Return to Pleasure Island

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Contents

Plot Summary

The story takes place on an island with an amusement park built upon it. The park provides opportunities to young boys to completely and selfishly indulge themselves. Coincidentally, this causes the boys to turn into donkeys. The amusement park benefits from turning the boys into donkeys. The boys are never aware of their transformation. George, Bill, and Joe are three golems who live on the island and work at the amusement park. They believe they are immune to the curse, because of how different golems are from humans. George is especially good at detecting boys who will soon turn into donkeys. As the tale progresses, their brother Joe begins to spend more and more time away from his brothers, as Orville, the mysterious human who brought the golems to the island, finds ways to separate Joe. Shortly after, Joe turns into a donkey. Orville splits George from Bill, too, and Bill turns into a donkey. Each time, Orville provides the golem circumstances to completely indulge himself. George is the only golem who avoids turning into a donkey at the end of the tale.

Possible Interpretations

  • "Return to Pleasure Island" may be a critique of consumerism. One theory of interpretation is that Doctrow is portraying the foolishness and potential dangers of seeking pleasure through the (over)consumption of goods.
  • The reasons for character outcomes may not be by their free will but from their origin of different important body parts. Bill was the clever one from the left hand, Joe was from the tongue, and George was the strong one from the right hand. Bill and Joe indulged too much and turned into asses, but George did not. The author may be stating that certain characteristics, such as the ones apparent in the clever and persuasive, are more likely to be corrupted in a consumerist society.
  • "Home is Where the Heart Is": There's an undeniably strong family dynamic that's scene consistently throughout the story. This possibly suggests what things are most important, because such a bond links the fate of many. In the case of the three boys that fate was bad, but in the case of George and his brothers, they were somewhat spared the same miserable fate because of their tight family tie.
  • One main theme in "Return to Pleasure Island" is that of pleasure without responsibility. The boys in the story turn to donkeys as experience more and more pleasure without giving attention to responsibility; Joe, who has many ideas but lacks responsibility and self-control, also becomes a donkey; and Bill begins to shirk his responsibilities to spend more time with his son, and becomes a donkey as well.

Tropes and Trope Intersections Appearing in this Work

Allusions

Joe gains the position of Imagineer. In the Disney amusement parks, professionals who design rides and attractions are known as Imagineers.

The Pleasure Island where the story takes place is a reference to the classic Disney movie Pinocchio. In Pinocchio, Pleasure Island was an establishment used to turn stray boys into donkeys. The boys' transformation progressed as they succumb to their vices. Pleasure Island catalyzed the process by providing many opportunities for misbehavior.

Historical Influences

During Shakespeare's time, "biting one's thumb" at an individual was equivalent to the modern "bird". This reflects in Bill's decision to bite off his thumb, which ultimately ends in Bill's demise. Less eloquently, he "screwed" himself. "Biting one's thumb" is featured in Romeo and Juliet when a member of one family provokes a fight with another family by biting his thumb at them.

References

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