Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Billy J. Harbin


Codependency is defined in this study as a disease characterized by individual adult inability to function in everyday life, in particular regards to personal relationships with others, in a healthy and self-loving manner. The study points to the works of several prominent theorists and practitioners in this field, such as John Bradshaw, Sharon Wegscheider-Cruse, Anne Wilson Schaef, and John and Linda Friel, as authoritative resource material on the subject. Being progressive in nature, codependency eventually leads to a host of severe personality and physical disorders, and usually to some form of suicide. The study points to abusive treatment in childhood--either verbal, emotional, physical, sexual, or a combination of these--as being the primary cause for the development of codependency, but also, argues that our modern society contributes to the pervasive and insidious nature of the disease. The main focus of this study is to demonstrate how a thorough knowledge of this common disease can contribute to our understanding of the human condition and individual personality and relationship dynamics. This awareness, in turn, equips us, as students, teachers, critics and practitioners of the art of theatre, to more fully comprehend the subtle complexities of dramatic literature and provide a new basis for understanding characters and relationships therein. This study examines the nature of codependency and demonstrates, through example, how familiarity with this concept can enhance our understanding of many plays. Those used for this study are by American playwrights and they cover the years 1940-1990, including most prominently the following: A Long Day's Journey Into Night by Eugene O'Neill, Cat On a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams, Getting Out and 'night, Mother by Marsha Norman, Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee. The study makes the point, however, that plays from all countries and periods can be examined on the basis of codependency for a fuller understanding of the characters and in particular, the dynamics of their relationships with other characters.