- Dr. Harry Hyman: A physician. He is by far no expert in psychiatry but still decides to treat Sylvia Gellburg. Has established a fine relationship to his wife but he still seems to be a bit like a lady-killer.
- Phillip Gellburg: He is jewish. Phillip has a very strong opinion, he for example doesn’t think too highly of welfare. Therefore he is called a Republican by Hyman. Gellburg is by far not easy to talk to because he is easily offended and seems highly uncomfortable that his wife is not perfect.
- Sylvia Gellburg: She is jewish too. Her character is determined by her feelings.
Sylvia Gellburg has led a seemingly perfect life until just recently she became partially paralysed from the waist down. Her spouse, Phillip Gellburg (not Goldburg!) consulted a physician, Dr. Hyman, who believes that Sylvia’s inability to move her legs lies in her psyche and even though he is no psychiatrist he tries to cure her.
As the story evolves, Sylvia’s mental problems are brought to light:
First of all, the problems with her health started when she saw a photograph of two old men who were forced to clean the sidewalks in Germany with toothbrushes. The story is happening just after the 10th of November 1938, after the “Kristallnacht” as it is called now. At that time the Nazi regime has already taken over power in Germany and Austria and the first transports to concentration camps have already started. Mainly Jews were the victims of these attacks that followed the murder of a german Aryan in Paris. The night is called “Kristallnacht”, which can be translated to “the night of broken glass”.
Syliva gets reminded of her grandfather who looks just like one of the german Jews in the newspaper.
Phillip Gellburg who is jewish too, just as Sylvia, has a split opinion of being jewish: On the one hand he seems terribly proud to be the only jewish worker in his company and is proud that his son is making his way in the army, but on the other hand, he seems embarrassed and has the hidden fear that he might get disadvantaged.
Apart from that, Sylvia is suffering from her unhappy marriage. Phillip has a terribly bossy character and did not let her live her own life since their marriage. For example, he didn’t allow her to get back into business after the birth of their son. Apart from that he has an awful opinion of women, for instance he mentions to Dr. Hyman that his wife is almost as smart as a man.
Gellburg also feels irritated by Dr. Hyman’s presence at his house: Hyman has sort of a reputation concerning women and Gellburg feels inferior because of his inability to make love to Sylvia.
Whenever Sylvia is able to talk to Hyman, she gets better, partially because Hyman does actually listen to her without forcing her to believe things like Phillip.
It turns out that things piled up on Sylvia, her unhappy marriage, the things happening in Germany, her whole life.
Then there is a sudden turn in the story, Phillip has a stroke while arguing with his boss, Mr. Case, over a failed business: Phillip believes that Mr. Case is suspecting him of acting to the advantage of a certain “Alan Kershowitz” (a typically jewish name).
The final scene is about Phillip dying at home. He has finally come to peace with his life and identity by confessing to Sylvia his true feelings and with the words “Sylvia forgive me!” he finally dies in the arms of his wife who, liberated by an enormous tension, is able to stand up the very second Phillip Gellburg dies.
- Love and marriage: Sylvia and Phillip Gellburg seem like a perfect couple but in the inside there are a lot of hidden troubles in their relationship.
- Truth: Phillip Gellburg is not able to state his true feelings, he suppresses them and only in his last minutes on earth is able to talk freely.
- The Jewish identity: Sylvia and Pillip deal quite differently with their identity, Phillip is not able to express his fears and Sylvia gets a terrible shock.
- Antisemitism: It has been around for hundreds of years and is an enormous problem which was at the acme of it’s power during WWII.
- Men and women / Women and men: Phillip Gellburg’s ideas on women are quite extreme, and one of Sylvia’s main reasons of being unhappy is the fact that she was not allowed by Phillip to return to work after the birth of their son.
- Politics: Not one of the main themes, but Hyman once calls Phillip a Republican. Phillip is the prime example of the bad character in the play, this may reflect the author’s political opinion.
First I didn’t really like the idea of reading a play, I think it’s more amusing to watch one but I turned out to be wrong in this case. The play first appeared to me just as an entertaining read but it turned out to have a deeper meaning. It was highly interesting to see the different characters evolve and to find out about their particular situation. It is a highly psychological book and allows the reader to discover the character’s deepest feelings.
All in all I really can’t say that I regret reading this play, it could have been a bit longer though. Definitely a great read!