Blue Remembered Hills is a play set in 1943 written by Dennis Potter. It studies a group of seven-year-olds playing in the Forest of Dean one summer afternoon until the character Donald, or better known as “Donald Duck” by his friends, is burned to death as a result of the other childrens’ actions. The play comprises a variety of brutality – including: emotional abuse, physical abuse, child abuse, and animal cruelty. This essay will be covering the social and historical context of these cruel elements in the play.
Socio-Historical Context 1
Historically, Blue Remembered Hills shows the innocence of children from their reactions to the violent activities of 1943, including World War Two. For example, at the very beginning of the play, Willie (one of the children) pretends to be a bombing plane whilst playing outside: “Waaaom vroaak! At-a-tat-tat! Waa-zooom! At-a-tat-tat!”. Potter’s use of onomatopoeia shows the fact that as a result of the constant bombing threats society used to receive from the Germans during the bombing period known as “The Blitz”, children started imitating all the chaotic noise. “At-a-tat-tat!” marks the sounds a pistol or rifle would make, whereas “Waaaom vroaak!” would probably be a bombing plane. Towards the end of the quote, Willie slowly sinks into a dimmer sound of “Waa-zoom!”, this may imply how those bombing planes may be falling from the sky and how children enjoyed seeing all the excitement of it. As for social context: not only does this quote in the very first line show how children thought pretending “bombing planes” was entertaining, but also marks how easily influenced they were by society as it became something common for them.
Socio-Historical Context 2
Historical context of 1943 is also highlighted in Scene 6, where the children remarkably kill a squirrel as they knock it from a tree. Peter then gets angry when Raymond refuses to lend his knife so they can cut off its tail. Raymond was clearly upset about it as he says to Peter “Is- is him d-dud dead?”, and Peter replies “Oy. ‘Course him is. Deader than dead.” From what Peter said, it shows he’s pleased that the squirrel is dead, but it’s slightly worrying that a seven year old child wants to cut a squirrel’s tail off. It may all be because the play is set in a rural area and therefore, the children have lots of freedom and no one can stop them from doing any harm. Socially, in this quote, Peter is viewed as a child of insecurity. He enjoys disrespecting his surroundings. Him and the others joke at the fact the the squirrel is smaller than them and therefore – inferior. The squirrel is sort of like a smaller version of Donald. Donald is lower in status compared to the other children whilst the squirrel is lower in size. Dennis Potter uses the squirrel as a symbol for the bullying Donald recieves and may also perhaps be foreshadowing Donald’s death.
Socio-Historical Context 3
Physical bullying is prominent throughout Potter’s play, it is shown many a times, one of them when Peter asks if he can have some apple and Willie says “You can have the core.” And unusually, Peter replies: “You can have my fist.” Socially, this marks that Peter may have experienced physical abuse at some point of his childhood as his instant reaction was to answer with rampage. In the play, everyone bullies each other in the group, which shows how they were brought up with bullying surrounding them. The play highlights the way children act and behave when unsupervised by adults, especially because they were evacuated from their families (which may be the reason the girls like “playing house” so much). Historical context in this quote can be underlined at the fact that Peter replied, “You can have my fist.” In here, Peter wanted to show Willie that he was the alpha-male out of the two and whatever he says…goes. As the play was set in 1943 it relates to World War Two, and if Peter grew up around all the war and violence – so it’s all he knows. Peter is easily viewed as a child of insecurity because of how easily influenced he was by society to be a violent young boy. Conclusion
Potter’s intention in this part of the play wanted to show how even seven year old children can be very manipulative to get what they want…not ‘cute’. Not only did he use adult actors in the play for humour, but to exaggerate and magnify the mistakes they make and to reflect the immature behaviour of children.