Blood Brothers

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The Power of the Past Theme Analysis

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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
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The Power of the Past Theme Icon

Throughout Blood Brothers, many characters dream of a new beginning, even as they are still mired in the past. Both Mrs. Johnstone and Mrs. Lyons exemplify this impulse. Mrs. Johnstone begins the play reminiscing about her deadbeat husband and mourning his loss, while also trying to figure out how to feed her family. Mrs. Lyons, meanwhile, decides early on in the play to pretend that her adopted son, Edward, is actually her biological child. Like Mrs. Johnstone, though, Mrs. Lyons cannot run away from the past. Her desperate need to prove that her son is actually hers makes her more and more possessive and paranoid, until she finally becomes completely unhinged. By trying to erase the past, she has in fact given it power over her. Mrs. Johnstone is similarly delusional. In the Act One finale song “Bright New Day,” she imagines a world for herself and her children without crime and poverty. Act Two, however, proves that these misfortunes will follow her family wherever she goes, as two of her sons become criminals despite her best efforts.

At the same time, the power of the past can sometimes be a positive force in the play. Although Edward and Mickey eventually lose their close bond, they are best friends for most of the play. Their shared past—a past that they are not even aware of—exerts a great deal of power over them, making them call each other “brother” without realizing that they actually are brothers. Similarly, the boys both have a rich and rewarding relationship with Linda because of the trio’s shared past. The relationships among all three characters, in fact, have been shaped by their past interactions with each other. Of course, the secret of the twins’ birth is the ultimate sign of the power of the past. Despite their mothers’ many desperate attempts, the boys will not stay away from each other. Further, despite their own blamelessness in the lies about their origins, the two ultimately pay the price for their mothers’ past deception.

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The Power of the Past ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in Blood Brothers related to the theme of The Power of the Past.
Act 1 Quotes

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. 


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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. 

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. 

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. 

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. 

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.