Beth Henley’ s ‘ Am I Blue’ reflects on the life of two people who are looking for an escape from themselves. It beautifully pulls the threads of lives of John Richard Polk, a seventeen year old boy drinking in a bar early in the evening so that he forgets his true self and Ashbe, a sixteen year old teen trying to hide under John’s raincoat after stealing couple of ashtrays from a nearby Inn.
The play subtly introduces these two young people who are both trying to put their best foot forward to each other while facing the same problem in their lives. In the beginning there is a nervous intensity between them until the conversation starts flowing. The eccentricity of both of them created amusement, as when Ashbe came to know that John is a member of fraternity and came here to visit a prostitute whom she happens to know. At first it seems that the admission of knowing the prostitute is an endeavor on part of Ashbe to prolong the discussion and thus enabling her to hide for longer period. The paradoxical statements to try to sound what the other one wants to hear is also amusing, first John uses them while talking about girls in fraternity ( 3) and secondly by Ashbe when she professes about dancing( 10). Neither of them is true but it was a consistent effort on their part to stay in the discussion. But what really took readers by surprise is when Ashbe said (14), “That really wasn’t food coloring in your drink, it was poison!”.
Insisted upon ‘why he is going to a prostitute’ he discloses that ‘he loves to give himself a treat’ ( 3). After finishing the drink and not much money to go elsewhere he accepts the invitation of Ashbe to go to her place. As the acquaintance starts growing into familiarity they both start knowing each other. The discussion varies from drinks, dance, family and career.
During one of these conversations Ashbe came to know that today is John’s eighteenth birthday and one of his friends fixed him up with the prostitute as he never being in bed all his life. Asked further he says that he never find the love of his life. He portrays the meeting with prostitute as the part of process of growing up and justifying it by saying that he may never find the love of his life (16).
Two of the most fascinating stages in their discussion are firstly when Ashbe talks about her dream of dancing in one of those huge ballrooms with, golden chandeliers and silver fountains. Secondly when they discussed John’s career and how he is guided by other’s choices rather than his own. It reminds us of Tolstoy portrayal of his lead character in ‘The Death of Ivan Ilyich (Tolstoy, 1886)’, where on death bed Ilyich realizes how superficially he lived all his life without listening to his soul.
The ballroom discussion resonate John belief of utopian life and career choices happened to show how uncourageous he is not to do what he really wants to do. In fact it exposed the brute reality of his life that he does things which are felt appropriate by the people around him rather than his own will and beliefs.
The growing intimacy made both of them realize what they are going through – loneliness. The meeting exposed them to a stern reality that they are living a life devoid of people who can share things and above all who can understand their personalities. In the end Beth Henley able to create a sense of vacuum, which reminds the reader the hollowness of their lives which no amount of drinking or stealing can fill.
Beth Henley’s writing approach is very subtle and it raised few of the biggest questions of our modern lives through an incidental meeting of two young people. It also figuratively questions the trend of growing drinking problem and higher crime rate in our modern societies.
Tolstoy, The Death of Ivan Ilyich. Moscow, 1886.
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