While Theo(dore)((-Teddy-)) Huxtable lacks the superior psychic acumen and ontological super-consciousness of both Cliff and Rudy Huxtable, he is nevertheless among the most pervasive and singular characters in the Huxtable narrative. What follows is by no means a definitive reading of Theo’s psyche, origins or narrative functions but, instead, a series of brief critical vignettes that serve to illuminate different aspects of Theo’s psyche and intellect. These observations, however, are not self-contained; they often bleed into, oppose and even contradict each other. The fragmented nature of these observations should be understood not as representing a lack of critical decisiveness on the author’s part but, rather, as an attempt to engage in a critical exploration that operates in terms of the nature of its subject, a character who is fundamentally incapable (whether willfully or not) of psychic individuation and in possession of a consciousness that is wonderfully fragmented and incohesive.
1. Theo as Byronic Hero
Theo can be conceptualized as a Byronic Hero and, by extension, as somewhat analogous in personality and disposition to the British Romantic poet Lord Byron. The figure of the Byronic hero (epitomized through such characters as Byron’s Manfred, Hemingway’s Jake Barnes, Lupo’s Rick Hunter and Simon’s Jimmy McNulty) is marked by a variety of particular character traits, namely: blatant disregard for authority, relative sexual inhibition, bursts of sudden morality, tendency toward violence, pronounced cynicism, self-destructive behavior, dark humor, hedonism, and bi-polar psychic tendencies. Much like Byron himself (or at least the role of “Byron” ((who was, in the words of his first wife, “mad, bad and dangerous to know”)) that Byron performed in public), Theo is prone to fits of arrogance and bouts of overwhelming self-doubt, womanizing, desire for celebrity, excessive consumption of food and other “over-the-counter stimulants,” desperate need for homosocial relations, heedless risk-taking (consider, for example, when Theo rode with an unlicensed driver), bold self-expression and outlandish fashion statements (recall Theo’s striking fashion statements throughout the show), mesmerizing good looks, noted yet largely invisible disability (dyslexia in the case of Theo, a clubbed foot for Byron), and decidedly intimate and suspicious relationships with his sisters.
2. Theo as Prince Hamlet
Like his father, Theo bears more than a passing resemblance to Shakespeare’s Prince Hamlet. Both are men possessed by remarkable intelligence and wit who form extraordinary close relationships with other men, men who deeply adore their fathers despite their respective ideological and generational differences, men who are capable of extraordinary physical and mental feats, men eager to taste the flavors both bitter and sweet of the world beyond their knowledge and perception, men haunted by underlying sexual attraction to their respective mothers, men prone to issuing profound and ironic observations as to the state of things, men of somewhat indeterminate age, men who confront death boldly and directly (consider Theo’s discovery of a dead gangster while on a fishing trip and how that confrontation with the imminence of death strikingly affects him), men who both promise and threaten to bring revolution to their respective homes and kingdoms, men prone to performance and exaggeration, and men doomed, ultimately, to act as agents of destiny and come to realize, in Derrida’s terms, fitfully and finally, the ultimate “gift of death.”
3. Theo as Übermensch
Unlike the rest of the Huxtable clan, Theo carefully assembles and performs the always shifty and dynamic identity of “Theo” through willful self-construction and empowerment. Theo’s willful self-construction suggests that he embodies many of the key traits of Nietzsche’s ideal of the Übermensch (Superman), particularly in terms of his apparent rejection of Christianity as well as his unique ability to overcome and renounce the bounds and limitations of standard, normative morality. Theo, in striking accordance with Nietzsche’s pre-existential ideal of human existence, willfully struggles to assert his existence and selfhood against the overwhelming force of his parents and modern, capitalistic, industrial society. Theo realizes, especially once he begins his true academic career, that knowledge, above all else, truly is power, and he uses that power to his strategic advantage within and against the once seemingly overwhelming force of the Huxtable hegemony (consider, in particular, how Theo uses his diagnosis as dyslexic to attack Cliff and Claire’s previous judgments of his academic prowess and deconstruct their own episteme).
4. Theo as Cockroach
To consider Theo properly, one must also take his relationship (or, to employ contemporary, popular vernacular, his “bromance”) with Walter “Cockroach” Bradley into careful consideration. To conceptualize Cockroach, merely, as Theo’s “friend” oversimplifies the nature and dynamic of their relationship (perhaps the most complicated interpersonal relationship in the show). Their relationship is founded upon, in Sedgweckian terms, a strong desire on Theo’s part for homosocial bonding. Theo desires Cockroach not sexually—at least not merely so—but rather emotionally, socially and intellectually. His attraction to Cockroach is owed, mainly, to the measure to which Cockroach serves as Theo’s doppelgänger. Cockroach shares some basic overt similarities with Theo: African-American heritage, an upper-middle class family background, and a strong interest in women and performance. However, Cockroach also serves as Theo’s “secret sharer” or “other” for Cockroach is in fact of mixed African and Hispanic heritage, his father owns an auto-salvage business and is not a member of the same professional and intellectual class as Cliff (Cockroach’s mother’s career path is, unlike Claire’s, undefined), his sexual interests are more overt than Theo’s, and he is portrayed as being far more willing to question, mock and violate the Huxtable hegemony than Theo. Theo’s relationship with Cockroach allows him to escape the inherent and implicit boundaries of being a Huxtable and experience such an existence of direct otherness vicariously in order to gain a greater perspective upon the Huxtable hegemony.
5. Theo as Anarchist
In “Pilot” Theo rebels against the decidedly capitalistic and classist ideology espoused and practiced by his parents by asserting, quite boldly, that he desires to live just like “regular people” and not partake in the Huxtable hegemony. In the early seasons of the show, Theo recognizes the intrinsic nativity of his parents’ capitalistic ideology and rather conservative view points in terms of education and finance and flagrantly questions and actively opposes such. Theo rejects the decidedly conformist dispositions of his parents, rebels on frequent occasion against their principles of good manners and respect, challenges the veracity of Cliff’s childhood stories (and, in effect, various Huxtable originary myths), forges relations with people who overtly challenge the Huxtable hegemony, and suggests and even directly asserts that there are ways of being contrary to those espoused and advocated by Cliff and Claire.
6. Theo as Dyslexic
Throughout the first five seasons of the show, Theo’s character is marked by his lack of academic interest and apparent lack of intellectual prowess. He is considered by his parents—his father in particular—to be merely lazy and lacking in ambition. However, Theo is eventually diagnosed and treated for dyslexic, a diagnosis which forces Cliff and Claire to confront, directly, how their conception and professed methods of learning and, moreover, categorizing “others” is inherently faulty and quasi-Victorian. Theo’s diagnosis with dyslexia introduces a post-structural and decidedly Foucaultian conception of order and disorder into the Huxtable narrative, in turn revealing the full measure to which Cliff and Claire align themselves with outmoded dichotic divisions.
7. Theo as Huxtable
Theo is the crown prince of the immediate Huxtable clan. Like Prince Hamlet, he is beloved by the family—save for Rudy and Vanessa (this issue will be explored in depth in a future column)—and is considered to be the shining star of the clan. Theo, in many ways, represents the ideal Huxtable, the very embodiment of Cliff and Claire’s ideals: he is dynamic, keen, humorous, athletically gifted, bold, academically focused (at least in the later seasons), and flagrantly sexual. He is clearly the most favored, celebrated and respected member of the clan. He is the child upon whom the Huxtables lavish the most affection, discipline, and favor and respect, suggesting that he represents, in their view, their ultimate accomplishment and the offspring who is capable, despite (or perhaps because of) his early rebellion and relative position as “other” within the narrative, of furthering and promoting the Huxtable hegemony.