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Blood Brothers by Willy Russell
Compare how Willy Russell portrays the two mothers in “Blood Brothers”.
Blood Brothers is a popular play by Willy Russell. It was written and first performed in 1981. The play tells of twin brothers, separated at birth, with one kept in a low-class family and the other is adopted into a wealthy family. The characters of Mrs Johnston and Mrs Lyons, the mothers, are total opposites. Mrs Johnston is a struggling, single mother of seven, with another two on the way, whereas Mrs Lyons is a privileged, yet childless, married woman.
When we are first introduced to Mrs Johnston, she is a single mother ever since her husband left her for a younger woman. She is a low–class Liverpudlian, who is extremely hardworking. Mrs Johnston is described as a woman in her thirties, but looks sixty, because of the stress of work and her children. Mrs Johnston stutters at times, when she’s under pressure, like when Mrs Lyons is persuading her to give away one of the twins,
“Erm, well I think it’s the… but, Mrs Lyons, what…” Act 1 Scene 5.
Mrs Johnston is shown as unsure and pressured into something she doesn’t want to do. The reader may find it disturbing, since not many mothers give away their children to their employers. Mrs Johnston realises what Mrs Lyons is talking about, but is still confused over the whole situation. When she talks, ellipses are used to show that she pauses in her dialogue, because she is uncertain about the consequences to what she is about to do,
“At er…” Act 1 Scene 5.
She is hesitating because she is in doubt and hasn’t really decided. Mrs Johnston is lost for words and can’t think of anything to say. Mrs Johnston is a superstitious lady, even though she denies it. The reader can see this in a scene between her and Mrs Lyons,
“Mrs Lyons: [Twigging, laughing] Oh, you mean it’s superstition.
You’re superstitious are you?
The Mother: No. But you never put new shoes on a table.” Act 1 Scene 3.
When Mrs Lyons laid shoes on the table, Mrs Johnston panicked. Mrs Lyons uses Mrs Johnston’s belief of superstition against her when trying to keep her ‘son’, Edward, one of the twins.
Mrs Lyons contrasts really strongly against Mrs Johnston. At first, Mrs Lyons is shown as a bright person in her thirties, unlike the stressed Mrs Johnston who is the same age. Mrs Lyons is an upper middle-class woman. She is also a very patronising woman, who is forceful and pressurising. Mrs Lyons uses negative views about extra children so that Mrs Johnston will have to give away one of the twins to her. She doesn’t do this in an aggressive way, but in a dangerously sweet manner,
“Mrs Lyons: Already you’re being threatened by the Welfare. With two more how will you avoid some of them being put into care? Surely, surely, Mrs Johnston, it’s better to give one child to me than to have some of them taken into care! If he’s with me you’ll still be able to see him each day as you come into work.” Act 1 Scene 5.
She gives Mrs Johnston reasons to give up a child. Mrs Lyons is shown to be self-centred,
“My husband is due back tomorrow! I must have my baby now.” Act 1 Scene 6.
She doesn’t care about Mrs Johnston’s feelings, Mrs Lyons only wants the baby because if Mr Lyons returns and doesn’t see it, he will know that his wife was lying. Mrs Lyons is willing to take a child away from its mother, so that she can save her own skin. Mrs Lyons is a very sly and devious woman, as she uses superstition against Mrs Johnston, so that she can keep one of the twins, after Mrs Johnston tries to take him back,
“Mrs Lyons: … You know what they say about twins secretly parted, don’t you?
The Mother: [Terrified] What, what?
Mrs Lyons: They say… they say that if either twin learns he was one of a pair they shall both die immediately! It means, Mrs Johnston, that these brothers shall grow up unaware of the other’s existence. They shall be raised apart, and never, never ever told what was once the truth. You won’t tell anyone, Mrs Johnston, because if you do you shall kill them!” Act 1 Scene 8.
Mrs Lyons is being dramatic, but she knows that Mrs Johnston is convinced, because she saw how Mrs Johnston overreacted when she put shoes on the table. Mrs Lyons is very manipulative, but she conceals it very well. This superstition ends up backfiring on Mrs Lyons because Mrs Johnston soon forgets about it, but it continues to haunt Mrs Lyons decades later. She becomes paranoid and obsessive, believing that Mrs Johnston is following her to tell Edward the truth. This shows the reader that the superstition affects her instead of Mrs Johnston, the person it was intended for. When she is trying to convince Mrs Johnston to give away a twin, all she mentions is the materialistic advantages of her lifestyle,
“The Mother: … He’d be able to play on those lawns wouldn’t he? And have his own room and…
Mrs Lyons: If he grew up here… as our son… He could have everything.” Act 1 Scene 5.
Although she agrees with everything Mrs Johnston says, Mrs Lyons never mentions if she would love the child as if it was hers. The reader could think that Mrs Lyons could give him everything apart from love.
The stage directions are in the text because Blood Brothers is a play. They are there because the dialogue doesn’t describe how the characters are reacting or what the scenery is like. The stage direction gives the reader an idea of what is happening, without giving too much away,
“The Mother: [Terrified] What, what?” Act 1 Scene 8.
If the stage directions weren’t given, the reader wouldn’t know how Mrs Johnston said it. She could have been curious or confused about the situation. The stage directions help with the reader’s imagination and interpretation of Blood Brothers.
The Narrator is also a very good dramatic device. He acts as a shadow of the other character. The Narrator is there as a reminder of Mrs Johnston and Mrs Lyons’ agreement. The other characters don’t acknowledge him which shows he is of a ghostly nature. The Narrator raises suspicion and builds up tension between the characters. He has no emotion and talks of the Devil,
“There’s no use clutching at your rosary The Devil’s in the backyard, he can see Through the gaps in the curtains he sees it all, There’s no use hiding in the hall. When he raps at the knocker then he knows you’re in; No you won’t, no you’ll never get away from him No you won’t, no you’ll never get away from him.” Act 2 Scene 1.
The Narrator is trying to tell Mrs Johnston and Mrs Lyons that their pact won’t work, because the truth will be known. He uses repetition and rhyme, so that his lines are more catchy and memorable. The Narrator is a creepy and disturbing character because he knows the future and talks about the Devil, which makes him God-like and all seeing. He is a neutral character because he doesn’t choose sides and we don’t know anything about him, other than he knows the fate of each character. The Narrator also represents superstition because he is there throughout the play, reminding the reader of the lie Mrs Lyons told.
The dialogue of the two families is very diverse. Mrs Johnston uses ‘common’ English and Mrs Lyons uses ‘standard’ English. Mrs Johnston uses ‘common’ English in her dialect and many slang terms throughout the play,
“Oh it’s, it’s smashing thank you, Mrs Lyons.” Act 1 Scene 3.
This shows that she wasn’t brought up in a rich family or she wasn’t properly educated. Mrs Lyons uses ‘standard’ English in her language, since she is quite wealthy and possibly well educated. Instead of calling her son Eddie, she calls him Edward,
“Edward! Edward it’s time for bed.” Act 2 Scene 3.
Childhood is very prominent in the play. The reader can see a difference in the twins’ upbringing. Eddie seems to have grown up very fast because at the age of seven, he is already very polite and well spoken. His parents have influenced him because he is like a miniature adult. The reader can see that Mrs Lyons was very overprotective when she brought Eddie up, because he is already familiar with things like dictionaries at such a young age,
“Eddie: In the dictionary. Don’t you know what a dictionary is?” Act 2 Scene 2.
Eddie speaks like he has used a dictionary a lot, whereas Mickey doesn’t know what one is, but agrees to make himself look smarter. In contrast, Mickey is more wild and untamed. He plays childhood games, like mounted Police and Indians, and runs around with a toy gun. Mrs Johnston probably let him do whatever he wanted, because she had his other siblings to look after as well. This is something that Eddie never did,
“We’re playing mounted Police, and Indians. I’m a Mountie. Mam, Mam, you know this morning we’ve wiped out three thousand Indians.” Act 2 Scene 1.
A gun is mentioned throughout the play. At first, a harmless air gun is used a toy. This symbolises the fate of the twins. The child versions think it’s just a toy used to vandalise, but as they grow up, real guns are used. At the end of the play, when Mickey feels that Eddie has taken everything away from him, he produces an authentic looking gun. Even then it isn’t real. The child and the adult Mickey thinks of guns as a relic of power.
When Mrs Lyons moves to the countryside, she orders that poplars be planted, so that the council estate can’t be seen. The poplars are a barrier between Mrs Lyons and Mrs Johnston. Mrs Lyons wants sever all ties with the Johnston family, but they manage to move to the countryside as well.
Superstition plays a big part in Blood Brothers. With the Narrator as a constant reminder, the reader sees that Mrs Lyons’ superstition affects every character in the play. Mrs Lyons is most affected. Simple things that a mother would tell a child would be nonsense to her, but knowing that Mrs Johnston is superstitious helped her get a child. At that point, superstition was an advantage to her. But when she faces the reality of what she has done, Mrs Lyons becomes deluded.
The idea of motherhood and surrogacy is also present. Mrs Johnston and Mrs Lyons raise their sons very differently. Mrs Johnston lets Mickey be carefree and wild, but he isn’t allowed to play near the ‘big houses in the park’. Mrs Lyons raises Eddie the way she desires, but he finds his way back to his biological family. She becomes insane because of Eddie’s bonds with his real family. This reveals her real personality, compulsive and aggressive. Surrogacy is shown as a bad thing in Blood Brothers, because Mrs Johnston was reluctant to give away her child. Mrs Lyons’ manipulative personality is seen here, in her desperation to have a child, as she forces Mrs Johnston to give away her son.
Blood brothers are also one of the themes mentioned. It started off as a child’s alliance to his friend, but carries on until adulthood. The twins do forget about it at times in their life, but it keeps returning. The one who came up with the idea, Mickey, is the one who ends up dismissing it. He thinks nothing of it any more,
“Eddie: [Pause] I thought… I thought we always stuck together. I thought we were… blood brothers.
Mickey: That was kids’ stuff, Eddie, didn’t anyone tell you? [Pause. Mickey looking at him. An ironic snort] But I suppose you still are a kid, aren’t you?” Act 4 Scene 2.
Social class and division is also mentioned. Whilst Mickey and Eddie overcome that boundary, their mothers haven’t. Mrs Johnston is treated very badly because of her low-class status. When Mickey is in trouble with the police, the Policewoman is very patronising and shows Mrs Johnston no respect,
“[to Mrs Johnston] And he was about to commit a serious crime, love, a serious crime. Now do you understand that? [The Mother nods] You don’t want to end up in court again do you? Eh? [Shakes her head] Because that’s what’s going to happen if I have any more trouble from one of yours… ” Act 2 Scene 7.
The Policewoman uses a threatening tone and rhetorical questions, such as ‘Eh?’ She also uses repetition because she thinks that Mrs Johnston is poorly educated and inferior to her. Since Eddie was also there at the time, the Policewoman paid a visit to his house too,
“As I say, it was more if a prank really, Mrs Lyons. I’d just dock his pocket money if I was you. But one thing I would say, and excuse me if I’m interfering, but I’d not let him mix with the likes of them in the future. Make sure he keeps with his own kind, Mrs Lyons, not running round with them at the other end…” Act 2 Scene 7.
The Policewoman is more polite to Mrs Lyons. She refers to the incident as a crime to Mrs Johnston, but tells Mrs Lyons it was a prank. She doesn’t use repetition with Mrs Lyons. She is inside Mrs Lyons’ house because Mrs Lyons is a respected woman and if the neighbours saw, people would talk. The Policewoman is very two-faced, treating one mother better because of her status. The town, where the characters live, is separated. The reader can see a definite social division. There is the wealthy ‘in the big houses near the park’ and the workers in the council estate.