Ah, Wilderness - Significance of the play's title
The title of the play, Ah, Wilderness, by Eugene O'Neill, plays a significant role in the understanding of the play. The "wilderness" is used as a metaphor for the period in a male's life when he is no longer a boy, but not yet a man. This play tells the story of the coming-of-age of Richard, and the evolution he undergoes while becoming a man.
The "wilderness" used in the title is a metaphor for the years between childhood and manhood. Life, for a man, is like the woods. When one is a boy, he is in a clearing. Everything told by adults is taken as truth, and because of this trust the truth is clear. As one enters the in-between years, the truth is no longer as clear. The developing mind begins to question the notions held by those in control, parents in particular. This period is like a wilderness one must wander through. When one exits the woods, things once again become clear. One no longer feels the need to wander aimlessly through the darkness, and one usually returns to the truths instilled by parents.
Richard begins the play as a boy on the verge of manhood. A studious youth, just beginning to sow the seeds of rebellion, he at first feels no need to rebel against things close at hand. This soon changes with a visit to his father from Richard's girlfriend's father. Richard has been sending poetry to Muriel, his girlfriend, and her father sees the subject matter of this poetry as inappropriate. Unbeknownst to Richard, Muriel has been coerced into writing a letter to him breaking off the relationship. Richard feels so heartbroken he rebels against everything. This moment is the point in which Richard enters the "wilderness." The perfect opportunity to prov...
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...uneasy side glances, and steels himself for what is coming." Richard has come back around to his prior ways of thinking. He now states "(His head down humbly.) I know I was a darned fool" (844).
Richard, in the course of the play, makes the transition from boyhood to manhood. As with most young men, Richard enters the "wilderness", a metaphor for the stage of rebellion, and exits with no lasting scars. Richard's father, like most parents, realizes that Richard has walked out of the wilderness and states, " . . . I don't think we'll ever have to worry about his being safe--from himself--again. And I guess no matter what life will do to him, he can take care of it now" (845). This statement shows the necessity of the wilderness to the evolution of man, and the importance of a father's understanding during this important stage of development.
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