Santa Claus: A Morality

Cummings' one-act play Santa Claus was first published in the Cummings Number of the Harvard Wake, Spring 1946. It was reprinted in Three Plays and A Ballet, ed. George J. Firmage, (New York: October House, 1967). The play may also be found in The Theatre of E. E. Cummings (Liveright, 2013). In a letter dated April 12, 1950, Cummings advised a potential director of Santa Claus to allow "the play to 'express' itself i.e. to be (re)born.  And if every word of Santa Claus is distinctly spoken,by human beings deeply familiar with the American language,my play's 'meaning' won't even slightly matter." Then he added: "what,by the way,does life 'mean'?" (Letters 202-203). In addition, Cummings discusses and quotes from the play at length in nonlecture six. See also EEC's comments on Santa Claus from the liner notes to the recording E. E. Cummings Reading His Poetry (1953). There is also a French translation in print, with facing-page English text. 

The play is an allegory in which Death and Santa Claus exchange masks, but a child sees through the masks to the true identity of each. Death is equated with Science, which "can sell people anything--except understanding." In the end, Santa Claus, who is a young man beneath his mask, reveals himself to the child and her mother. In the illustration at the right, Cummings portrayed himself as Santa Claus removing the mask of Death. 

A one-act opera of Santa Claus, composed by Edwin London, was performed in 1960 at the University of Iowa and again by the Cleveland Chamber Symphony in 2002. According to Donald Rosenberg, "The opera explores the struggle between good and evil, even employing the character of Death to pose heavy questions to an unusually dispirited Santa" ("Not-so-jolly" J6).

Further reading:

  • Cummings, E. E. The Theatre of E. E. Cummings. Ed. George J. Firmage. Afterword Norman Friedman. New York: Liveright, 2013. [Contains the plays Him, Anthropos, Santa Claus, and the ballet Tom
  • ---.  Santa Claus: A Morality. New York: Henry Holt, 1946. Print and Web. 
  • ---. i: six nonlectures. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1953. 
  • ---. Selected Letters of E. E. Cummings. Ed. F.W. Dupee and George Stade. New York: HBJ, 1969. 
  • EEC's comments on Santa Claus. [From the liner notes to the recording E. E. Cummings Reading His Poetry (1953; Caedmon TC 1017)]
  • Everson, Edith. "E. E. Cummings' Concept of Death." Journal of Modern Literature 7 (1979): 243-254. 
  • Friedman, Norman. "Santa Claus (1946)." E. E. Cummings: The Growth of a Writer. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1964. 140-151. 
  • Rosenberg, Donald. "Not-so jolly opera explores struggle between good and evil ." [Classical Music Preview] Cleveland Plain Dealer (8 Dec. 2002): J6. Print and Web.
    ---. "Not exactly comfort and joy, Santa Claus is opera with an edge." Cleveland Plain Dealer (11 Dec. 2002): E12. Print and Web.

Santa removing the mask of Death

Santa Claus Removing the Mask of Death, sketch by E. E. Cummings (1946). Cummings made at least two separate proof sketches of this image, but neither was published. 


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