Blood Brothers

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Superstition and Fate Theme Analysis

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Superstition and Fate Theme Icon

The theme of superstition and fate is one that the playwright—in the voice of the Narrator—brings up over and over again throughout the musical. Near the beginning of the play, the devious Mrs. Lyons tells Mrs. Johnstone that if two long-lost twins ever learn that they are related, they will both die instantly—and at the end of the play, despite the improbability of Mrs. Lyon’s made-up superstition, this is exactly what comes to pass. The Narrator also spends many of his songs referencing various other superstitions, such as breaking a mirror or spilling salt on a table. Although he, an omniscient character, clearly knows that Mrs. Lyons has invented her superstition about twins, he is essentially saying that by making it up, she has made it real.

The threat of this false superstition is made to seem even more powerful by the contrasting mothers in the play: Mrs. Johnstone and Mrs. Lyons. Somewhat gullible, but also steadfast and loving, Mrs. Johnstone believes the fake warning wholeheartedly, and many of her actions throughout the play are motivated by her fear of her children dying. Mrs. Lyons, meanwhile, knows that the superstition isn’t true, but eventually comes to partially believe it anyway. She has allowed a belief—one that she knowingly created to control another person—to control her own mind. This is ultimately proof of her instability and eventual insanity.

The end of the play, of course, brings about the deaths of both Mickey and Edward, seemingly confirming that the superstition was correct—and that from the moment of their separation, the twins were fated to die. Yet the play actually suggests a far more interesting question. Through their various actions—which were themselves motivated by fear and superstition—the mothers within the play actually cause their sons’ deaths. Russell is proposing, therefore, that we as humans essentially make our own fate by believing in fate—that through our fear of the future and our irrational beliefs, we make our worst nightmares come to pass.

Superstition and Fate ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in Blood Brothers related to the theme of Superstition and Fate.
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. JOHNSTONE: Oh God, Mrs. Lyons, never put new shoes on a table…You never know what’ll happen.
MRS. LYONS: Oh…you mean you’re superstitious?
MRS. JOHNSTONE: No, but you never put new shoes on a table.

Related Characters: Mrs. Johnstone (speaker), Mrs. Jennifer Lyons
Related Symbols: Shoes on the Table
Page Number: 22
Explanation and Analysis:

As Mrs. Johnstone performs domestic tasks in Mrs. Lyons' home, she becomes distraught when her employer puts new shoes on a table--a terrible omen, Mrs. Johnstone believes. Her vehement reaction introduces the theme of superstition, which will become increasingly important as the narrative continues.

At first, as shown here, superstition is seemingly laughable and misguided. In fact, Mrs. Lyons will soon use Mrs. Johnstone's superstitiousness (which is implicitly associated with her class and level of education) to manipulate and fool her. By the end of the play, however, it will become clear that superstition in fact comes from a place of truth. The bad omens associated with the twins do in fact point to their deaths, starting with the seemingly silly "new shoes on a table." 

In the name of Jesus, the thing was done,
Now there’s no going back, for anyone.
It’s too late now, for feeling torn
There’s a pact been sealed, there’s a deal been born.

How swiftly those who’ve made a pact,
Can come to overlook the fact.
Or wish the reckoning to be delayed
But a debt is a debt, and must be paid.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Mrs. Johnstone, Mrs. Jennifer Lyons
Page Number: 40
Explanation and Analysis:

As the two mothers decide to deceive their sons, Mr. Lyons, and the whole world, the Narrator ominously announces that they can never go back on their word. He reminds the women (though of course they cannot hear him) that regret is useless--an impossible truth, of course, for Mrs. Johnstone, who has just given up all claim to one of her sons. 

Even more foreboding than the idea of regret, though, is the Narrator's mention of "a debt" that "must be paid." By agreeing to such a massive deception, Mrs. Johnstone and Mrs. Lyons have (the Narrator suggests) committed a grave and unforgivable sin. Eventually, they will pay for their crimes, however long they may delay "the reckoning" of which the Narrator warns. 

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. 

You’re always gonna know what was done
Even when you shut your eyes you still see
That you sold a son
And you can’t tell anyone.
But y’know the devil’s got your number,
Y’know he’s gonna find y’,
Y’know he’s right behind y’,

Yes, y’know the devil’s got your number

And he’s knocking at your door.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Mrs. Johnstone
Page Number: 48
Explanation and Analysis:

As Mrs. Johnstone grapples with her conscience, the Narrator takes on the voice of her guilt, reminding her that no matter what she does, she will always have to carry her terrible secret and shame. 

Even more disturbing than Mrs. Johnstone's guilt, though, is the metaphorical "devil" that the Narrator conjures up, repeatedly telling Mrs. Johnstone that this "devil" is going to "find" her, no matter what she does.

The "devil" represents not just guilt, but Mrs. Johnstone's sin, and the terrible fate that is coming for her and her son. No matter how much she internally punishes herself for the crime she's committed, her guilt will never be as awful as the terrible doom that awaits her family. 

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

Happy, are y’. Content at last?
Wiped out what happened, forgotten the past?
But you’ve got to have an endin’, if a start’s been made.
No one gets off without the price bein’ paid.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 63
Explanation and Analysis:

The Johnstones rejoice as they get to move to their new home out in the country. Mrs. Johnstone is especially jubilant, convinced that this change will allow her to leave behind her troubled and secretive past. Even in the midst of their happiness, though, the Narrator reappears with threatening news: he reminds Mrs. Johnstone--and the audience--that she can never truly escape the sins that she has committed.

Particularly ominous is the Narrator's talk of an "endin'." Since we already know that the play will conclude with the twins' deaths, the audience is clear on exactly how terrible the "endin'" that the Narrator references will be. By also referencing the "start," he reminds us that the twins' awful demise will only occur because of the original crime committed by their mothers. 

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. 

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. 

MRS. LYONS: I curse the day I met you. You ruined me.
MRS. JOHNSTONE: Go. Just go!
MRS. LYONS: Witch. I curse you. Witch!

Related Characters: Mrs. Johnstone (speaker), Mrs. Jennifer Lyons (speaker)
Page Number: 79
Explanation and Analysis:

Becoming increasingly hysterical, Mrs. Lyons grows convinced that Mrs. Johnstone has ruined her life and her happiness. In revenge, she curses Mrs. Johnstone, calling her a "witch," and even attempting to hurt her.

In a complete reversal, Mrs. Lyons, once so skeptical of superstitious beliefs, now believes that Mrs. Johnstone has supernatural powers, and even attempts a curse of her own. Her deception--both of her own son, and of Mrs. Johnstone--has eaten her alive. She's become consumed by guilt, fear, and paranoia, and has no grasp on reality left. 

Even in this horrifying moment, however, Mrs. Johnstone remains nonviolent. She does not attack the crazed Mrs. Lyons, but only attempts to defend herself. 

And who’d dare tell the lambs in Spring,
What fate the later seasons bring.
Who’d tell the girl in the middle of the pair
The price she’ll pay just for being there.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Mickey, Edward, Linda
Page Number: 82
Explanation and Analysis:

As the play depicts the idyllic adolescence of Linda, Mickey, and Edward, the Narrator returns to ruin the perfect picture, reminding the audience/readers that the happiness we are witnessing will soon turn to sorrow. He also adds a new element to the complicated web, informing us that Linda will play an unknowing and unwilling part in the terrible fate that is yet to come.

This passage also has a somber message about coming of age. Linda, Mickey, and Edward aren't just innocent about their fate--they are innocent about the world, and the terrible way that it will rip them apart because of class and money. Their lack of knowledge about their doom becomes a metaphor for their broader ignorance about how difficult life can be. 

There’s a man gone mad in the town tonight,
He’s gonna shoot somebody down,
There’s a man gone mad, lost his mind tonight

There’s a mad man running round and round.
Now you know the devil’s got your number.
He’s runnin’ right beside you,
He’s screamin’ deep inside you,
And someone said he’s callin’ your number up today.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Mickey
Related Symbols: Guns
Page Number: 103
Explanation and Analysis:

When Mickey finds out that Linda and Eddie are having an affair, he completely loses his grip on reason, finds a gun, and sets out to shoot Eddie. In the midst of a chaotic and frantic song, the chorus returns to the Narrator's original refrain: "the devil's got your number."

This is the play's way of telling us that fate has at last caught up with the Johnstone twins. Despite the fact that Mickey knows nothing about his mother's original pact, he is still reaping the consequences. The devil is "screamin' deep inside" of him, and will not rest until he pays the price for a series of decisions over which he had utterly no control. 

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.