Review, Pages 14 (3336 words)
Shelagh Delaney the writer of the play “A Taste of Honey” was born on November 25th 1939 in Salford, England. It was in school when she saw her first play, an amateur performance of Shakespeare’s “Othello”. She was only twelve at the time, and the play made a great impression on her.
When she was seventeen, she began writing “A Taste of Honey” as a novel but later realised that it would be better as a play so it was first performed in 1958, accepted by Joan Littlewood, a famous director of the Political Theatre who strongly believed that plays should be about ordinary people.
“A Taste of Honey” is mainly about a young working class girl who refuses to conform to her dreary surroundings and way of life. When the play was introduced, it was rare to find any of the situations portrayed in any other plays as the circumstances of each of the characters in the play were polemic and unaccepted by a neglectful society.
Keeping up the appearances was an important factor in life, and at the time public disgrace was a horrendous situation to be involved in., so it almost became a day to day struggle to keep others satisfied with a suitable personal image that no one had the right to question. People were often very prejudiced about things like origin and race, sexual inclination, promiscuity and sex before marriage. To be involved in any of those things was a serious act for concern from the family and members of the community.
At the time people were very religious and strict with regards to homosexuality, promiscuity and sex before marriage, in households from the 20th century, there was rarely a laid back mentality when these situations happened in the conventional life of an ordinary person. It was very common for a youngster to be involved in any of the above, as the senior members relied on their traditional customs and philosophies and took a lot of care in their every move.
Ironically this play doesn’t seem very concerned with all the issues that emerge from that society, and makes it a much more rebellious and interesting play to watch. However interesting it was, not everyone agreed with the content of the play, as some reviewers confessed that this was the first play they had seen with a coloured person and a homosexual man.
Jo is a 15-year old girl who seems to have been unfortunate in life due to the circumstances that we see her in at the start of the play. By the way of life she leads, we learn that she is not happy or satisfied with herself or with her only relative, her mother. She displays inappropriate behaviour for a teenager of her time, “I don’t owe you a thing.” By saying this we learn that she has little respect for Helen and is very distant from her, she also sounds angry and frustrated because she knows she deserves much more and also because Helen has not been a proper mother to her in any way.
Something else, which we are able to see from Jo’s lifestyle, is that she is frequently exposed by her mother, to different men coming in and out of Helen’s life. The best example is Peter, a “close” friend of Helen’s. This is evidently an unsuitable environment for a teenage girl, and clearly shows that Helen is not very concerned about the image she is creating in Jo’s mind. We can conclude that Helen is not only being a terrible example for daughter Jo, but also is offering no security in the sense of stable relationships that can benefit Jo in a good way. Helen doesn’t stand firm in front of Jo and by inviting men into her house, she is loosing all sense of respect for herself and most importantly, for her daughter. Its almost like Helen and Jo are friends who take “boyfriends” in for intimate relationships.
At the start of the play we learn that Helen has a strong drinking problem, “drink, drink, drink, that’s all you’re fit for. You make me sick.” Jo is directly affected by it, as she has to co-exist with this habit in Helen’s life. We know that she clearly dislikes it and mentions how her mother isn’t good for anything else apart from drinking. This can represent the way Jo feels, since the time she started to realise her mother’s neglectful treat “you make me sick”, Jo’s frustration has become so great that she has started to hate her mother for being such a bad parent. By mentioning “that’s all you’re fit for” Jo tells us that Helen has been a total failure in every aspect of motherhood and wasn’t able to demonstrate even the smallest sign of care and affection for daughter Jo.
Perhaps Helen thought that alcohol could help ease the pain of not being able to be a good parent and offer love and security to Jo. But once again we see that Helen makes the wrong choice and maybe unconsciously might not realise how much this is also affecting Jo. This drinking problem is once again an appalling example that Helen is transmitting to Jo, as she might think it’s acceptable to drink in order to ease the pain and attempt to sort out problems under a more relaxed but less rational approach.
Some readers may think that at the point of Helen’s response to Jo’s comments about drinking, she is completely under the dominion of alcohol, and responds in a cynical way, “…Don’t just stand there shivering; have some of this if you’re so cold”. My reaction to this answer was of utter amazement as I am unable to believe the extent of Helen’s brutality and stupidity. She has just been told by Jo how much she dislikes the habit and still persists on acting irresponsibly and offering an intoxicating drink to her underage daughter. She should have been a little more considerate and thought of a more reasonable solution to Jo’s request. This once again leads us to believe that Helen is offering Jo no security, or protection in any way.
Unexpectedly Jo enquires about her father just as her mother is getting ready to marry peter. As she is not pleased with what her mother responds, she declares her as a liar “You liar… look at me”. This response was obviously generated from the way Helen answered Jo’s question, which evidently wasn’t tactful or sensitive. Until this point we learn that Jo is unaware of who her father is, and this sort of conversation appears to be a serious issue between mother and daughter. Jo seems to feel resentment towards her mother, by the way she says “you liar”. By hiding this important piece of information to Jo, I believe that Helen has disrespected her daughter in various aspects.
Jo as being the product of an intimate relationship between Helen and the man in question is in her full right to demand respect and to know who her progenitor was. This reveals quite a lot about Helen’s personality, as she demonstrates cowardice at the single thought of facing her daughter and telling her the truth about her origin. When Jo says “look at me”, it becomes clear to us, that she has to prove or disprove her mother’s honesty with a single glance at her eyes. Jo is not entirely sure of this answer and proves to us that she does not trust her mother in her honesty and actions.
Helen and Jo keep an uncharacteristic relationship; because it’s not one of mother and daughter love neither a friendly one. They just don’t seem to be able to understand each other as such and therefore have lost all mutual respect and affection, simply because Helen is far too selfish to give up her way of life to ultimately benefit her daughter and herself. It’s like they’ve swapped roles, Helen being the daughter and Jo being the mother, one more responsible and conscious than the other.
Jo acts like an adult in many ways, as she shows a clear disapproval upon her surroundings and her mother’s drinking habits, she certainly feels uncomfortable at the men coming in and out of Helen’s life. “You’ve emptied more bottles down your throat in the last few weeks than I would have thought possible. If you don’t watch it, you’ll end up an old down-out boozer knocking back the meths” Jo is warning Helen that if she isn’t careful with her habits, she will be alcoholic and drinking illicit beverages “meths”. Jo sounds like she’s disturbed by her mother’s future and has a precautious tone in her voice that makes her sound like a worried mother or wife.
At the start of the play, when we meet Helen and Jo, their relationship seems very weak, and doesn’t seem to get any better as the play proceeds; because of this I can predict that as they don’t dedicate sufficient time and effort to form stronger bonds they will not be able to progress and comprehend their individual needs and circumstances.
“…Anyway, it’s your life, ruin it your own way…” Helen makes this very strong remark that suggests a very careless thought with regards to Jo’s future.
She uses a common tactic that allows her to show a dignified attitude, by offering Jo sufficient freedom to ruin her future and hold her responsible for her actions, consequently saving herself from her daughter’s blame and pain of failing. This shows how careless she is at offering support in Jo’s plans ambitions and dreams. In a way this is a very sad thing to do, because not only does Jo lack financial stability, but also love and emotional security.
On the other hand Jo is conscious of her mother’s intentions with regards to a good life for her. “Ruining my life. After all, you’ve had plenty of practice” this blame on Helen’s performance as mother is quite serious and is good at describing their relationship in general. This allegation is also good to prove the fact that Helen has offered no security or love to Jo.
However making matters worse Helen accepts this accusation and unconsciously hurts Jo to a deeper extent saying “yes, give praise where praise is due, I always say…” pessimistically she responds with no hint of shame at what she has created in Jo, because of her neglectful behaviour.
I don’t think that during the play their relationship gets to evolve in a positive or a negative way; however Helen may start to look at Jo as a woman rather than a girl due to the consequence of her relationship with “boy” and her pregnancy.
In act 1 scene 2 Helen leaves her daughter Jo to go and get married to Peter, which in some way helps Jo’s emotional state, as it is supposedly the end of a most hated cohabitation, and the start of a new independent life. I believe that this action taken by Helen was by far the best thing she has done to benefit Jo, perhaps unconsciously but for the benefit of both sides.
Helen has been a bad mother because she has never been able to offer Jo pure and unconditional love, instead she has made Jo’s existence imperfect and complicated without a reasonable purpose. I am not trying to justify un-motherly conduct, but she probably was never prepared to facet he responsibilities of a parent.
It was completely inappropriate form Helen to allow men and alcohol form a barrier between herself and daughter Jo. Nearer to the conclusion of the play Helen returns to Jo, not to rectify her mistakes but only to make matters worse for poor Jo and her baby, I feel that she came back in a mood of pity and not love for a future single mother. However she may see herself reflected on Jo, and may feel is her duty to come to aid her.
I feel great sympathy for Jo at the end of the play, because it seems to me that her life is a cycle that repeats itself over and over again. She is lonely even though she is due to have a baby and has her mother with her. Sadly Helen is still an alcoholic, and is penniless just as Jo is, which will unmistakeably make the baby suffer because of the circumstances. I also feel that since Jo and Helen have avoided resolving their differences and issues, their relationship will carry on deteriorating to a greater extent, until they will not be able to interact any longer as a team or “family”.
Boy holds a fairly important role in the play, as Shelagh Delaney may have used him in order to represent a race and a whole group of people at the time. He is a twenty year old sailor that manages to infiltrate Jo’s heart and lighten up her life to a certain extent, for a short period of time.
The reason why Shelagh Delaney doe not provide “boy” with a name, is because he ends up leaving her and breaking all his made promises, of returning and marrying her. His role in the play is of a young adult who meets Jo and eventually becomes her boyfriend. He also becomes the father of her baby, even though he is not aware of this.
The relationship boy has with Jo is completely different to the ones she experiences with all the other characters, this one is of love and mutual understanding. “I love you…because you are daft.” I believe that the most important factor with regards to Jo’s feelings and other characters is that perhaps it is the first time she falls in love with someone, and is answered back in the same way.
Even though “buy” offers love to Jo, he certainly doesn’t offer much security. This is because he enjoys having fun wherever he goes and is not able to make a promise and keep it. “you’re the first girl who I’ve met who really doesn’t care…” this quote shows that he is someone who’s had many relationships in the past, analyses different behaviours, and therefore has gained experience in the subject.
I reckon that Shelagh Delaney wants to make the audience judgemental towards “boy” because of the way his relationship ends with Jo, and leaving to never come back. In my opinion “boy” only used Jo to sleep with and never really felt anything special for her, this truly shows the type f person he is. The audience may find that he is genuine and honest about his feelings but then turns out to be insincere and false, however what really damages his image to a higher extent is how he took advantage of Jo’s naivety and innocence.
Geoff is another important character in the play, as Shelagh Delaney may have chosen him to represent the fears, hopes and dreams of a secluded group of people, who were judged by their sexual inclination. He is false a person who provides Jo with a strong friendship and some security that perhaps she took for granted.
Geoff is someone who lacks self-confidence and is in desperate search for acceptance security and companionship, he wants Jo to look at him as a man with defects and expects from her as much as she receives from him. They have a peculiar relationship as Jo refers to him “as a big sister” or a womanly figure in the house, “you are just like an old woman really. You just unfold your bed, kiss me goodnight and sing me to sleep”. This kind of remark may have resulted embarrassing for him as he is a male and much older than Jo.
Shelagh Delaney is very effective at revealing Geoff qualities, by telling us the large amounts of efforts he puts into Jo’s house and the way that he takes care of her, “someone’s got to look after you. You can’t look after yourself”. You would not expect this type of behaviour from a stranger and man in a male dominating society. Another good way the reader can see the qualities in Geoff is by comparing him to Helen, who is the total opposite of her and has taken better care of Jo in a short period of time than she has.
From analysing Jo’s and Geoff relationship we can learn that during the time they spend living together they have both been happy and able to co-exist with each other, which is something Helen and Jo were never able to achieve. However there was always this barrier between Jo and Geoff, generated by their different attitudes towards life and other issues that revolved around their respective characters.
While Geoff was optimistic, Jo was fairly negative and resembled Helen’s personality to some extent. This factor never really allowed them to enjoy their relationship and their time together to the maximum. “I think it would be best if you left this place Geoff I don’t think it’s doing you any good being here with me all the time” this tells us that Jo is being honest with him and knows about his need to experience a woman’s desire to prove whether his inclination towards a men is real.
To some degree Jo is a little bit arrogant as she declares that she can be self-sufficient and doesn’t need from Geoff to carry on living a normal life. “Nobody asked you to stay here. You moved in on me, remember? If you don’t like it you can get out, can’t get…” Geoff is a maternal figure to Jo as he is making a great effort to help her out with the preparation for the coming of the baby; something Helen would be more appropriate at doing. “I thought you changed. Motherhood is supposed to come natural to women” he explain this which such patience and care that almost sounds like he has passed through motherhood himself. This maternal figure is very rare and distinctive in the play as he is the only in the play who offers this sort of care and guidance, despite him being a man.
Geoff is nothing like Helen simply because they do not share any qualities or even defects. The only way in which he may resemble Helen’s behaviour is at the end of his role, when he decides to leave Jo and not rebel against Helen’s prejudices and power to throw him out of Jo’s and the baby’s life. just as Helen did, he ends up deserting Jo, and not thinking of the possible emotional crisis she may start to go through. At the end of the play Jo is left standing by herself lonely without anyone’s help and support to hep undergo the conceiving of her baby, and the rest of her life she may still have to live.
The mood is quite bleak, grim and dull at this point most of the relationships between the characters have broken up. Helen has been thrown out of Peter’s house and longer is she able to enjoy financial stability or Peter’s company as a husband. I believe none of the relationships in the play were really meant to work just as much as Geoff and Jo would have never been able to coexist considering their different circumstances. Shelagh Delaney may have chosen the title “A Taste of Honey” because in a way all of the characters in the play find a hint of happiness for a short while, and then just as it came it quickly diminishes and becomes difficult once again.
I believe that Shelagh Delaney was correct in choosing this title for the play because it is indeed a sequence of events that resemble the ups and downs in life and the way one can taste something good but then it’s taken away. It’s never really a constant patch of happiness throughout, but a constant struggle to keep going as much as possible.