Blood Brothers

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Themes and Colors
Class and Money Theme Icon
Nature vs. Nurture Theme Icon
Superstition and Fate Theme Icon
Coming of Age Theme Icon
The Power of the Past Theme Icon
Violence Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Blood Brothers, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Nature vs. Nurture Theme Icon

On some level, the lives of Mickey and Edward seem almost like a science experiment: what will happen when two genetically similar boys are raised in vastly different circumstances? Is a person’s character determined more by their genetics, or by their upbringing? Throughout the play, Willy Russell illuminates the contrasts that stem from Mickey and Edward’s separate childhoods, and compares them with the similarities that the two share. Mickey, for instance, is rough, rebellious, and jaded from a young age. In contrast, Edward is intelligent but innocent, which is made clear by his generosity towards other children and his tendency to get himself in trouble by accident. The differences between the two boys are rooted in the fact that Mickey grew up in a rough and tumble neighborhood, while Edward came of age in the lap of luxury.

At the same time, however, the boys feel a kinship with each other, calling themselves “blood brothers” years before they know they are in fact related. Although they have many superficial differences, at core they are both loving, decent, and honest individuals, much like their mother, Mrs. Johnstone. Their similarities are further emphasized by the fact that they fall in love with the same woman, Linda, and she feels strongly about both of them. Tragically, it is ultimately this similarity that ultimately leads to their joint downfall. Russell never comes down on one side or the other in the “nature vs. nurture” argument, but instead shows how both genetics and upbringing affect one’s personality and fate.

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Nature vs. Nurture ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Nature vs. Nurture appears in each act of Blood Brothers. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Nature vs. Nurture Quotes in Blood Brothers

Below you will find the important quotes in Blood Brothers related to the theme of Nature vs. Nurture.
Act 1 Quotes

So did y’hear the story of the Johnstone twins?
As like each other as two new pins,
Of one womb born, on the self same day,
How one was kept and one given away?
An’ did you never hear how the Johnstones died,
Never knowing that they shared one name,
Till the day they died…?

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Mickey, Edward
Page Number: 29
Explanation and Analysis:

From the first moments of the musical, audience and readers alike know that a tragic ending lies in store for the main characters. Setting the narrative up as a "story" creates a fable-like atmosphere, one that will continue throughout the play. 

Also introduced in this first passage is the use of the second-person point of view, as the Narrator addresses audience/readers directly. This device will occur frequently within the play, making us feel directly involved in the narrative's proceedings, and implicated as terrible events occur. 

Last, this passage takes care to create a sense of parallelism between the Johnstone twins. They are clearly two halves of the same whole, both literally and verbally, even though their fates differ vastly. 


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MRS. LYONS: You do know what they say about twins, secretly parted, don’t you?
MRS. LYONS: They say…they say that if either twin learns that he once was a pair, that they shall both immediately die. It means, Mrs. Johnstone, that these brothers shall grow up, unaware of the other’s existence. They shall be raised apart and never, ever told what was once the truth. You won’t tell anyone about this, Mrs. Johnstone, because if you do, you will kill them.

Related Characters: Mrs. Johnstone (speaker), Mrs. Jennifer Lyons (speaker), Mickey, Edward
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:

Terrified that her son will love his biological mother more than he loves her, Mrs. Lyons lies to Mrs. Johnstone in this passage, playing on her superstitions and ignorance. Mrs. Lyons, of course, knows that the saying she has made up about "twins secretly parted" is false. What she does not know, however, is that by creating this false superstition, she has actually set in motion a self-fulfilling prophecy.

By consistently acting out of selfishness, fear, and paranoia, Mrs. Lyons makes her own worst fears come true. Not only does she lose her son's love, but he eventually loses his life. This tragic truth illustrates how easily lies can in fact become realities. Whether or not Mrs. Lyons believes her own words doesn't matter; what does matter is that words have power, and her false prophecy can all too easily become true. 

MICKEY: What’s your birthday?
EDWARD: July the eighteenth.
MICKEY: So is mine.
EDWARD: Is it really?
MICKEY: Ey, we were born on the same day…that means we can be blood brothers. Do you wanna be my blood brother, Eddie?
EDWARD: Yes, please.

Related Characters: Mickey (speaker), Edward (speaker)
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:

As innocent though rambunctious children, Mickey and Eddie meet and immediately bond. Although Mickey is the less educated of the two, he is seemingly the more insightful. Though the idea of "blood brothers" is only a superstition, in the case of Mickey and Eddie it has a deeper meaning, one of which neither boy has any awareness. 

Also palpable in this exchange is the innocence shared by the two boys. They are too young to really understand about money and class, let alone violence or fate. Although they feel a mysterious kinship, they don't know enough to question it. Instead, they decide easily and simply to be "blood brothers," completely devoted to each other even though they have no idea of the complex web of lies that surrounds their uncomplicated friendship. 

You see, you see why I don’t want you mixing with boys like that! You learn filth from them and behave like this like a, like a horrible little boy, like them. But you are not like them. You are my son, mine, and you won’ won’t ever…Oh my son…my beautiful, beautiful son.

Related Characters: Mrs. Jennifer Lyons (speaker), Edward
Page Number: 61
Explanation and Analysis:

Already, Mrs. Lyons has become paranoid and suffocating. Her snobbishness has morphed into full-blown class hatred as she strives to keep her son away from his brother and his biological mother. She repeats "you are not like them" in order to remind both herself and her son that they are different than the Johnstones (even though Eddie is, in fact, a Johnstone by blood).

Mrs. Lyons' repetition of "You are my son" only further emphasizes her possessive and paranoid nature. She is desperate to reassure herself that she owns Eddie and that he will never be taken from her. What Mrs. Lyons does not understand, though, is that her own actions will eventually alienate her from her son, as she becomes increasingly dictatorial, prejudiced, and unstable. 

MRS. LYONS:…If we stay here I feel that something terrible will happen, something bad.
MR. LYONS: Look, Jen. What is this thing you keep talking about getting away from? Mm?
MRS. LYONS: It’s just…it’s these people…these people that Edward has started mixing with. Can’t you see how he’s drawn to them? They’re…they’re drawing him away from me.

Related Characters: Mrs. Jennifer Lyons (speaker), Mr. Richard Lyons (speaker)
Page Number: 68
Explanation and Analysis:

Deeply distraught that her son has met his (unknown) brother, Mrs. Lyons begs her detached husband to move the family away. She claims that she wants to remove her son from the bad element in the neighborhood, when really she only wants to separate him from Mickey and Mrs. Johnstone. 

Already paranoid, Mrs. Lyons cannot understand that her son is simply growing up, making friends, and moving outside his comfort zone. Instead, she views every sign of his coming of age as proof that he is being "draw[n] away from [her]" by Mickey.

Along with Mrs. Lyons' fear comes a degree of snobbishness and pride. She hates Mickey not only because he represents Eddie's true family, but because she views him as low class and inferior. 

Act 2 Quotes

MRS. LYONS: Where did you get that…locket from, Edward? Why do you wear it?
EDWARD: I can’t tell you that, Ma. I’ve explained, it’s a secret. I can’t tell you.
MRS. LYONS: But…but I’m your mother.
EDWARD: I know, but I still can’t tell you. It’s not important, I’m going up to my room. It’s just a secret, everybody has secrets, don’t you have secrets?

Related Characters: Edward (speaker), Mrs. Jennifer Lyons (speaker)
Page Number: 69
Explanation and Analysis:

Having received a locket as a gift from Mrs. Johnstone, Eddie refuses to tell his mother how he came by it, knowing that she will be furious (but not understanding why). Once again, Mrs. Lyons shows her paranoia and her utter lack of understanding of her son. As children grow up, they naturally begin to keep secrets. Mrs. Lyons, though, views this as a sign of insolence and insubordination, and becomes even more convinced that her son is pulling away from her.

Also notable is Eddie's question to his mother: "[D]on't you have secrets?" Of course, as readers/audience members, we know that Mrs. Lyons is keeping a massive secret from her son. Eddie, however, still innocent despite his newfound independence, is entirely unaware of the dark and convoluted history of his own origins. 

EDWARD: I wish I was a bit like
Wish that I could score a hit like
And be just a little bit like
That guy
MICKEY: I wish that I could be like
Just a little less like me
Like the sort of guy I see, like
That guy
That guy.

Related Characters: Mickey (speaker), Edward (speaker)
Page Number: 72
Explanation and Analysis:

Not realizing that each is viewing his childhood friend (and secret brother), Mickey and Edward watch and envy each other from a distance here. Having been brought up in different circumstances, they have become vastly different people--yet despite this long time apart, they still feel a connection, and each wishes to be more like the other. 

It is also significant that Edward and Mickey use so many of the same words and expressions to describe each other. Although one is posh and the other poor, they are still two halves of the same whole, and use similar language to express themselves. 

Beyond the brothers' connection with each other, the play is also taking another opportunity to emphasize the awkwardness and comedy of coming of age. 

MRS. LYONS: Afraid he might eventually have forgotten you? Oh no. There’s no chance of that. He’ll always remember you. After we’d moved he talked less and less of you and your family. I started…just for a while I came to believe that he was actually mine.
MRS. JOHNSTONE: He is yours.
MRS. LYONS: No. I took him. But I never made him mine. Does he know? Have you told…
MRS. JOHNSTONE: Of course not!
MRS. LYONS: Even when—when he was a tiny baby I’d see him looking straight at me and I’d think, he knows…he knows. You have ruined me. But you won’t ruin Edward!

Related Characters: Mrs. Johnstone (speaker), Mrs. Jennifer Lyons (speaker), Edward
Page Number: 77-78
Explanation and Analysis:

Meeting again after years and years, the two mothers have a confrontation: Mrs. Johnstone is confused and placating, while Mrs. Lyons is aggressive and accusatory. By now, her paranoia has morphed into a raging delusion. She is convinced that Eddie will never be her true son, and that Mrs. Johnstone has somehow kept a hold on him despite the physical and temporal distance that Mrs. Lyons has placed between them. 

This conversation exemplifies the different ways that guilt affects these two women. Mrs. Johnstone has tried to put her sin out of her mind, and to focus instead on the family still with her. Mrs. Lyons, in contrast, has become obsessive and unstable, convinced that she will be punished for what she's done. She believes that she must protect her son from the obsession that has ruined her, unaware that her actions will actually lead to his death. 

EDWARD: If I was him, if I was him
That’s what I’d do.
But I’m not saying a word
I’m not saying I care
Though I would like you to know
That I’ not saying a word
I’m not saying I care
Though I would like you to know.
But I’m not.
LINDA: What?
EDWARD: Mickey.

Related Characters: Edward (speaker), Linda (speaker), Mickey
Page Number: 85
Explanation and Analysis:

As Mickey, Eddie, and Linda get older, the seeds of discord begin to spring up: although Mickey and Linda are childhood friends, and clearly compatible in terms of their class, Eddie is also in love with Linda. In this song, he tells her of his feelings, but disguises them by saying that he would only express them if he were Mickey. The situation has grown increasingly complex, an unfortunate fact of growing up together.

It is also notable that Mickey and Eddie, despite having been raised in vastly different circumstances, are in love with the same woman. They may have different levels of money, education, and stature, but at their core, they are still intensely similar: proof that no matter how different the boys' nurture was, their inborn natures remain an important part of their character. 

EDWARD: I thought, I thought we always stuck together. I thought we were…blood brothers.
MICKEY: That was kids’ stuff, Eddie. Didn’t anyone tell y’? But I suppose you still are a kid, aren’t y’?
EDWARD: I’m exactly the same age as you, Mickey.
MICKEY: Yeh. But you’re still a kid. An’ I wish I could be as well Eddie, I wish I could still believe in all that blood brother stuff. But I can’t, because while no one was looking I grew up. An’ you didn’t, because you didn’t need to; an’ I don’t blame y’ for it Eddie. In your shoes I’d be the same, I’d still be able to be a kid. But I’m not in your shoes, I’m in these, lookin’ at you. An’ you make me sick, right? That was all just kids’ stuff, Eddie, an’ I don’t want to be reminded of it. Right? So just, just take yourself away. Go an’ see your friends an’ celebrate with them.

Related Characters: Mickey (speaker), Edward (speaker)
Page Number: 92-93
Explanation and Analysis:

Eddie and Mickey have now grown up; Eddie is in college, and Mickey has already been laid off from his factory job. While Eddie remains young and carefree, eager to celebrate and spend time with Mickey, Mickey has become increasingly jealous and resentful. He wishes that he'd possessed the advantages that Eddie did, and believes that he has been ruined by his circumstances. It is this resentment, in fact, that will also lead to the fatal confrontation between Eddie and Mickey. Although bonded together for years by their shared natures, their vastly different upbringings are now tearing them apart.

It is vital to understand that Mickey and Eddie have been separated solely because of their economic differences. A rich and privileged boy, Eddie is allowed to escape responsibility and to continue life as a carefree youth. Poor and lower class, Mickey has no recourse but to attempt to find another job. The forces of class and money are so strong, in fact, that they can even pull apart two brothers so close that even being separated at birth did not stop them from finding each other. 

I didn’t sort anythin’ out Linda. Not a job, not a house, nothin’. It used to be just sweets an’ ciggies he gave me, because I had none of me own. Now it’s a job and a house. I’m not stupid, Linda. You sorted it out. You an’ Councilor Eddie Lyons.

Related Characters: Mickey (speaker), Edward, Linda
Page Number: 100
Explanation and Analysis:

Now embittered and cynical, Mickey furiously confronts Linda, convinced that she has conspired with Eddie to get their family a house, and to get him a job. During his years of unemployment and prison, Mickey's jealousy towards Eddie has soured into hatred. Irrationally, he refuses to accept any help from his former best friend, despite their previous closeness and Eddie's honest desire to help.

Also at play here are Mickey's feelings of insufficiency and shame. He knows and hates that he cannot support his family and Linda, and also instinctively senses that Eddie is in love with Linda. His jealousy, combined with his self-hatred, harden into an utter lack of reason or kindness. He accuses his wife and berates her, despite the fact that she is only doing what she believes to be best for her husband and her family, eventually driving her away completely. 

MRS. JOHNSTONE: Mickey. Don’t shoot Eddie. He’s your brother. You had a twin brother. I couldn’t afford to keep both of you. His mother couldn’t have kids. I agreed to give one of you away!
MICKEY: You. You! Why didn’t you give me away? I could have been…I could have been him!

Related Characters: Mrs. Johnstone (speaker), Mickey (speaker), Edward
Related Symbols: Guns
Page Number: 106
Explanation and Analysis:

In an attempt to save Eddie's life, Mrs. Johnstone at last confesses her sin to Mickey, telling him that he and Eddie are actually brothers. Her words, however, have the opposite effect that she intended. Rather than relenting, Mickey only becomes further enraged, believing that he could have had a completely different (and better) life, if only he'd been given away instead of Eddie. Long ago, the boys had longed to be like each other--it is only now, however, that Mickey realizes that he actually could have been Eddie. 

Throughout the play, Mickey has been feeling increasingly powerless and out of control. It is only now, however, that he realizes just how devoid of agency he actually is. Only by chance, he believes, has he ended up unemployed and addicted to antidepressants. Had fate gone a different way, he could have been a prosperous politician like Eddie. This idea drives him beyond sanity, and eventually leads him to shoot his own brother. 

And do we blame superstition for what came to pass?
Or could it be what we, the English, have come to know as class?

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Mickey, Edward
Page Number: 107
Explanation and Analysis:

As the twins lie dead before a distraught Mrs. Johnstone, the Narrator enters to sum up what has occurred. Throughout the whole play, he has blamed fate and superstition for the doom that the twins are facing. Now, however, he hammers home the true message of the play: that an unjust and merciless class system has caused the tragedy that we have witnessed. 

It is easy, the narrator implies, to blame superstition and fate--things out of our control--for the injustices that take place in the world. Instead, he asserts, it is the stratified English class system that is to blame, and (more broadly) a pitiless society that doesn't help those who are down and out, like Mickey, and favors those who are wealthy and prosperous, like Eddie. No world in which two such similar people could go on to lead such different lives, he seems to tell us, could ever be fair--especially when it is this very disparity that led to a senseless and brutal tragedy.