I read (in my latest edition of the Theodore Roosevelt Association Journal) Roosevelt’s review of an obscure book called “John Gilley, Maine Farmer and Fisherman” by Charles William Eliot. TR said he was “immensely pleased” with the “little book.” He says, “it seems to me pre-eminently worthwhile to have such a biography of a typical American. How I wish President Elliot could write in the same shape biographies of a brakeman or railroad locomotive engineer, of an ordinary western farmer, of a carpenter or blacksmith in one of our small towns, of a storekeeper in one of our big cities, of a miner – of half a dozen typical representations of the forgotten millions who really make up American life.”
Roosevelt goes on to muse about immortality. “It makes small odds to any of us after we are dead whether the next generation forgets us, or whether a number of generations pass before our memory, steadily growing more and more dim, at last fades into nothing. On this point it seems to me that the only important thing is to be able to feel, when our time comes to go out into the blackness, that those survivors who care for us and to whom it will be a pleasure to think well of us when we are gone, shall have that pleasure. Save in a few wholly exceptional cases, cases of men such as are not alive at this particular time, it is only possible in any event that a comparatively few people can have this feeling for any length of time.”
And therein lies our gift as playwrights: to create living, breathing characters of what some might call ordinary people, the un-famous. And we are able to give them immortality, living long after we are gone, long after the people who inspired those characters in the first place are gone. It makes us gods of sorts, creating human beings and turning them loose on the world.
Who says playwrights have no power?