Summer of the Seventeenth Doll


Ray Lawler

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Themes and Colors
Youth, Maturity, and Growing Up Theme Icon
Idealization vs. Reality Theme Icon
Gender and Work Theme Icon
Loyalty, Friendship, and Tradition Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Youth, Maturity, and Growing Up

Summer of the Seventeenth Doll tells the story of four friends—Roo, Olive, Barney, and Nancy—whose summer tradition is changing. Roo and Barney, who work as sugarcane cutters in the bush seven months out of the year, spend their five non-working months (the "layoff season") with Olive and Nancy, engaging in all manner of youthful shenanigans. They've been observing this tradition for sixteen years, but the seventeenth year is different: Nancy…

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Idealization vs. Reality

For the past sixteen years, Barney, Roo, Olive, and Nancy have idealized the layoff season, the five months of each year that they spend lounging, drinking, going out, and having sex. They value this time beyond measure and without any sense that their lifestyle is shallow, immature, or possibly damaging in the long run. During the seventeenth summer of the layoff, however, Nancy doesn't participate because she recently married another man. To…

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Gender and Work

Summer of the Seventeenth Doll explores the intersection between gender and work, showing, in particular, how work informs the characters' ideas of masculinity. For Barney, Roo, and Olive, cane cutting—backbreaking manual labor in the Australian bush—is an undeniably masculine job that allows for a freeform, untethered lifestyle. However, when it comes to light that Roo walked off the job after being humiliated by the physical limitations of his age and must then…

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Loyalty, Friendship, and Tradition

The layoff season is a longstanding tradition for Roo, Barney, Olive, and Nancy, and it is the guiding event around which they organize their year. As such, the characters prize loyalty to their tradition highly—even at the expense of loyalty to and empathy for one another. When the seventeenth layoff season doesn't unfold as planned, the play begins to question the wisdom of relying so heavily on upholding a tradition, since…

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