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Motifs and Symbols in Blood Brothers

Guns

The twins’ deaths are foreshadowed by references to guns throughout the musical:

  • When we first see Mickey as a seven-year-old, he is carrying a gun and boasts about the amount of kills he has achieved.
  • Sammy talks with excitement about upgrading his toy gun to a “real gun.”
  • Sammy, Mickey and Linda have a play gunfight which is repeatedly described as “just a game.” Mickey becomes upset after he is “killed”.
  • Mickey, Linda and Edward first bond as a group when they shoot Sammy’s air pistol in the park.
  • Before moving to the country, Edward’s parting gift to Mickey was a toy gun.
  • At the fairground, Linda takes a shot with a rifle, though she misses the target.
  • Sammy produces a gun in the robbery, saying, “it’s not a toy y’know . . . We’re not playing games.” He then fires the gun at the man, and we know that Sammy and Mickey will serve a lengthy punishment as a result.

The presence and repeated references to guns throughout the musical hint at the tragic conclusion of the story. These references, whether directly involving the twins or not, highlight the theme of inevitability. The play uses the evolution from toy guns to real weapons to mark the transition from childhood innocence to the harsh realities of adulthood.

The incidents with guns escalate in seriousness, gradually transitioning from harmless play to dangerous situations. This progression mirrors the twins’ journey from a carefree childhood to a tragic end, emphasising how external influences and circumstances can lead people down a destructive path.

Secrets

Many secrets are kept in the play, and all have negative consequences:

SecretConsequence(s)
The deal where Mrs Lyons took one of Mrs Johnstone’s babiesMrs Lyons is unable to explain her torment to her husband, and this drives a wedge in their marriage. It also damages her relationship with Edward as he cannot understand her dislike of the Johnstones.

She eventually goes mad, knowing that she cannot escape the secret deal. This is reminded to her by the narrator who says, “the devil’s got your number.” Mrs Johnstone is also consumed by guilt over the secret deal, and she describes herself as a “cruel mother”.
The locket Mrs Johnstone gives to EdwardMrs Johnstone tells Edward the locket (a picture of her with Mickey as a baby) is “our secret, between you an’ me.”

When Mrs Lyons discovers it, she is hurt, feeling that this secret locket is symbolic of a bond that has continued to exist between her son and his biological mother. This sends her towards a state of possessive madness.
Edward and Linda’s loveEdward reveals his secret love to Linda when they are eighteen. However, he doesn’t act on it because he knows that Mickey loves her too. Edward secures Linda and Mickey a council house and a job for Mickey, but Linda tries to keep this a secret. Regardless, Mickey still guesses the truth.

Edward and Linda have a “light romance”, which Mickey finds out about and confronts Edward with a gun in a jealous rage. This leads to both of their deaths.

Dancing

Dancing is symbolic of freedom and happiness in the play. We see this at several moments throughout:

  • Mrs Johnstone remembers a happier time from her youth when her life was full of dancing. Her change to a more dull and constraining family life is symbolised when her husband puts an end to her dancing. He then leaves her and is seen out in the town dancing with a Marilyn Monroe lookalike. This demonstrates the freedom he has while she is trapped looking after their children alone.
  • When Mrs Johnstone bonds with Edward and gives him a locket, she shows her excitement for his future by imagining the success he will have in dancing with girls.
  • She then gets a new lease of life in the countryside, and can be seen dancing with the milkman. She was even invited to dance by the judge – showing a newfound acceptance by authority figures in these new surroundings.
  • We see Mrs. Lyons teaching Edward to dance awkwardly. He complains that he has to do it with his mother, rather than any girls (as he doesn’t come into contact with any at his all-boys boarding school).
  • As we approach the tragic end, Mrs Johnstone sings of how Mickey will do “No more dancing.” This shows that the hope for a happier life is not destined to be theirs.

Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe is used as a symbol of both her glamour and her tragic downfall:

GlamourAt the beginning of the musical, Mrs Johnstone imagines herself to look like Marilyn Monroe, whom she sees as the epitome of beauty and glamour. She then loses this essence of Monroe as she has her children and ages physically beyond her years. Meanwhile, her husband is able to leave her for a woman who is noted to bear a resemblance to Mrs Johnstone’s idol.

However, when they move to the countryside, Mrs Johnstone proudly informs the audience that the milkman says she has “legs like Marilyn Monroe”, showing how she has regained some of her youthful optimism and excitement.
Tragic downfallMrs Johnstone also acknowledges the darker side of her idol’s psyche (who committed suicide at a young age), hoping that her grown-up son whom she “hasn’t seen for years’ will ‘be okay, not like Marilyn Monroe.”

This darker side of the motif is furthered when Mickey is in prison and “Just like Marilyn Monroe/ His mind’s gone dancing/ Can’t stop dancing’ before we hear that he ‘treats his ills with daily pills/ Just like Marilyn Monroe.”