Comparative essay

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The plays "she talks to Beethoven" and "an evening with dead Essex comparative paper
Adrienne Kennedy has written a handful of plays which have made her earn a huge
amount of respect in the society. In her plays, she explains many themes that were in the society
then and maybe still alive in the society we are living in today. A few of her plays share a
common message though presented and explained differently. In this paper, I will focus on two
of her best plays, an evening with dead Essex and she speaks to Beethoven. In both, I will try to
compare the historical, political and literary climate.
For both plays, violence is a major theme. In An evening with dead Essex, the main
character Mark Essex single-handedly kills two hotel guests, three policemen, and a hotel
employee. Another two firemen and ten police are wounded in that fracas at the Downtown
Howard Johnson’s Motor Lodge. He is however killed in the process. The police are however
too severe in killing him. He receives 100 bullets. On top of that, they keep shooting even when
he is down. His gun is also broken into pieces during the incident (Turner, 2008).In She speaks
to Beethoven we come across Alexander, Suzanne’s husband. He disappears all of a sudden from
the hospital where Suzanne has been admitted. Alexander is kidnapped in what looks like a
kidnap and murder attempt. However, he is rescued and the culprits put into custody. Alexander
and Suzanne also get into fights. Alexander is portrayed as a man who never gets satisfied at all,
gets bitter at times and less understanding. Beethoven also gets angered on the mention of
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Vienna to an extent that he punches the piano so hard that it makes a loud noise (Kennedy,
However, the type of violence differs in both plays. In the play an evening with dead
Essex, the culprit Essex has planned his actions and has a reason behind every one of his actions.
He carries out this crime believing that he is searching for freedom. He has no other option. The
case is not the same for the play she talks to Beethoven. The violence in this book is just mild. It
does not cost lives or cause harm. Also, it is carried out by people who really do not intend to do
it. It comes as a result of nature or condition. Such a case is when Suzanne asks Alexander about
money which angers him and the results to damaging the keyboard.
Also for both plays, there is the theme of war. In She talks to Beethoven, we see the
Russians conceding defeat from the French. The French army later enters Salzburg and the court
possessions are shipped off (Kennedy,2012). Also In the play, an evening with dead Essex, we
find Essex is an ex-soldier having served in the marine. He serves the US in the war against
Vietnam. He is also at war with his country which does not appreciate service by soldiers
(Willis,2014). He is also at war with his conscience since he is in a dilemma whether to fight for
the US or against it. Finally, he is at war with his race, black people.
However, in the play an evening with dead Essex, the war is fought on different fronts;
physically, emotionally and mentally. (Turner,2008) The results of the war are very severe and
tormenting. The war results in a number of broken irreparable soldiers who feel neglected and
left out by the society. There is no peace attained. The soldiers are also not willing to carry on
with the war as it looks like it is based on race. Essex has a mixed feeling on who the real enemy
is his country which doesn't appreciate him or his fellow black people the Vietnamese (Turner,
2012).In the other play she talks to Beethoven, the period is after independence and peace have
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been attained. The Ghanaians play musical instruments as they walk in the streets, a clear sign of
peace. However, the war is fought by Alexander through the writing of essays and poems. His
enemies are not disclosed (Kennedy,2012). He is famous for his work on the colonized patients
and also his association with Fanon and Patrice Lumumba.
Another common theme is suicide. In the play She speaks to Beethoven, Beethoven’s
nephew Kurl tries to shoot himself. He explains the reason behind his attempt being that
Beethoven torments him with her demands and expectations. He refers to himself as being
broken and miserable because of Beethoven(Kennedy,2012). Also in the play an evening with
dead Essex, the investigators visit Essex’s place in the slums. On the walls, there are slogans
written. In one he says that freedom can only be attained through death and that the search for
freedom is death itself.
However, the difference between the two plays is the cause of suicide. What triggers it?
In the play an evening with dead Essex, the suicide is triggered by hate and the experiences
Essex goes through as a soldier. He is subjected to the pain of killing people of his own race. On
top of that, he returns home to poverty. He lives in a slum, in a poor shanty house. The society
does not appreciate his sacrifice. In the case of the other play, suicide is triggered by the
demands and expectations of Beethoven. Kurl a nephew of Beethoven is the victim. Beethoven is
also described to be a less understanding person who is very loud and bitter at times.
In both plays, we see people striving to achieve peace and harmony. In An evening with
dead Essex we see the end of the war brings peace. The director of the play also emphasizes the
expression of peace and uses repetition to emphasize further. The director also demands a good-
looking old flag that which could make a young boy believe the world is peaceful and a good
place to be. In another scene we see the actress explain a scene of a young boy in Sunday school
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with her sister at her side and the teacher at the front asking them to recite a Bible verse. It
displays a life of normalcy peace and joy.
However, the timing is different. In the play an evening with dead Essex, peace is only
described to have been experienced in the good old days during childhood. Essex as a young boy
attends church and lives in a neighborhood with people of all races. He enjoys life as a child and
grows up as a normal child should. However, when he becomes of age things change. He
changes for the worse and is disturbed by the environment. He is not at peace with the society for
being neglected and also himself for killing black Vietnam soldiers. The experience haunts him
and acts improperly as a way to free himself from the experience. In the other book, peace is
experienced after independence. One scene explains how Ghanaians walk in the city playing
music. It also tells us on the setting of the room, a picture of Kwame Nkrumah, a photo of David
and Suzanne and a painting of scenes of Ghana’s independence. Suzanne is listening to a small
radio as she looks from the window. The country is at peace as it seems. She is also at peace with
herself despite being very ill for long. She has already accepted the situation she is at health-wise
and is ready to live on.
Another key factor in both plays is childhood. In the play, an evening with dead Essex
marks childhood is portrayed as being perfect and normal. He goes to school, attends Sunday
school and is part of a family with whom they enjoy dinner on Sundays. Childhood is held high
with the expectations and hope of a bright future. The same case applies for the other play.
Alexander speaks of how he thought he was going to mean something in this world and try to
make a difference. His childhood is not that promising.
However, the plays differ in the results of adulthood. For Alexander, we can say that he is
living to his expectations though it comes with a number of challenges. Finally, he gets to his
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feet and is doing very well. He even finds love. For Mark, the case is totally different. His
adulthood comes along with hatred, loss of hope, loneliness, and poverty. He is not at peace with
the world and with himself. His future is miserable and so is his death.
The play an evening with dead Essex starts with a group of actors gathering on a stage.
They are all black except for the projectionist who is white. On top of that, everybody else is in
white except for the projectionist again who is in black. This amplifies the conflict of race
(Spencer, 2012). There is also racism in war whereby the black soldiers are forced to kill fellow
black soldiers of Vietnam. Mark Essex a former ex-soldier is portrayed as a very calm and quiet
boy from his childhood. He is very religious as testified by one of the church leaders. The play
revolves around mark Essex. Despite mark being guilty of his crime and lacking no solid reason
for his actions, we find the actors trying to justify his actions. He is being transferred from being
a criminal to being a martyr. The crew try to justify marks actions by the use of bible verses, his
childhood moments and to some point deception. It is however very ironical that they use
biblical verses to paint a good picture of Mark who at his end times had rejected Christianity
(Spencer, 2012). Even in the church, his mother requests the congregation to pray for him
because he has become a nonbeliever. Marks minister desires to know why Mark had not gone to
church since returning from battle. Mark replies by calling Christianity a white man’s religion.
The religion had deceived him.
The period of this setting is at the time of war. There is also the aspect of overkill
whereby Mark singlehandedly kills seven people and injures another twelve. This is too severe
for one man. Later Mark is shot, one hundred bullets to a single body. In the process, his gun
gets broken too. This is too severe for one man to handle. In another scene, a marine helicopter
delivers police marksmen and hover around a city. There is a gunfight which follows the
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phosphorus grenade. This displays a scene of mass murder where many people lose their lives.
Among the items, Nixon speech is the resume of the bombing which means more killing.
This play is realistic because it is based on a true incident which happened in 1973. All
the said events took place and from the paper The New York Times, the victim is described as a
quiet calm guy who went nuts and killed many people. The results of the war are real-life effects.
The harsh treatment from the society on servicemen, suicide attempts, mental illness, and
poverty is among the harsh realities that soldiers go home to. With time they lose hope in
everything they ever believed in, religion, virtues, and family. They become strangers to their
own homeland. The soldiers are trapped in emotions of anger and confusion and the only way
out is death as it seems.
The other play she talks to Beethoven starts with a rather calm setting of Suzanne
listening to her small radio while overlooking Ghanaians play their stringed instruments. It
displays the role of culture and media (Godayol,2017). She is following up on the kidnap of her
husband who was kidnap and is being presumed dead. Suzanne’s husband is a writer who
spreads information through poems and essays. This shows that the freedom of speech and
information is not limited to the citizens. Alexander associates with Pan Africanists such as
Lumumba. However, with the murder of Lumumba and Fanons deteriorating condition, he is the
last man standing. He takes over from Fanon. The political climate is calm and at the time of
Alexanders rescue, the President assures him that his kidnappers have been arrested. He,
however, continues to speak about attaining real independence. The speaker on radio also
explains about their childhood. The speaker is Alexander who explains how he was born with a
desire to put things into order and to give hope to the world. However, his expectations have
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faded and his life broken down. Despite that, he sources courage and strength from other people
and is able to put his life back together. Childhood is associated with high hopes (Godayol, 2017)
Both plays engage in the settings that they are written in. An evening with dead Essex is
written after the war. It serves to describe the aftermath of the war, the problems the soldiers
encounter and how the society looks down upon them. It also shows the theme of change, how
life can change from being good to miserable. The play was written at the time when racism was
so extreme. There is hate between the two races. It is also written during an era associated with
conflict. Conflict is on so many levels. There is the internal conflict which is the conflict with
oneself. Conflicts exist between races and religion (Godayol, 2017).
The play she talks to Beethoven is written just after Ghana has attained independence and
is trying to attain political stability (Harrison et al, 2012). There is hope for the young country. It
also displays freedom of the people to movement, speech and to communication. The radio
broadcasts the political advances (King, 2013).
Adrienne Kennedy has succeeded in addressing some issues that were there back then
when the plays were written are present up to date. Such include war, racism, and suicide. In
both plays, the theme of peace is presented as very important. Other themes include love and
hope. Bad virtues in the society such as hatred and racism have also been revealed the
consequences have proven to be adverse. In the current times, people should live in peace with
each other and with themselves so that we can co-exist together happily.
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Work cited
Spencer, Jenny. "Emancipated Spectatorship in Adrienne Kennedy's Plays." Modern Drama 55.1
(2012): 19-39.
King, Kimball. Hollywood on Stage: Playwrights Evaluate the Culture Industry. Routledge,
Win Stanley, Lilian. Hamlet and the Scottish Succession: Being an Examination of the Relations
of the Play of Hamlet to the Scottish Succession and the Essex Conspiracy. Cambridge
University Press, 2012.
Kennedy, Adrienne. She Talks to Beethoven. Samuel French, 2015.
STAGE: THE CASE OF ADRIENNE KENNEDY." transfer 3.1 (2017).
Willis, Emma. "Vietnam:‘Not the bullshit story in the Lonely Planet’." Theatricality, Dark
Tourism and Ethical Spectatorship. Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2014. 101-128.
Harrison, Paul Carter, et al. "Personal Perspectives on Adrienne Kennedy." Modern Drama 55.1
(2012): 90-99.
Turner, Beth. "Adrienne Kennedy." Twentieth-Century American Dramatists: Fifth Series
(2008): 82.

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