Blood Brothers - Themes


Desire to grow up:

Mickey and Edward are desperate to grow up 

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Childhood and Innocence:

  • Childhood is mostly presented as a carefree part of life
  • Recurring images of things like sharing sweets and getting into mischief creates a sense of a never-ending game
  • Childhood games don’t have consequences - if you die you can simply “cross your fingers” and “count to ten” and you’re no longer dead
  • Innocence is a source of comedy in the play e.g. trying to work out what kind of plate Sammy has in his head
  • Innocence contrasts adult problems in the play e.g Edward not understanding why Mrs J. can’t buy a new house “just like that” (also reinforcing the difference in financial situation)
  • Childhood is not always carefree (examples?) but these problems are not as serious as the adult problems presented
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  • Contrasts of childhood and adulthood relationships are shown
  • During childhood, Mickey asks Edward to be his “best friend” and it’s done
  • In adulthood, their relationship becomes more complicated.
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Growing up is difficult

  • Both Mickey and Edward become self-conscious about their appearance as teenagers - “permanent acne”; “ears that stand out”
  • Both brothers also find girls difficult - Edward “reads about it” and gives Mickey advice but admits he will “hardly ever see a girl” at boarding school
  • Mickey struggles to tell Linda how he feels: “the words just disappear”
  • When they are young, Linda is friends with both boys but their feelings for her drive the twins apart in later life
  • Twins are also divided by their different lifestyles - Mickey “grew up” whereas Edward “didn’t need to” - Growing up is more than just getting older
  • Mickey is forced to take on adult responsibilities straight away but university extends Edward’s youth
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  • The play covers two decades of the characters’ lives
  • They go through some pretty big changes in that time
  • Show the examiner that you’ve thought about the whole play by writing about how the characters change during this time
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Friendship .

  • The friendship between Mickey, Edward and Linda is one of the most cheerful parts of the play. It provides optimism through the pessimistic moments that are prevalent throughout
  • Friendships give characters a sense of belonging:
  • e.g. Mrs Lyons doesn’t allow Edward much freedom - Mickey welcomes him into a youthful world for the first time and also claims “Eddie” for his own by renaming him
  • e.g. Mickey usually has to share everything with his siblings but his friendship with Mickey gives him something of his own - He makes Edward swear to “defend” and “stand by him” which gives him a sense of security
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Mickey, Edward and Linda

  • Linda is fiercely loyal to Mickey - she defends him multiple times as a child and stands by him as a young woman
  • Mickey, Edward and Linda form a close friendship that is very important to them all
  • The narrator says they feel “innocent, immortal” when they’re together aged 15
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Class Boundries

  • Social class means little to Mickey and Edward as children
  • Sammy calls Eddie a “friggin’ poshy” showing he is beginning to develop social awareness but Mickey replies “no he’s not, he’s my best friend” showing he is accepting and innocent
  • The twins admire qualities in one another that make them different
  • They sing about this near the end of Act One when they are separated
  • Although they are apart in this scene, the lyrics and melody of the song follow the same pattern for both of them, showing their closeness
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Changes in friendship

  • As children, Mickey has the power in the friendship  - he has knowledge that Edward wants and behaves in a way Edward admires
  • When Edward shouts at Mrs Lyons, “you’re a fuckoff!”, it is clear that he’s already strongly influenced by what Mickey says, even when he doesn’t know what it means
  • This is further emphasised in the magpie superstition
  • As adults, Edward holds the influence in Mickey’s life
  • He gets Mickey a house and a job and Mickey resents this feeling that he “didn’t sort anythin’ out” for himself
  • This contributes to the final confrontation
  • The resentment Mickey feels towards Edward is due to social class - Mickey feels cheated as he hasn’t had the same opportunities as Edward
  • Class boundaries drive the twins apart
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Writer's Intentions

  • Russell’s message is that social class can determine the course of someone’s life
  • He shows class differences between Mrs Johnstone and Mrs Lyons
  • Mrs Johnstone is a working-class woman who struggles to care for her children by herself
  • She can only “just manage to get by” e.g. she can’t pay the milkman
  • In contrast Mrs Lyons can afford a cleaner, live in a nice home and has a husband who is away on business with the company 
  • These things establish her as a wealthy middle-class woman
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The famillies

  • The Johnstones and the Lyonses are cass stereotypes
  • This makes them instantly recognisable
  • This puts the issue of class at the front of the audience’s mind
  • The differences in class and wealth between the two families are reinforced when the twins meet e.g. Edward has plenty of sweets to offer which amazes Mickey since he’s clearly not used to people having enough to share around
  • The lives of the twins are very different because they are brought up in different social classes
  • Edward has a good education and goes on to become a local councillor
  • Micky has a limited education, can’t find a job and gets in trouble with the law
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Class and Behaviour

  • All of the characters in the play believe that people from different classes behave differently
  • Both mothers link a middle-class upbringing with politeness and good manners e.g. Mrs Johnstone imagine how the child “wouldn’t get into fight” and “wouldn’t swear” in the song ‘My Child’
  • As soon as the twins meet, they fulfil these expectations; Mickey uses vulgar language and by contrast, Edward is polite and well-spoken
  • These expectations lead to class prejudice e.g. the policeman scene where he threatens and patronises Mrs Johnstone but has a drink with Mr Lyons and advises Edward “shouldn’t mix with the likes of them”
  • This shows how the working-class characters are stigmatised
  • Class prejudice works in reverse e.g. Mickey’s line “he’s a friggin’ poshy”
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Class and Opportunities

  • Russell uses sequential scenes to juxtapose the twins’ education which emphasises how different their school lives are
  • Edward is shown in a private boarding school and values his education (despite being suspended) - he goes to university which gets him a good job and financial security
  • In contrast, Mickey’s school is all “boredom and futility” which supports Mickey’s belief that it isn’t providing him with anything useful for later life - he ends up with a menial job (which he then loses)
  • The middle-class and working-class characters have different attitudes to education but Russell also suggests that society has different expectations for the students from different classes
  • e.g. there’s already talk of “Oxbridge” for Edward and Mickey is expected to get a job right away
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Money is power

  • Having money = having the power to control others in the play
  • Mrs Lyons has power over Mrs Johnstone because she pays her wages
  • Having money also means having power to control your own life
  • Mrs Lyons uses her wealth to persuade Mrs Johnstone to give up her baby
  • Mrs Lyons can also use money to solve her problems (bribes, the move)
  • Working-class characters are forced into difficult decisions because of their lack of money
  • Mrs Johnstone can’t afford to keep both twins, the promise of money gives Sammy power over Mickey etc.
  • Money = power but not happiness. Both families’ lives are ruined in the end (suggesting what?)
  • Mrs Johnstone uses monetary language to describe giving Edward away e.g. “price” she’ll “have to pay” - this shows her decision is motivated by financial problems
  • The narrator later mentions “a price” and the “debts to pay” referring back to this moments and reminding the audience that the twins’ death is the price that will be paid
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Identity and Upbringing

  • The play raises questions about nature (genetic make-up) vs nurture (upbringing)
  • The twins are genetically identical so the differences between them must be down to their upbringing
  • Russell suggests nurture is more important because the twins’ adult life is determined by their social class
  • This is reflected in Mickey’s last words when he says he “could have been” Edward if he’d had a different upbringing
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  • Micky is quite wild e.g. e runs and jumps around “firing” at Mrs Johnstone and claiming he’s “wiped out three-thousand indians”
  • His wildness could be linked to the freedom he is given
  • In contrast Edward is well behaved, possibly because Mrs Lyons is a strict parent
  • Edward is generous perhaps because he’s always had everything he wants e.g. he gives Mickey sweets and a toy gun
  • Conversely, Mickey is protective of his possessions because he’s had to share everything
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  • Russell hints nature is important too
  • Some characters have naturally different identities e.g. Mickey and Sammy are raised in the same way but still very different
  • Edwards starts to become more like Mickey very quickly e.g. his answering back to Mrs Lyons suggesting that this is his ‘natural’ state
  • Mrs Lyons picks up on this and feels Edward is drawn to the Johnstones 
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Changing Identity

  • Several characters express a desire to be or be like someone else
  • Mickey has a monologue in which he repeats the line “I wish I was our Sammy”- He wants to be Sammy and misbehave like him
  • Mickey and Edward want to be one another (‘My Friend’ and again in ‘That Guy’)
  • It’s ironic they admire each other’s appearance as they look very similar
  • Having songs about identity shows how important this is to the twins - parts of the verses are sung together showing mutual desire for each other’s identity
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The Mothers

  • The mothers also desire what the other one has
  • The melody used for their song, ‘My Child’ is the same as the one used for ‘My Friend’ and ‘That Guy’
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  • Mickey and Edward are the title characters in Blood Brothers (the play is eponymous)
  • The play is also about being a woman/mother
  • Russell uses the female characters, Mrs Johnstone, Mrs Lyons and Linda to explore this
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  • Mr. Lyons isn’t on stage very often - he is away for 9 months when the play begins and dashes off to work when reading with Edward. This suggests he doesn’t spend much time with his family
  • However, he still makes major decisions for the family - he rules out adopting a child despite his wife’s desire; he moves the family to the countryside only after talking to the policeman and prior to this, he dismisses his wife’s concerns as nerves
  • Mrs Johnstone’s husband walked out on his family leaving them in poverty
  • He is not named and his children never mention him suggesting he has completely vanished
  • He has a casual attitude to having children (saying he only had to “shake hands” with her) but takes no responsibility
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Mrs Johnstone

  • Her situation is unusual
  • Most families were made up of a husband and wife and their children (nuclear family)
  • The men went to work and the women stayed at home
  • She judges herself against her gender role
  • She has to fulfil the traditionally male role of being the ‘breadwinner’ as well as the ‘homemaker’
  • She feels she has failed to provide for her children financially e.g. “you’ve not had much of a life with me”
  • She sees herself as failing in the role of the father
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Mrs Lyons

  • Also judges herself against the expectations of her gender
  • She is desperate for a child and sings about stereotypical motherly roles she can’t fulfil
  • She sees herself as a failure as a woman because she’s childless
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  • Linda turns into another Mrs Johnstone whose freedom has been taken by family responsibilities
  • Linds becomes a housewife e.g. she’s “preparing Mickey’s working things” and has “washed a million dishes”
  • Linda “sorted” out a house and income for her and Mickey
  • In this way, like Mrs Johnstone, Linda is both a homemaker and major breadwinner
  • Donna Marie also turns into her mother - 3 kids by the start of Act 2
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Fate of the twins

  • In the prologue - audience are shown the fate of the twins (their deaths)

  • Through the narrator

  • Foreshadowing using motifs (e.g. guns)

  • These things ensure that the fate of the 
  • twins is at the forefront of the audience’s mind
  • Mickey and Edwards keep meeting, despite the mothers trying to keep them apart
  • e.g. Mrs Johnstone stops Mickey from “playin’” near Edward’s house but almost immediately afterwards, Edward finds Mickey by the Johnstones’ house. Edward explains his mother doesn’t let him “play down here” either
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Fate and Mrs Lyons

  • Mrs Lyons moves her family out of Liverpool to get away but they end up in the same place when the Johnstones are relocated to Skelmersdale
  • Factors outside both women’s control keep uniting the twins
  • Sample Analysis:
  • Mrs Lyons feels threatened by her lack of control - she becomes paranoid and feels Mrs Johnstone is haunting her: “wherever I go you’ll be just behind me...always and for ever and ever like, like a shadow”. This emphasises how the two families are bound together by fate.
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Controlling Fate

  • Mrs Lyons senses that Edward is drawn to the Johnstones and always will be linked to them - she feels “something terrible will happen” and she tries to prevent it.
  • She tries to pay off Mrs Johnstone twice -  she is able to take action because she has money but Mrs Johnstone is forced to accept her fate because she is poor
  • She forbids Edward to play with Mickey
  • She points out Linda and Edward relationship to 
  • Mickey hoping that it will drive the twins apart
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Fate is Inevitable

  • When Mrs Lyons reveals the affair to Mickey, this actually prompts him to confront Edward
  • Her actions have unintended and tragic consequences.
  • This suggests fate can’t be avoided - it will happen anyway!
  • (It’s also a little ironic that she tells Mrs Johnstone that she would be the one that ends up killing them if she reveals the truth about them being brothers)
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Superstitious belief

  • Russell shows the power of superstitious belief in the play
  • Mrs Lyons uses superstition as a weapon against Mrs Johnstone and plays on her superstitious beliefs in order to manipulate her
  • The audience already know that the superstition will come true and therefore know more than the characters on stage (what’s this called?)
  • Superstitious belief begins to control Mrs Lyons later in the play - she is distraught when Mr. Lyons puts shoes on the table
  • She is driven mad by her obsession with keeping the twins apart
  • Other characters believe in superstition - we learn Mickey has taught Edward the magpie superstition - superstition quickly spreads
  • The narrator mentions many other superstitions associated with bad luck - this adds to the sense of building panic
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“Can we blame superstition for what came to pass?”

  • Russell never blames any one character for the twins’ deaths
  • He asks the audience to decide for themselves to get them to consider issues like social class and social responsibility
  • The narrator poses this question at the end of the play in the epilogue
  • The threat of superstition is there throughout the play, hinting at its part in the twins’ death
  • Russell is not saying superstitions are real
  • He shows it’s people’s belief in superstitions that is powerful and dangerous
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Fate and Butterfly Effect

  • Fate can also be seen as the cause of the twins’ death
  • We have already seen what will happen to them in the prologue so it seems inevitable that they will die
  • There are, however, many points in the play when this fate could have been changed in a character had acted slightly differently
  • e.g. if Linda had not ‘started an affair’ with Edward, Mickey may not have shot him
  • The play is built on a chain of events leading from one to another
  • The “Butterfly Effect” determines that each of our actions have a consequence in the future
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Class and Social Responsibility

  • The narrator asks “what we, the English, have come to know as class” is responsible for their deaths
  • Mickey is disadvantaged by his social class and has fewer opportunities in life
  • In this way, society is to blame for what happens
  • On the other hand, individual characters could have taken more responsibility for helping others
  • e.g. If Mr. Lyons hadn’t made Mickey redundant, he wouldn’t have turned to crime
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