Monday, March 2, 2009

Good or Bad: Character Development in McDonagh's "Pillowman"

In keeping with our theme of binaries, an analysis of the good/bad dichotomy in The Pillowman seems appropriate. Martin McDonagh makes frequent use of this classic binary in his play – in fact, the entire play seems to depend on the contradiction of good and bad.

One of the first (and most basic) examples of this binary comes in the representation of the good cop/bad cop stereotype. We are immediately introduced to this duo and we immediately understand their roles in the play. Although these characters are not as deeply developed as Katurian and Michal, Tupolski and Ariel (good and bad, respectively) are no doubt important to the overall story. In his portrayal of the good and bad cops, McDonagh effectively deconstructs the binary that his characters represent. We learn that bad cop Ariel actually has soft nature; a victim of child abuse himself, Ariel gradually becomes more sympathetic toward Katurian’s plight. Tupolski, on the other hand, begins as the good cop but develops into an unsympathetic character obsessed with his own superiority and eventual martyrdom. The deconstruction of the good cop/bad cop dynamic is important for McDonagh. The playwright blurs the lines of this binary.

Another important portrayal of this dichotomy can be understood through an analysis of the treatment of Katurian and Michal. McDonagh originally leads the audience to label Katurian as a bad person, a child abuser and murderer. His brother Michal serves as the foil to Katurian; his mental handicap provides an illusion of innocence – a false impression that is soon righted. Again, McDonagh deconstructs the good/bad binary by blurring the audience perception of what is actually good and what is actually bad. In reality, Katurian is not guilty of the murders of three children (most would claim that this is good). However, he is indirectly and unintentionally responsible because of the stories he read to his brother. Michal is at first seen as a good and innocent character: he cooperates with the police and seems incapable of the atrocities to which he eventually confesses. However, Michal must ultimately be considered bad – as are most serial child-killers. Again, through character development, McDonagh blurs the lines between good and bad and deconstructs the binary present throughout the play.

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