“The Contrast,” according to my “Norton Anthology” was the first American bestselling drama. We’ve come along ways since, but for a play at the turn of the 18th century it’s not bad. I read it to see if I could teach this in my American literature course to supplement a lot of the non-fiction that usually comes in most high school anthologies.
This is basically a comedy of errors mixed with some irony. Leititia, Charlotte, and Maria are the three female protagonists. Charlotte is the mean queen bee (Regina George), Leitita is the wealthy beta (Gretchen Wieners), and Maria is the sappy, emo member of the group (Karen, just with more brains and a lot more emo). The male protagonists are made up of Manly, Dimple, Jessamy, and Jonathan. Manly is Charlotte’s sotic brother, Dimple is the caddish rake, Jessamy is the creepy social climber, and Jonathan is the country bumpkin.
The crux of the plot hinges around Maria’s engagement to Dimple. Charlotte and Leititia judge her because she’s going to marry Dimple even though she doesn’t love him. This causes most of Maria’s dialogue to consist of her bemoaning marrying someone her heart doesn’t love but her head knows that it’s a good match for money and family.
Dimple on the other hand doesn’t care for Maria much either and late in the play we realize just how much he doesn’t love her. Let’s just say he’s trying to play the field.
Manly “happens” to open the door to the wrong house and finds Maria in her parlor and they have a grand ol’ time, which leads to both of them becoming all angsty that they can’t be together. Can’t you see how funny this all is?!
I will say that it reads better than I’m describing it and the ending is somewhat comical when everyone gets what’s coming to him/her. This is definitely a more classical use of “comedy” in which it’s not so much “hahahaha” funny, but “ouch, I’m laughing because that’s true and I’m uncomfortable for being called out on in in a work of fiction like this” funny.
If I were teaching a college class I would certainly teach this piece. There’s a lot here for students to see the roots of what would become American Literature. In fact, the reason I can even relate “Mean Girls” to this play is because this play has all of the elements that later writers would use to portray American comedy. So if you curious to know what early American drama is like, I would recommend this read. It’s short, sweet, and too the point and you’ll be edifying your literary diet.