The play Of the Fields, Lately portrays an average working class family living in the cold, isolated area of Newfoundland. Written by David French, The Mercer Family struggles with themselves in their close-knit traditions and encounter difficulties in getting along with each other. The Mercer Family is not a picture-perfect family as the Brady Bunch. They have values and behaviour which predominantly affects their lifestyles.
The relationship between Jacob and Ben is very bizarre considering that they are father and son. Their relationship is revealed to be bitter and dysfunctioning, as proven through the conversation between Ben and his mother, Mary (pg. 7).
This implies that Ben does not wish to interact with his father in any way. He doesn’t even take notice of his father’s presence in the household. He is immediately insulted when Mary questions him regarding his father. Ben states to Mary that he does not wish to establish any type of new relationship with Jacob. Mary acts as a peacekeeper in order to establish a “sense of belonging” between the two but both Ben and Jacob simply avoid each other.
The last line from this selection (pg.7) is the most effective part of the dialogue since it is interesting to notice that Ben suspects his mother wants him to leave the house, when she only wishes for him to acknowledge the presence of Jacob.
Another piece of dialogue which defines the relationship between Ben and Jacob is when Ben is asked about his flight coming home (pgs 9-10). Both Ben and Jacob stare at each other painfully, waiting for the other person to respond. This reveals that this family is so dysfunctional that they cannot even speak to one another in a sincere manner for a few seconds. Usually, people are very emotional and especially excited to speak to a family member after a distant period of time.
People tend to resolve past disputes by apologizing for whatever barrier had caused them to not speak to each other. However, in this particular case, it certainly seems that the “brick wall” is simply a barrier too wide for them to resolve their differences. The “brick wall” illustrates the tension in the father-son relationship. The wall symbolizes the force that keeps the two from expressing themselves with each other.
In addition, the third moment that sheds light on Ben and Jacob’s relationship takes place when Ben asks Jacob if he can stay at home for a short while (pgs 65-66)
Once again, Jacob shows his stubbornness by unwilling to open up to Ben when he offers to move back in. Ben feels that deep down inside, Jacob wants him to stay at home, but Jacob shows his unreasonableness by stating that Ben can stay home on his mother’s share of the house.
The significance of the title, Of the Fields, Lately relates and holds great significance to many aspects of David French’s play. It ties into the themes of isolation and façade. The title sheds light on the major events that shape the relationships of the play.
The characters in the play resemble the ideal characteristics of the Newfoundland land and cultural customs. Newfoundland is a distant province in the Eastern Coast of Canada, off the mainland. This resembles Ben being a distant place away from Jacob.
The elements of stagecraft also play an important role in the play. The music establishes the mood of the scene. The lighting and set design also play a role in setting the atmosphere of the play. The room with the radio shows the audience how distant away Ben and Jacob’s relationship really is. The stagecraft also helps express things that simply wouldn’t surface.
There is a lot of conflict stirred up on Of the Fields, Lately which raises the question as to who is to blame for the family’s situation. Jacob blames Ben for not being there when he suffered a heart attack. Ben blames Jacob for beating him as a child and embarrassing him amongst his childhood. Mary feels distressed since her sister has recently passed away. Mary is stuck in the middle of things as she tries to act as a peacekeeper in the ongoing dispute between Ben and Jacob. I feel that if there is someone to blame for the family’s situation, it must be Ben.
I feel that Ben is the character responsible for the pain experienced in the Mercer Family. Ben has to realize that as children, we make mistakes many times in our lives and our parents are there for us everyday to assist us whenever we’re in trouble. Perhaps even if it were Jacob’s fault, Ben has to realize to forgive and forget. Instead, he remains passive and becomes frightened by his father, rather than accepting his father for who he is.
Ben has to learn that we all make mistakes as human beings. Despite this, Ben is still bitter as he doesn’t hold much back. He was not willing to listen to his father for any reason and now he will regret having the opportunity to clear things up when Jacob was still alive.
The character who I feel is not responsible for the pain experienced in the family is Mary. This is certainly because she acts as a peacekeeper in trying to resolve the ongoing quarrel between Ben and Jacob. She is reminiscent of the good times where her life was less problematic. She wants him to come to terms and resolve their pity issues but they are both unwilling to do so, showing their stubbornness.
Mary feels very awful since she not only has to cope with her sister’s death, but experience this quarrel that she feels must be prevented in order to resolve peace in the family. Also, she has to cope with Jacob’s heart condition. Perhaps his heart attack was a result of his drinking and smoking problem. Wiff is also getting on Mary’s nerves. Mary tries to discuss with both Ben and Jacob individually but it seems as if they are too distant away from each other and can never break the “brick wall” standing between them.
The main interest in Of the Fields, Lately was the relationship between Ben and Jacob. They have a very dysfunctional relationship for a father and son. As the play progresses, their relationship grows further apart. The audience becomes aware about the past and present situation as it is revealed. Ben and Jacob are in constant arguments and can only hope to obtain a beneficial relationship in the future.
Despite neither Ben nor Jacob reaching a compromise with each other, the future of their relationship is foretold through Wiff’s stories of himself and Dot. Wiff is portrayed to be a sensitive, misunderstood man whose monologues foretell the audience that the relationship between Wiff and Dot was quite similar to Ben and Jacob’s relationship. It seems that Wiff and Dot undergo difficult times.
They are portrayed to be very loving and intimate with each other in the beginning of the play. Perhaps Ben and Jacob were like this when Ben was young too. Dot sees Wiff as an ignorant, self absorbed person. Likewise, Ben sees Jacob in the same light. Despite this, Dot still deeply cared for Wiff. Ben does not care for his father, while it seems that deep down inside, Jacob actually cared for Ben. Jacob made his sacrifice for Ben by moving the family to Newfoundland in pursuit of finding better education.
Ben ignored him and did not acknowledge nor take advantage of his father’s sacrifice. Jacob was a hardworking man who brought home the dough after a long day’s work. Towards the end, Jacob shows an interest in Ben’s personal life. This suggests that the “brick wall” is slowing being taken down; they are able to communicate in a compatible way. When Wiff refers to moments when he was having affairs with other women, I feel that this resembles the moments when Ben hated Jacob.
Jacob was so proud of Ben at the baseball game, even though it didn’t seem this way. This can be related to the love that Dot shared with Wiff. Both of these relationships took an intense downfall after this given moment. When Jacob dies, Ben regrets having the opportunity to apologize and make up with his father. Likewise, when Dot dies, Wiff regrets neglecting her by engaging in affairs with other women.
Overall, Ben’s relationship with Jacob strongly relates to Wiff’s relationship with Dot. It foreshadows that Ben would have made the decision to resolve the issue with his father before it became too late. Unfortunately, this did not occur.
Jacob is the character who I relate most to in Of the Fields, Lately. Although, I am not exactly a stubborn, abusive, old bully who has no admiration for his family, I never conclude fights! I am the type of person that openly starts them to obtain reaction from the other person(s). I find myself also to be an aggressive person at times.
I feel that my perspective must be heard and understood for someone. I dislike resolving conflicts from the past and tend to hang onto situations that appeal to me for a long period of time. I also feel that I should let things go and establish relationships with those from my distant past who I haven’t kept in touch with. Similarly, Jacob should have given Ben another chance for their relationship to be reconstructed.
It is arguable to state whether or not Of the Fields, Lately is a very realistic play. Each person has their own views based upon how they interpret and analyze the play. The realism can be determined by the characters, the dialogue, situations, and the mood going through the air during each scene. I believe that this is a realistic piece of work because it includes many disturbed characters who have a very struggling life. For instance, Jacob is an old, strict father who always picks on Ben.
He also acts rudely, especially to his family members. His family loves him and wishes that he stops working and rest due to his poor heart condition. The doctor also sees Jacob as a stubborn, old man who won’t listen to the doctor’s orders or what’s best for him. He doesn’t want to see Jacob get hurt so then Mary holds responsibility for the family. Jacob should respect their wishes and spend time with his family before he ends up dying, rather than trying to burn out in his own glory by working in his last few days. Ben is the son who feels that his father treats him unfairly.
Wiff is an alcoholic who has marriage problems and who suffers from severe depression at times. Mary is trying to cope with the death of her sister and her husband who is in poor health and also trying to keep the family’s structure together. Sam, Jacob’s friend from the past brought about different aspects of Jacob’s early life that was not established earlier. He portrayed innocence and curious behaviour that Jacob likely occupied when he was younger. Also, Billy (Ben’s older brother) is angry with Ben and agreed with Jacob’s way.
Sarah portrays a different perspective as she tells her story by siding with Jacob, showing Ben to be ignorant and the source of the family’s problems. I agree totally with Sarah’s interpretation. Ike Squires is jealous and bitter towards Jacob. He is portrayed as a success man who is doing well for himself. Ike feels bitter about Jacob obtaining all the attention! It seems that many of the characters in French’s play do not get along. Although these problems do not take place in most families, it still seems possible.
In our world, there is always a family member who has a kind of problem like the ones displayed in Of the Fields, Lately. There are often people who are alcoholics, siblings who are fighting, family members not speaking to each other due to some reason. The Mercers remind me of “The Simpsons” with their constant family disputes.
I feel that the situations in Of the Fields, Lately seem unrealistic since most Canadian families do not have excessive problems like the Mercers taking place. Every family has their times of grief and there is no skepticism that there are families who possess a lot of stress on their backs, like the Mercers. Ben and Jacob need to come to terms; Mary needs to resolve her issues with Wiff and most importantly, everyone needs to “forgive and forget” in order to sustain a happy life!
*NOTE: This is my collection of journals that I have compiled into this creative writing piece; it is not a formal essay and this is why I use personal pronouns such as “I”*
Courtney from Study Moose
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