Summer of the Seventeenth Doll Essay
Summer of the Seventeenth Doll
? Summer of the Seventeenth Doll premiered on 28th November 1955 at the Russell Street Theatre in Melbourne ? Before the 1950s, very little Australian work was produced on Australian stages and often a whole year would go by without a single work by an Australian reaching the commercial stage. ? The Doll was a success in part because it gave its audiences unmistakably Australian characters in a familiar setting, speaking with their own accents, and telling their own stories. ?
After a successful season in Melbourne, and with backing from the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust, the play opened in Sydney, and then toured around Australia, playing in Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, Hobart and Launceston, as well as throughout country areas. ? Demand for the play was so strong, that in 1956, several additional companies of actors were formed, who toured the play concurrently. Style Naturalism and Realism We see what happens as close as possible to real life Note use of slang and language by the characters – the Aussie slang labels it as being distinctly Australian.
Note the use of costume and set – note change of costume for Pearl as she feels more comfortable with the situation – from her ‘good black’ to her more casual clothing. Also note the set description including the encroaching greenery – perhaps symbolic of the reality that is also intruding on their illusion. The butterflies and birds and other decorations all contribute to the illusion, and are part of what destroys the ideal of the lay-off season for Olive. Naturalism –> slang, language, set, costume approximates real life, natural language rhythms etc.
Realism –> looks at real situations and relations; explores the poetic dimension including the symbolism of the play. Use of Symbolism Olive’s metaphors of eagles and kings the sing-along called off; the sing-along would have been a typical thing for people to do in those times, and perhaps its being called off has something to do with the fading of the dream and the old times they had. Also consider the lyrics in the song they sing – “There’s a goldmine in the sky, Far away; We will find it, you and I, Some sweet day.
” There is bitter irony here which the characters recognise. the fight between Roo and Barney; through this we can see that there is more between them than they have actually spoken about. The fight they have is a release of the tension that they can feel escalating in the fact that they have to put up a front for the girls. the dolls and the smashing of the seventeenth doll; At the beginning we see them as cute, kitsch reminders of the fun the group has each year, a fun tradition, but as the play progresses, we can see that there is more to these dolls than first appears.
They become reflective of Olive’s childish dreams, and become hollow, ironic reminders of what she has lost, especially when Pearl pays out their summer. However, when Roo accidentally breaks the vase containing the seventeenth doll at the end of Act Two, we can see that the dream is vulnerable and fragile like the doll, and can be broken too. And in a final symbolic gesture, as he smashes it at the end of Act Three, we see that this is real, and the dream is shattered. Classical tradition of ‘the Unites’ Aristotelian idea Unity of time (two nights, one summer) Unity of place (in one room).
Unity of character and action (focuses on six people and their problems) Tragedy Tragedy of the common man – we see the essentially good person brought down by their fatal flaw – pride for Roo, idealism for Olive, inarticulateness for all the characters. Well-made play Has a clear exposition or introduction of the basic situation, then a development of the major issues and conflicts, climaxes to end each Act, and these climaxes building to the major climax when Olive’s dream is shattered completely. There is then the denouement, or the resolution of the play’s themes.
Humour This is used in the play to lighten moments which could become too heavy in melodrama or sentimentality, and make characters more individual; e. g. compare Barney’s crude sense of humour with Olive’s light humour. We can also contrast the funny parts with the distressing parts, and see perhaps a glimpse of what the previous summers have been like. Through the Play Act One This is the exposition, where the situation is presented to us, and we can learn about the characters and what they add to this situation; how they fit in with the scheme of things.
Pearl is obviously an outsider, who is dressed to impress, and acts as a character through whom we can learn what is happening, and what has happened in the past. We can see she is nervous, and we appreciate this, because we realise what a strange arrangement this must be as seen by society, and notice that it is frowned on initially by Pearl,’I’m not letting myself in for any nasty mess, either. ‘who relaxes slightly through the scene. We can see that Olive is a dreamer, and has a firm ideal of the lay-off, and how it should proceed. She paints a portrait of the men for us,”…
the regulars’d stand aside to let ’em through, just as if they was a – a coupla kings. ” which helps us to see into Olive’s perceptive of the lay-off, and how it has affected her. She obviously looks up to the two men, and paints them as ‘kings’. We see a contrast between Pearl and Olive straight away; Pearl confronts Olive about the arrangement, and we can see the cynicism with which Pearl is contrasted to Olive. Olive is contemptuous of Nancy’s choice to leave and get married; she sees it as a betrayal of the ultimate dream she has for the season.
Roo and Barney are not immediately obviously the ‘kings’ we heard Olive describe, but we see the ‘Aussie larrikan’ in them both, especially Barney. Roo is somewhat more the strong and silent type, who has suffered a defeat badly, having turned to alcohol to get away from it. We cannot really identify them as being able to sustain an ongoing relationship like this, because they don’t seem to be able to go much deeper than the physical – Roo with his pride letting him down, and Barney with peer pressure preventing him joining his mate – all superficial qualities associated with fairly shallow-minded characters, on the whole.
The presentation of the seventeenth doll to Olive by Roo focuses us on potential for the ongoing happiness of the relationships, but already we can see that this summer will be different from every other. We can see the tensions already between characters, especially between Roo and Barney, and Pearl and Olive, and the pressure on Pearl to be like Nancy for Barney. When Olive begins to talk so protectively and sentimentally of the dolls, we can begin to see the depth of Olive’s dream.
The dolls represent not only her dream, but are her reminder throughout the working season that there is someone who loves her; what’s more, a stereotypical ‘heroic’ working Aussie larrikan who has a sensitive side to him. It is a symbol of her self-delusion. On the other hand, Roo’s almost uncaring attitude toward the dolls and be seen as a typical male reaction to sentimentality, or as the prelude to disappointment for Olive as she realises he doesn’t share the same dream as she does. Roo’s masculine pride prevents him from stooping to be dependent on Olive or Barney this off-season.
We can see the conflict between this pride and Olive’s vision of the lay-off and her love for him that is so closely tied to her dream. Act Two It is in this act that the characters have to admit to one another that there is definitely something different about this summer. This provides a great deal of tension between the characters, and leads up to a disturbing climax. For Roo, the thing that has gone wrong this summer is that he has had to stoop to the position of holiday labourer, in a paint factory – a far cry from his ideal, romantic job as a canecutter.
His pride, however, prevents him going grape-picking with Barney and the boys. However, Roo also knows and recognises how Olive feels about the whole situation, and tries his hardest to make it work for them. Olive has lost her ideals of the lay-off; her dreams are shattered by the realities that Pearl confronts her with. The fact that she bursts in to tears at the end of Scene One is a reflection that she has realised that her dream life is really only an illusion, and she cannot cope with this very well, as we later see. Barney has lost a friend and has also betrayed the code of mateship; a breaking of the unwritten rules.
When he calls on Roo to return his friendship by inviting him grape-picking, Roo’s pride and his anger at Barney makes him choose to break the code as well. When Barney says ‘Happy days ‘n glamorous nights’ he doesn’t mean what he says – he wants to get out of the rut he is in and go back to be with the boys. His focus is entirely selfish, and he doesn’t care really happens to the other characters so much. Pearl unwittingly is the stirrer of this scene, and she is also selfish in that she doesn’t want to understand what this season meant to all the characters.
However, she doesn’t actually cause Olive’s dream to be shattered – it is how the characters react to the realism that causes the scene to break down. She has brought to their attention that the whole layoff was just an illusion that the other characters had built up for themselves. It is in the next scene that we see that the reason why Roo broke down in the canefields is because he was getting old and not able to keep up, not that he had a bad back at all. He lied to everyone except Barney, who blurts out the horrible truth to the other characters.
However, it seems that Barney is not all he claimed to be either – his reputation with the ladies has diminished quite rapidly. It seems that Nancy saw this lack of emotional depth in Barney too, and got out while the going was good. All the characters have been holding on to their various illusions – the men of their masculinity, and Olive as the adored woman of one of these Aussie heroes. The symbol of the broken vase represents the emotional states of these various characters. Act Three Emma’s talk to Roo spells out to him a lot of what is really happening.
He finally realises that he is getting too old for this, as Emma says. Emma says that Olive is a fool, for beliving so deeply in the dream, and for letting it affect her so much. Bubba is convinced the dream will work for her, and no matter what the other characters say otherwise, she is determined to make it work for her and Dowd. It is sad that she has not learned anything from the other characters – we wonder whether she will find the same disappointment as Olive has. We get the feeling of a cycle happening, in that Bubba will continue on the lay-off, and be affected by the same tragedy eventually.
Roo tries to make the best of what he and Olive have left for themselves by proposing to her, and she refuses him, demanding that he give her back what he’s taken from her, ie the illusion she was happy to live under. He cannot give her the impossible, so invites her to share the ‘dust’ with him; i. e. the reality of life, but this is not enough for Olive. She chooses not to live with him, and to remember the dream as it was. We can see as she leaves that she is the most tragic of the characters, as she has been broken in spirit by something that meant so much to her; more to her than to any other character.
Barney tries to make the best of the situation, and tries to delude himself into thinking that he can live on as fit as he was, with his good mate Roo by his side, but this Roo knows is impossible – and he has also recognised that this is the end of a part of his life that has meant a lot to him too, and the deliberate breaking of the seventeenth doll symbolises the final shattering of the dream for everyone involved. Thoughts about the Play Dreams and Realities Roo’s dream is the dream of being top dog in a job that requires physical strength and endurance, and a level head as well.
He likes to be looked up to, and has a lot of pride as a result of that. He realises that he is getting old, and cannot remain top dog forever. He loses the confidence in his own abilities, and his belief in himself. Olive’s dream is the lay-off season and all its meaning – she can be loved and have fun with people she loves, but without the inconvenience of conventional marriage (although it is in many ways a permanent attachment), or worries of having to support a family – it is purely for the enjoyment of all.
She realises that Roo is not the Aussie hero that she thought him to be – he is getting old and losing his strength, to become a lowly worker in a paint factory, as well as wanting to betray the lay-off ideals by settling down to marry her. For Barney it is his mates and idolising of Roo as the top dog. He believes in the traditional code of mateship, but when it suits him, he breaks it conveniently. However, he expects Roo to follow the code when he is in trouble.
Barney realises that the code of mateship does not hold up in all cases, and that he cannot rely on it – a great shock to him, although he does try to prove his realisations wrong by getting ‘back on the top’ with Dowd and the boys. Pearl has a dream too, although hers is slightly different from the other characters – she wants to be seen as being respectable (remember her ‘good black’ dress), or perhaps to find someone to marry and settle down with. She realises fairly early that she will not find this in Barney, but at the end she leaves the house with some regret. Tragedy?
There are indeed ‘fatal flaws’ in the two main characters, Olive and Roo. Olive’s is her naivite, and her strong ideals and the holding on to these ideals that breaks her down in the end. The breaking of the dolls is significant here, because it show the dissolving of her innocence. Roo’s flaw is his ‘dirty lousy rotten pride’ that is the undoing of him – he won’t recognise that he is too old for the type of work he is in, and the fact that he gets a job in the paint factory shows the extent to which his pride is broken.
The characters, however, never seem to be able to manage to talk about what they are losing – they resort to fighting, and smashing things, but never seem to be able to fully understand how they have lost their dreams or why it happened. What accounts for the play’s success? “The massive success of The Doll proved at last that an Australian play could be what hitherto had seemed unattainable: a genuinely indigenous product that dealt with the people and cultural scene of this country without patronising or simplifying; a quality product with strong, unembarrassed local detail.
It was the first internationally famous serious Australian play, and thus a trailblazer. There was no overnight blossoming of the local theatre but in time… [Australian plays] … showed that the subject matter and the talent to bring it to life on stage was here. ” -Wizard Study Guide General Notes on the Play (from a talk by my incredible English teacher, Mr Crase-Smith) Why is this play still performed? It is surely dated, with many colloquialisms and morals of the times not heard of today. But The Doll still captures an audience.
This is not necessarily because of its Australian-‘ness’, but more because of its series of universals. This is a play about ordinary people, which people can immediately relate to. The driving force behind the play is surely the desperate sadness which permeates the very heart of the play. This sadness is brought about by the fact that a group of people are trying to stay young, and are refusing to realise they are growing old. They have a lack of understanding of the growing process, and so stick with what they know best – their youth; ultimately to their downfall.
We see the very young along with the very old in this play, we see the beginnings of a cycle of women in a situation, each one determined to make their life work, although they have seen the downfall of the older woman. Emma hasn’t had an easy life, and although Olive has seen this, she hasn’t learnt any lessons from her, except that she wants to have it differently. Bubba, similarly, can see that Olive’s life was less than perfect in the outcome, and is determined to make it work for her – she sees the opportunity in Johnnie Dowd, but fails to understand why it is that the group of friends have fallen apart.
The audience doesn’t know whether Olive will turn out like Emma, hardened and cynical, but ultimately wise, which is an audience-capturing in the thoughtfulness. We can see that the men who at one stage came down like ‘eagles flyin’ down out of the sun’ are coming down this summer battered and bruised. They are not the fit young men they were – Roo has a bad back, and Barney has had many blows to his ego regarding the studliness he once enjoyed. Behind his joking facade, we can see that he is actually a rather pathetic man, who is prepared to break the unwritten code of mateship to save his own skin.
This act of self-preservation has lost Barney the respect and friendship he once had from Roo, as can be seen when they fight in Act II Scene 2. The audience, however, sympathises with Barney, because they can see that behind his facade he is really hurt and sad when he is laughed at by women. The audience sympthasises with this because everyone knows how it feels to be laughed at. Nancy, the only main character we don’t actually meet, has realised she is getting old, and wanted to get out of the slowly crumbling dream of the lay-off, consequently getting married, and leaving Barney and the others.
She embraced change in a way that Olive cannot understand – Olive believes Nancy’s choice as being traitorous to the dream, “She made a mistake – Marriage is different, and Nancy knew it. ” Through this, we can see a crumbling, insecure world with people who cling, like Olive, or change and grow after the coming of realisation, like Nancy and Roo. Olive clings to a reality that cannot continue. Pearl sees this, and is used in this play as a critical voice, so the audience can size up the characters and compare their actions. Pearl sees the lay-off for what it is, “…
if you’d only come out of your day-dream long enough to take a grown-up look at the lay-off… “. Is it a faith for Olive, or a fantasy? “I’m blind to what I want to be. ” Roo, however, sees, perhaps too late, that it is doomed, and wants to embrace change in an effort to retain as much as he can. In listening to what Emma has to say, he understands, finally the reality. It is the bluntness with which Emma presents the reality to Roo that makes this scene so appealing. We can see again how ordinary these peoples’ lives are. However, Olive sees Roo’s attempt at change as being traitorous.
She believes that if Roo leaves with Barney, as he usually does, it is the only thing she has left – the last shred of the dream for her. Her youth has gone,, and she suddenly realises that she has lost everything, except for the memories, and the desperate hope that if he leaves, it will all be magically better next time, when Roo says, “Olive, it’s gone – can’t you understand? Every last little scrap of it – gone! ” She becomes so intense, she believes that her ideal life has been stolen from her: “You give it back to me – give me back what you’ve taken. ” Roo’s reality is profoundly sad.
He refers to it as “… the dust we’re in and we’re gunna walk through it like everyone else for the rest of our lives! ” This ‘dust’ he refers to suggests mortality, and the fact that everything has been smashed to dust, and cannot be reconstructed. He smashes the seventeenth doll as a powerful visual image – there is no attempt at resolution, or subtlety – the smashing is borne of a brutal, primitive instinct of helplessness and frustration. This adds enormously to the play’s appeal – the end is unresolved, and a change from the usual ‘happy endings’, and relies on the vitality of the characters to play it out.
The tension between the fantasy and reality is most seen here, as the ultimate theme of mortality is reinforced. This ending shows the brilliance of the play in its theatrical nature – there is no sentimentality in the play – only shocking realities that confront the audience about their own everyday lives. These people are so ordinary, but throughout the play we get a sense of impending doom, which makes this almost a Grecian drama – the climaxes show the characters’ humanity, and enthralls the audience.
This play has been labelled by some critics as ‘the tragedy of the inarticulate’ – a tragedy of people who feel intense emotion and symbolism, but cannot express their feelings. Some critics believe that Olive suffers from arrested development, a psychological disorder in that the person rejects the idea of growing old and remains childlike in many ways, e. g. dressing like a child, or carrying dolls etc. It is a detachment from reality that Olive seems to possess, however she also has spirit and vitality, unlike many sufferers of this condition.
She has given up the conventional morals of the times, and takes risks to glory in a dream of her own fabrication. Olive has a great wit and we can see some of her mother in her cynical comments. So this view of Olive as having this condition is a rather narrow one indeed. Other critics feel that Lawler had some ulterior motives in writing this play – they believe he draws parallels to the growth of Australia itself; it’s confrontation of colonialism and development to a recognised nation.
By the 1950’s the colonialistic view of Australia by its inhabitants and its ‘Mother Country’ Britain had begun to change, and during the World Wars Australia realised how far away from Britain it actually was, and decided that trade deals and treaties were best made with America and the Asian nations, and these would have to be recognised because Australia itself sits on the Asia-Pacific rim, further from Britain than any of her other large colonies. The theme of mateship is also explored readily in this play; we see the loyalties that each person has, and what they are prepared to sacrifice them for.
It especially comes under scrutiny when Barney pretends that his friendship with Roo hasn’t suffered from his leaving him up North. Although Barney offers emotional and monetary support to Roo, Roo knows just how much Barney betrayed him up North, and shows him how their trust and loyalty has broken down over that incident. Barney doesn’t realise until it is too late just how much Roo suffered when he abandoned him, and then tried to pretend that nothing happened. Roo is also fiercely loyal to Olive, and he is confronted by Barney about this when Barney wants to leave to go back North.
Roo knows how much the lay-off means to Olive, and doesn’t want to abandon her, like Barney did him, because he knows just how much damage that can do, when loyalties are tested like that. Olive also has loyalties to Roo, but her priorities are with the layoff, and her dreams – which is where the loyalties begin to come undone. She doesn’t realise that she cannot have loyalties in something that is based on crumbling foundations, which is what Nancy realised when she left to get married. Although she has moved on, Nancy still sends Barney a telegram to wish them well; which shows her loyalties are still somewhat with them.
Bubba is very loyal to the other characters of the play – she has grown up with them always in her life, and believes that this situation is the ideal way of life for. She bases her dreams on what has been the stable elements in her life. Emma is also loyal; for all her wisdom and sardonic comments, her loyalty is to Olive, her daughter. She is also somewhat loyal to Roo, as she sees him as the potential husband of her daughter, so offers to help him out when he is broke, although she knows the value of money very well.
This play ultimately works because it touches our sense of compassion; we feel pity for the breakdown of the relationships in the play, and for the characters, and for the situation – we feel pity for them growing old. We feel pity for the characters’ desire to build an ideal world; we see Bubba’s fears for the future, and her determination to overcome them, and at the other end, we see the outcome in Emma’s wisdom: although she hasn’t built herself an ideal world, she has learned to walk in her ‘dust’ and make the most of what she has.
This play is about how ordinary people hurt in themselves, and how they can hurt one another, and how people are reluctant to change – a human flaw that resides, to some extent, in everyone. ? A huge popular success, “it was reported that people drove hundreds of kilometres and a man swam a flooded river to see it in the Northern Territory” [Philip Parsons [ed. ], Companion to Theatre in Australia, Currency Press, 1995, p565]. ? The play then travelled to the UK (where it was co-produced by Laurence Olivier), with brief seasons in Nottingham and Edinburgh, before it?
s opening in London at the New Theatre on 30th April 1957. ? Audience and critical reception here was almost universally glowing, and the Doll subsequently won the 1957 Evening Standard Award for the best new play. ? After London, it transferred to New York (opening on 22nd January 1958) but here the reception was not quite as positive, and the season ended after only 5 weeks. ? The Doll has been widely translated and performed in many countries. ? It has also inspired several adaptations – including the much-criticised film version of 1959, a chamber opera (1996) and Doll Seventeen (2003), a „stylised version?
of the play, which replaced the majority of the dialogue in the play with movement and music. ? In 1977, the Melbourne Theatre Company revived the play as part of The Doll Trilogy, performing it alongside two prequels written by Ray Lawler, Kid Stakes and Other Times.
A scene from the original production of Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, Melbourne, 1955 SUMMER OF THE 17th DOLL 4 BELVOIR TEACHER’S NOTES CHARACTER LIST Olive Leech, a 37-year-old barmaid, daughter to Emma and in a relationship with Roo Emma Leech, Olive? s mother, the owner of the house they spend their summers Bubba Ryan 22-year-old neighbor of Olive & Emma Barney Ibbot 40-year-old sugarcane farmer, Roo?
S best mate Roo Webber a 38-year-old sugarcane farmer, in long-standing relationship with Olive Pearl Cunningham a widow with an 18-year-old daughter who works with Olive Johnnie Dowd 25 year old sugarcane farmer, in Roo & Barney? s team of cutters Pearl PEARL is a widow in her forties, driven back to earning a living by the one job she knows well, that of barmaid. Given the choice, she would prefer something of a more classy nature – head saleswoman in a dress salon, for instance. The pub game, she feels, is rather crude.
She is wearing what she refers to as her „good black? , with a double string of artificial pearls. Very discreet. [Act One, Scene One] 2011 Olive She comes downstairs, wearing a crisp green and white summer frock. Moves with a trace of excitement into room, showing herself off… She postures, waiting for their comments. Despite a surface cynicism and thirty-seven years of age, there is something curiously unfinished about OLIVE, an eagerness that properly belongs to extreme youth. This is intensified at the moment by her nervous anticipation. She is a barmaid at the same city hotel as PEARL, but, unlike the latter, she enjoys the job.
[Act One, Scene One] 1957 Emma Almost seventy now, Emma? s awareness of events is as keen as ever, but she is reconciled these days to her place in the back seat, and her tidiness and rectitude have become slipshod. [Act One, Scene One] 2011 Roo He is a man? s man with a streak of gentleness, a mixture that invites confidence. Tall, thirty-eight years of age, fair hair tinged with grey, a rather battered face with a well-cut mouth. Recent experiences have etched a faint line of bewilderment between his eyes, a sign of the first serious mental struggle he has ever had in his life, but his manner seems free and easy going. Both men are deeply tanned, a strong contrast to the white fleshiness of the women.
[Act One, Scene One] 1957 Barney … has an overwhelming weakness for women, and makes them recognize it. Previous mention of him as a little man is not quite correct. He is short certainly, but not much below medium height, and solidly built. Probably his constant association with the bigger ROO emphasizes his lack of inches. His manner is assertive, confident and impudently bright, perhaps a little overdone as a defiance to his forty years and the beginning of a pot belly. [Act One, Scene One] 1957.
University/College: University of Arkansas System
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Date: 16 September 2016
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