Social Recognition in “Holiday” Play by Philip Barry Essay

August 17, 2021 by Essay Writer


Holiday by Philip Barry is a play written in 1928. The story focuses on Johnny Case, the lawyer from Wall Street, and Linda and Julia Seton, the sisters from a rather wealthy family. When Johnny and Julia meet during the trip and fall in love, their story begins. Linda feels a little lost in the turmoil that happened at their house when Julia introduces the modest financier Johnny to the family members. She always rebels against the attributes of her class, and, therefore, immediately sees a soul mate in Johnny due to his nonconformist nature so atypical for her milieu of high society. Being on the edge of a compromise – marrying Julia obsessed with enrichment, he encounters tough conditions of career perspectives that are contrary to his desires. Johnny chooses to remain himself, which is perfectly possible with Linda. The story of money, ideals, and power, it poses fundamental questions of happiness and self-awareness, making the heroes ponder over their own identities and recognition.

Analysis of the Play

To analyze the issues associated with identity and misrecognition, it seems essential to briefly overview the ideas and concepts of the play. The comedy in three acts, Holiday presents serious problems regarding wealth and happiness, thus appearing as a drama and a comedy intertwined naturally and vividly. There are some funny moments, but neither they nor the elegant house and the beautiful evening dresses can distract from the emotional torments of the characters. Barry created an excellent serious-joking drama, where the fragility of human relationships proves that people should always listen to their heart and be in charge of their own lives.

It is possible to note that here simple human happiness and love are overshadowed by big money, the brilliance of diamonds, and false smiles, running around in a circle of “living to work” (Gill 259). The presence of money in one’s pocket is, perhaps, a good opportunity to provide for oneself and his or her beloved ones, yet the play shows that big money pouring over the edge is, alas, almost a guarantee of a lack of happiness. Ned and Linda are dreaming to eliminate the feeling that they are exhibits in the museum that is richly decorated, but still a museum deprived of even a hint of home comfort. These characters are dramatic yet comic at the same time since they have a sense of humor and worry about their fate. It is possible to compare them with birds dreaming of flying, but they are spending their lives in a golden cage. The dream of the main character, Johnny, to make money and go on a journey does not seem to Linda a whim, which illustrates her breadth of mind.

Identity, Recognition, and Misrecognition

In childhood, everyone dreams about something: becoming a musician, an actress, a doctor, a teacher, and so on. Years pass, and a person begins to ask himself or herself several questions. Who am I in this society? Where is my place? What am I capable of? For a person, the main concern is to achieve the stated goals and recognize oneself as a part of society. This is true for Johnny who attracts Julia, the representative of the rich family, with his eccentricity and frankness. Johnny has yet to understand that he is not loved, but used in the interests of the family as a continuer of money-making traditions. Among the factors that cause a lack of recognition or misrecognition, there are suppressed will, the inability to release the past, miscellaneous intentions, and a social framework. None of the characters can “read” anyone correctly, except for Linda and Johnny who understand each other better than others.

Johnny seems to be torn between his life as a free-thinking person and the rich traditions of the family of the wealthy bride Julia. The girl perceives him as a promising bridegroom, even though currently Johnny has little money. The day he goes on holiday in the house of Julia, her family accepts him kindly. However, in the relationships of the young couple, one may notice discord: they tend to realize their dreams, but away from each other. In particular, Johnny lacks recognition. He cannot decide whether to become a part of the family and live according to their rules, having received all the necessary financial blessings, or remain himself, thus rejecting “to live in what they call ‘a certain way’” (Gill 255). Which girl is closer to him: the one who will love and believe in everything he does, or the one he needs solely as an assistant and heir to the affairs of her beloved daddy?

Johnny raises from the bottom in his professional and life plans, while not losing his kind and dreamy heart. He wants to live for his pleasure with his beloved one, earning the necessary amount of money, while deliberately not paying any attention to the innumerable dowry of the bride. The following passage demonstrates Johnny’s aspirations before he met Julia:

Johnny: I’m afraid I’m not quite as anxious as I might be for the things most people work towards. I don’t want too much money.

Edward: Too much money?

Johnny: Well, more than I need to live by. (Gill 212)

On the contrary, Julia seems to misrecognize her identity. She wants her fiancé to follow the footsteps of her father by fully professionally revealing himself. This fact suggests the insincerity of love thoughts of this heroine to Johnny. Instead of developing as an individual in both personal and professional directions, she blindly obeys her father. At this point, it is critical to mention Edward, the father, and the key leader of the family of Seton. Strict and unswerving in his decisions, the head of one of the richest and most influential families of the city proposes to his already sufficiently grown-up children an understanding of the importance of earning plenty of money due to his work in the financial sphere. For the youngest daughter, Julia, the father considers it imperative to find a worthy bridegroom who can competently multiply his capital. However, getting acquainted with the person of the other class, Edward doubts that this person is suitable for his daughter (Gill 254). The father makes an even more significant adverse impact on the fate of the eldest daughter Linda and the only son Ned by suppressing their ideas and thoughts regarding their recognition.

Linda is another character who may be analyzed in terms of identity recognition. She tried everything in this life from study to all sorts of hobbies, but nothing attracts her mind. The only bright spot in the huge family mansion for the heroine is the room of her deceased mother who had long since been departed. Specifically, the dead character of her mother serves as a factor that causes Linda’s misrecognition. The girl cannot associate her with reality as she still lives in the past when her mother was alive. Unlike her younger sister, Linda is not afraid to act in her way, defying the world where the money is the highest value. For instance, she skeptically mentions “this modern generation” that incorporates solely monetary ideals (Gill 202). The reader is easily imbued with her rebellious mood. However, this heroine is different in the fact that she reminds a bird in a golden cage that cannot escape because it sees how much her brother and her sister need it. In the conversation, Ned states that she worries “so much over other people’s troubles,” while she “does not get anywhere” with her own (Gill 258). When Johnny leaves Julia, she commiserates her: “if he loves you, he’ll be back” (Gill 265). In other words, Linda also experiences misrecognition by confining her own life due to the unspoken requirements of her family.

Ned, the brother of Linda and Julie, embodies a genuine talent. He is a multi-instrumentalist, and if it were not a strict father who made his son a financial robot fulfilling any requests, the man would certainly become a famous and successful musician. Ned could not realize his dreams, thereby tirelessly consuming alcohol and trying to escape from the work he hates, which seems to be a loaded revolver attached to his temple.

Taking a Look Back

Comparing Holiday with Oedipus Rex by Sophocles, one may note that the topic of identity recognition and misrecognition is raised in both literary works. The fear of realizing one’s own identity became the pivotal theme of Oedipus Tyrannous, the character created more than 2500 years ago (Ellmann 81). Oracle predicted him a terrible future: he had to kill his father and have his mother as his wife. The situation occurred as it was anticipated. However, when the hero becomes blind physically, he starts to observe mentally. Oedipus Rex already has nothing to dissipate, since all the worst happened – he lost both mother and father. He received a valuable lesson: in an attempt to see the invisible, one can fully lose his or her view.

Overcoming such difficulties, Oedipus loses his lust for power and arrogance as well as theomachistic aspirations. He sacrifices everything for the good of the people of his city in an attempt to save them from Typhoid Mary. In expulsion, his virtue strengthens, and his viewpoint becomes more comprehensive. Ellmann reckons that he was devoid of illusions, which caused an obliging vision affected by the stunning power (82). In this case, expulsion is the pathway to freedom bestowed by fate as compensation for Oedipus’ actions that covered the debt of his father. The paramount idea in the tragedy of Sophocles is that a person under any circumstances should be responsible for what he or she has done, does, and will do. Grief falls upon Oedipus from the moment when the truth opens to him. Thus, the author discusses the problem of a philosophical nature – the problem of ignorance. Sophocles contrasts knowledge of the gods with the ignorance of a human being and argues that the latter should strive for recognition of one’s identity rather than blindly follow another person’s will or misunderstand the situation. Holiday evokes similar conclusions and thoughts regarding the necessity of recognition as an integral part of human life. More to the point, the considered plays provoke the ideas concerning the template for Western drama, which is likely to contain the interaction between characters and their involvement in each other’s identities along with dramatic conflicts.


This play is a holiday in itself as it carries simple yet truthful thoughts in an easy-to-perceive and joking manner. This beautiful tragicomedy poses several rhetorical and fundamental questions. Why should one wait for the New Year’s chimes to feel all the fibers of the soul happiness? Why should one wait for Monday to change his or her life? There is no need to dream of great tomorrow or a holiday planned when it is possible to express sincere feelings today.

To conclude, it is essential to emphasize that Holiday presents several characters, each of which lacks recognition or falls into misrecognition. The main hero Johnny demonstrates good intentions, yet he gets confused with love affairs. Julia and her father Edward seem to be quite reasonable and confident in terms of recognition, yet they pursue a wealthy life and ignore true happiness. As for Linda, she suffers from the inability to find herself and tends to fall in reminiscence to become happy. Ned is a vivid example of a person whose aspirations were suppressed by the father that led to drinking to oblivion. Holiday illustrates the significance of recognition for every person and emphasizes that richness is not a cause of contentment while fulfilling dreams can make a person truly happy.

Works Cited

Ellmann, Maud. Psychoanalytic Literary Criticism. Routledge, 2014.

Gill, Brendan. States of Grace: Eight Plays by Philip Barry. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1975.

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