The Tragedy That Dare Not Speak Its Name: A Reading of Arthur Kopit’s Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feeling So Sad

Fiorenzo Iuliano


Arthur Kopit’s Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feelin’ So Sad (1962) has received so far limited scholarly attention, and the studies on the play have mostly focused on the text’s psychoanalytic overtones. The play features the relationship between its bizarre protagonist, Mme. Rosepettle, and her son Jonathan, who is completely subjected to her despotic and repressive will. The Oedipal complex foreshadowed in the play, however, does not exhaust the complex matter of the text, whose references to Cuba and South American countries strongly ask for a political reading.
This article paper, consequently, reads the play as instancing the impossibility of an American national tragedy in the Cold War era. The play, in fact, assaults the US chauvinist and anti-communist ideology of the 1950s, and displays its consequences upon individuals and society. The post-war paranoia is acted out in the hidden corpse of Mr. Rosepettle, which Mme. Rosepettle preserves in her closet. The corpse, as a fetishistic object (for Mme. Rosepettle) and a source of fear and anxiety (for Jonathan), signals the impossibility, for the US of the time, to identify with tangible models and positive values (despite the materialistic ethos of the culture of the 1950s, as witness Mme. Rosepettle’s obsessive need for fun and self-gratification). On the contrary, only death and loss, as overhanging threats and macabre horizon of collective expectation, paradoxically provide the nation with a unifying sense of identification. The Cold War, as a conflict that was never directly waged or fought, but nevertheless informed American identity, politics and culture, thus functions as the ‘void center’ of the play. By instancing the lack (or the loss) as a site of affirmative identification, this fantasmatic war is what turns the play into an impossible tragedy.

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