The play ‘Philadelphia, here I come’ focuses on Gareth O’Donnell on the night before he is due to leave Donegal for America. There are two Gars; the Public Gar and the Private Gar. Public Gar is the one that he shows to the world; the Private Gar is the man within. The two converse freely, yet Public Gar is never able to see or look at Private. Throughout the play, there is much evidence to support the claim that the play is a tragedy.
The running theme of the bad relationship between Gar and his father is undoubtedly tragic, and this is made worse by the fact that their problems are never resolved. Towards the end of the play we are brought tantalisingly close a reconciliation of feelings when Gar, clutching to the only good memory he has of his father, hopes that he holds the same memory of them fishing together. However, when he asks him about it, his father has no recollection and Gar rushes off. Had his father remembered, then Gar could have left in the knowledge that he and his father shared at least one good memory. The absence of this comfort would undoubtedly make it more difficult to leave, and the fact that his father had his own memory of Gar in the sailor outfit, and failed to share this, makes it more tragic.Order now
Even more painful for Gar, and a possible contributory factor for the bad relationship he has with his father, is the underlying fear that S.B. may not actually be his real father. Gar has his suspicions that his old teacher, Mr. Boyle, is in fact his real father. This fear stems from the knowledge that his mother and he used to have a relationship. When he enquires to Madge the housekeeper about Mr. Boyle and his mother she provides no comfort saying, “she went with a dozen – that was the kind of her – she couldn’t help herself.”
This does not answer Gar’s question, and such great unknowns can only make it even more difficult for him to leave. This trauma is another reason to consider the play a tragedy rather than a comedy. Gar’s relationship with Kate is yet another tragedy. Their flourishing love was cut short partly due to Gar’s inability to communicate his feelings. Upon discovering that Kate’s parents hope that she will marry the more refined and wealthier Dr. Francis King, instead of asking her father’s permission for him to marry her, he leaves. By deserting Kate, who it seemed wanted to be with Gar, he forced her to Francis. They married, and Gar had regretted his actions, for he still loved her. We see that he blames himself after Private Gar calls her a,
“Rotten aul snobby bitch!” Although this shows that he is indeed angry with her, Public Gar jumps to her defence saying, “No, no; my fault – all my fault.” When she visits later on to say goodbye, he is very short with her and snaps at her with almost every sentence. He berates her with reasons why Ballybeg is an abhorrent place and points out, “you’re stuck here!” This barrage of complaints and reckless sarcastic comments quite quickly succeed in driving Kate away once more. Again, he immediately regrets what he has done and buries his head in his hands.
This is yet more unfinished business that torments Gar on the eve of his departure. This, along with the unresolved conflict with his father and questions about his mother’s promiscuity are indeed no laughing matter, and are in no way comic. When his aunt Lizzy first asked Gar if he wanted to go to America, he jumped at the chance saying, “as soon as I can”. These massive loose ends, by the end of the play, add up to make a once sure Gar unsure about why he is leaving. Private Gar asks, “God, Boy, why do you have to leave? Why? Why?” to which Public Gar replies, “I don’t know. I – I – I don’t know.” Gar is unsure about the only thing he was sure about, and this is truly tragic.
However, there are aspects of the play that are undoubtedly comedic. The dialogue where Private Gar, impersonating S.B., has a conversation with Public Gar, sharing anecdotes about bowel movement problems is one example. This develops into an absurd imitation of Americans courting. Another example is when Private Gar has an imaginary discussion with Gar’s father about being a sex maniac, changing the subject when Madge enters to a clichï¿½d one about the weather, as though she could hear. Overall the sarcastic commentary of Private Gar is the main aspect of comedy in the play, providing humorously cutting insults for the reader to enjoy. This also highlights the differences between Private Gar and Public Gar, who keeps what he feels to himself – Private Gar expresses what Public Gar feels, and does the things that Public Gar would like to do.
But a lot of the time, the comedy produced by Private Gar turns into something more sinister. In Episode 1, Private Gar’s ridiculing commentary of S.B. is initially light-hearted but develops to become more threatening. He blames S.B. for his departure, listing the reasons why his father has driven him to emigration: “And you know why I’m going, Screwballs, don’t you. Because I’m twenty-five, and you treat me as if I were five – I can’t order even a dozen loaves without getting your permission. Because you pay me less than you pay Madge. But worse, far worse than that, Screwballs, because – we embarrass one another.”
We are told before Private Gar’s descent into rage that, ‘all trace of humour fades from Private’s voice. He becomes more and more intense and it is with an effort that he keeps his voice under control.’ This proves that behind these rants lies more menacing feelings towards those to whom they are directed. Sometimes this even entails the belittling of Gar himself. We see this on several occasions throughout the play, for example times when Private Gar laughs almost sadistically at the misfortune and hurt of Public Gar. Another character who provides humour is Gar’s aunt Lizzy. In particular the conversation where she gets confused about what she had been talking about and consequently tells both Ben and Con to give one another, “no more to drink.”