater depth. The class went into specifics within the third act, with the symbolism of the tollbooth as a symbol of a confessional and communion, and as a place of absolution. We also discussed the American folklore of highways, rest stops, and toll booths as liminal spaces, adding to the air of the supernatural. Discussions on the symbol of fertility throughout the novel were separated into male and female. The main question of this symbol was if fertility was inherently a gift. We discussed Mary’s suicide in act one, Eric’s relationship with the footsoldier in act two, and the conversation on abortion in act three. For act two, we focused even more in depth with the interaction between the footsoldier and the German officer as a corruption of fertility as good and pure.
The major themes were on the role of nationalism, war, and violence; the interaction between love, sexuality, purity, and chastity; the interaction of faith and insanity; wounding and death; and lastly, the relationship between sacrifice and salvation throughout the play.
We discussed sacrifice and salvation at length. One idea that was brought up was that Eric, who played Jesus in act two, was a Pontius Pilot figure in the act, as he claimed that he was free of guilt for Violet’s death because he was ‘just following orders’. This relates to many questions that were asked during this discussion, but can still be examined in greater depth: Who is sacrificial? Who or what do people turn to for salvation, and do they receive it? Who do you confess to? Who is responsible for the slaughtering of innocent people? Who is guilty and who is innocent? And, even more jarring, is anyone?