Prisoners of Love "On Tidy Endings," Harvey Fierstein's 1987 drama about the beginning of the "Gay period" (1086) and the AIDS epidemic, focuses on two different lifestyles that are affected by the death of a loved one and the coping that goes along with it. Using a Cultural Studies approach, one can see that one's culture, background, and "value system" (Lynn, 113) play an important role in understanding and accepting the text. To understand and accept the text, one must first place it in history. Over many centuries, many people have accepted themselves and others as being gay or lesbian - William Shakespeare and Emily Dickinson were believed to be. However, the AIDS epidemic, a disease that is considerably higher in the gay community than in the heterosexual community, has only been known about for a little less than twenty years. Therefore, it is much more difficult for one to understand the concept of the AIDS epidemic than it is for one to understand the concept of homosexuality.
Furthermore, one cannot understand the text if s / he "question[s] whether homosexuality represents a choice or a destiny, a matter of preference or biology" (Lynn, 200). To understand and accept this text, one must be tolerant of the characters in it and of the decisions and choices that they have made. After dismantling the stereotypes and prejudices, "On Tidy Endings" can be accepted for what it is: a love triangle drama revolving around the lives of two gay men (one living, one dead) and the deceased's ex-wife. On the outer edges of that love triangle falls a young boy who is trapped in a world that steals his innocence. Ludwig, 2 As this play opens, the reader is introduced to a woman, Marion, and her son, Jimmy.
These two characters are living in world that is filled with prejudice and intolerability. Although they do not take the blunt force of this world, it rests heavily on thei shoulders. As the drama progresses, the reader is informed that the prejudice and intolerability lay close to these characters because of the lives they have lived - they were and are closely involved with "the Gay period" (1086) of life that was not fully accepted in 1987 when this play was written. Marion, who has just lost her ex-husband to an AIDS related illness, is living with guilt because she feels she was "fulfilling... every life fantasy" (1088) when, in reality, she was not. Her deceased ex-husband, Collin, was "living a lie" (1088) - while living a heterosexual life with her, he was "fulfilling [his] every life fantasy" by living a secret homosexual life with his lover, Arthur.
During this secret rendezvous, he contracted the AIDS virus. When Marion found out about this secret life of Collin, she herself fell into the world of prejudice and intolerability by not accepting his decision. She began to point fingers at the gay community, which led to dissension between Collin's lover and herself. By pointing fingers, Marion causes much stress between Arthur and Collin, Collin and herself, and Arthur and herself. This is evident throughout the play and through the many arguments that happen between Arthur and Marion. Their arguments, which are over petty things, are more about reality of life than about the petty things themselves.
Ludwig, 3 Marion wants a great deal of Collin's possessions, when in reality what she really wants is to keep them from Arthur. Arthur realizes this and refuses to allow her to take them. He, in return, forms arguments supporting his reasons why she should not have them and why he should. Marion also demonstrates her ignorance by stereotyping and classifying a specific group of people. Although she realizes that Arthur and Collin are both real people, she thinks, in her mind, that they are just imaginary. She puts them in the class of "gay," which to her is like separating apples and oranges.
Marion was pleased that Collin was able to find "someone like [Arthur]" (1090). She stereotypes and classifies the entire gay community when she refers to Collin's lover as "someone like... ." Arthur, however, takes offense to this and reassures her that "[Collin] didn't find 'someone like' [him]. It was [him]" (1090). This isn't to say that Arthur is free of guilt. He puts Marion in a class that he has created for all heterosexuals.
This class is "the class that hates all gays." The prejudice and intolerability not only lay with Marion, but also with Arthur. Throughout the drama, he constantly reminds Marion that Collin did love another in the same way that he loved her. "Life's little surprises" (1088) angered Marion. She cannot accept the fact that "[Collin] died in [Arthur's] arms, not [hers]" (1090). Arthur, however, does throw this fact in many times during the drama, only causing Marion more hurt and pain. There are times, however, when both Marion and Arthur do not criticize or condemn the other for the choices they have made.
When it came to Jimmy, Marion's Ludwig, 4 son, the two of them had the same concept of what childhood was. However, Jimmy's childhood innocence, the freedom from experiencing the adult world, had already been destroyed. They were both aware of this and agreed on almost all issues that dealt directly with Jimmy. Marion and Arthur's sensitivity toward Collin is also very similar. They were both sensitive during his time of crisis. Marion allowed him to live with her "until he was well" (1092).
She knew, however, that "there was no cure" (1092) for what he had. She spent time with him, exhausting herself in efforts to try to get him back. Arthur, too, "slipped off [his shoes], lifted [Collin's] blanket and climbed into bed next to him" (1094) when Collin was dying in the hospital. This was just one characteristic they had in common.
The overall unification of the two central characters, however, is their capability to communicate with each other, making it possible to form a "bond" at the end of the drama. This communication stems from Marion's feminine psyche, as well as Arthur's similar psyche. Arthur's lifestyle has provided him with a better understanding of the female mind, which in turn, has allowed him to connect with Marion without any major "community" clashes. At the end of the drama, Jimmy is once again forced into the adult world by having to perform an act of kindness and love toward Arthur - his mother instructs and forces him to kiss "Uncle Arthur" (1096). Jimmy rebels against this for a few moments, but then obeys his mother and does it. She does this for good reasons, though.
After the Ludwig, 5 arguments, stress, and weight that have been tossed around, Marion feels that it is necessary for Jimmy to kiss Arthur. Arthur and Jimmy both debate this fact with her, but Marion knows that "a child's kiss is magic. Why else would they be so stingy with them" (1097). The cultural differences between the gay community and the heterosexual community have caused many problems over the past few decades.
Nonetheless, with a better understanding of the gay community, the heterosexual community can begin to accept and welcome them into theirs, and vice versa. Cultural Studies has provided a reader and a group of people with a basis as to what is acceptable and what is not. It has allowed for a better understanding and for an acceptance of texts involving subject material that may or may no be offensive to some readers.