Mount Alvernia High School, Newton, Massachusetts
Link to Sarah Feeney's Senior Art Thesis  

Christopher  Durang

Sarah  Feeney 

The Influence of Political Cartoons by Thomas Nast, Herbert Block and Garry Trudeau

Dysfunctional Characters as a Reflection of Society in Christopher Durang’s Plays

Christopher Durang’s plays are characterized by their humorous depiction of individuals who seem so dysfunctional that their every action is unpredictable and even absurd. However, their ostensibly insane actions are merely a reaction to the societies in which they live. Durang places his characters in situations and settings to bring to light that which is bizarre or illogical in our own society. For instance, Eleanor, of The Nature and Purpose of the Universe, is a caricature of a doting housewife who is subjected to exploitation by her family so severe it is comical. Eleanor is a victim of constant verbal and physical abuse by her husband, Steve; when she does not finish the household chores on schedule, he pushes her to the ground and kicks and beats her. Rather than being a realistic portrait of a dysfunctional family, though, Durang’s depiction of Steve’s abuse is meant as a humorous and satirical commentary on the absurdity of the traditionally accepted roles of a domineering husband and docile wife.

Just as Durang uses satire and comedy to comment on the ideas of social norms in average American families, Cartoonists Thomas Nast, Herbert Block and Garry Trudeau used satire to comment on politics in the United States. People turned to cartoons to understand the issues and all sides of American politics. The cartoonists brought political scandals to light. Thomas Nast exposed the Tammany Hall corruption, and Herblock depicted the cover-ups that led to the Watergate Scandal. Later, Garry Trudeau derided the covert operations of the Iran- Contra scandal. Political satire in published cartoons strengthened American democracy. Each cartoonist used a different style, language and tone. Nast drew people as exaggerated forms to show their flaws. Herblock presented Reagan as an actor in president’s clothes to criticize his qualifications as president. Trudeau showed satire through the words of his characters; they debated issues and ended the arguments with insults that had been used by government officials in debates of their own. Each cartoonist depicted a perspective that they wanted their audience to understand.

Major Works Consulted:

Block, Herbert. Herblock: A Cartoonist's Life. New York: Macmillan Pub., 1993.
Durang, Christopher. Christopher Durang Explains It All for You: Six Plays. New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1983.
--. Miss Witherspoon and Mrs. Bob Cratchit’s Wild Christmas Binge. New York: Grove, 2006.
Paine, Albert Bigelow. Th. Nast, His Period and His Pictures,. New York: Macmillan Company, 1904.
Photo Credit: Colby, Vineta. World Authors, 1980-1985. New York: H.W. Wilson, 1991.


 Link to Sarah Feeney's Senior Art Thesis