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Themes and Issues - A Taste Of Honey by Shelagh Delaney

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by Ella Phillips on 26 November 2012

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Transcript of Themes and Issues - A Taste Of Honey by Shelagh Delaney

The Themes and Issues
Within A Taste of Honey Love Racism Family Prostitution Alcoholism Single Parenting Abandonment Throughout the text, there are many
different types of love which are explored. Throughout the text, the theme of Racism is evident. Throughout the text, the theme of family engages
a contemporary audience. During the play it is insinuated that both Helen and Peter are alcohol dependent Helen is presented to the audience as a semi - whore, not a prostitute. Shelagh Delaney said herself :

"The mother is not a prostitute, nowhere have i said she is..."

However, throughout the play, it is insinuated that Helen has sold her body in the past, in desperation:

"I'm thinking of giving it up...
Sex! Men!"

Helen accepts gifts from her lovers as a way of making a living and supporting Jo:

"And we're supposed to be living off her immoral earnings..." The issue of single parenting is explored within the play. Jo is abandoned by several people throughout the course of the play; her mother, Geof, Jimmy and her father. She is surrounded by constant disappointment when it comes to relying on people. This is why she is self dependent ;

"The time to have taken care of me was years ago, when I couldn’t take care of myself." Family Love, displayed by Jo and Helen ;

"It's alright love. I'm here and everything is alright."

Although Helen abandons Jo, she does eventually return with a desire to finally look after her and be the mother that she should have been in the first place. The idea of romantic relationships and marriage ;

It is presumed that marriage is motivated by love. However, this is not the case with Helen and Peter. When Jo asks her mother, why she is marrying Peter Helen's response is somewhat unconventional

"He's got a wallet full of reasons"

This feeling in Helen and Peter's relationship is mutual as Peter only marries Helen as he is physically attracted to her. Another aspect of love which is portrayed is adultery.

It is said throughout the play that the reason Helen is a single parent is because she committed adultery in her first marriage. Helen 's desire for sex, lead to the failure of her marriage and an illegitimate child :

“…she had me by an Irishman - the village idiot from what I can make out." "...A frolic in a hay loft one afternoon. You see her husband thought sex was dirty, and only used the bed for sleeping in. So, she took to herself an idiot.”

Helen also refers to the affair:

"How was I to know you’ d materialise out of a little love affair that lasted five minutes?" The theme of love and particularly infidelity interests a contemporary audience, as both themes are still relevant to our society. The theme of love is universal and unites an audience world wide, of any age. A contemporary audience can relate to the theme of love and this is a particularly effective as it enables the audience to connect to the characters and plot. Within the text, we can undoubtedly see that racism was a key issue within society in 1950s Britain:

“JO: My baby will be black
HELEN: Oh don’t be so silly, Jo. You’ll be giving yourself nightmares.”

This quotation shows the prejudice that individuals had towards black people and the disgust that they felt towards mixed race relationships in the 1950s. Helen is revolted at the thought of having a black grandchild, so much so, that she suggests that Jo should drown the baby:

“I don’t know. Drown it.”

Society has moved forward from the intense racist attitudes that people had in Britain in the post war period, however, the views that the play portrays connects with the audience, as racism towards other ethnic minority groups is still ubiquitous within our culture. The relationship between Helen and Jo is often referred to as dysfunctional. Helen is a single parent who struggles to bring up her only daughter due to her own selfish behavior. Helen puts herself and her lovers before Jo, therefore presenting herself as an unconventional mother:

"Every Christmas Helen would go off with some boyfriend or another and leave me all on my own in some sordid digs..." The theme of family runs through the play in a variety of different situations The most practical domesticated situation throughout the play, is when Jo and Geof are living together. They have replaced their own family with each other and plan to bring up Jo's baby together. They both need the love that each other provides:

"Before I met you I didn't care one way or the other - I didn't care whether I lived or died . But now...
There's no need for me to go Jo. You said yourself you didn't want anybody else here..." The theme of family engages a contemporary audience, as it is a universal theme which everybody can relate to, no matter what era the play is viewed. Helen derives contentment from the company of men and alcohol. It is clear that she is alcohol reliant, as she enters and leaves the play looking for a drink:

“I’ll have to have a drink.”

During the first scene of the play, she pours herself a drink and tries to make Jo also have one. It is here that she explains that she feels that alcohol comforts her:

“You don’t smell it you drink it! It consoles you.” This clearly shows us, that Helen relies upon alcohol and feels down about the life that she leads. Her relationship with Peter, is also heavily dependent upon alcohol:

“PETER Well are you coming for a few drinks then, or aren’t you?
HELEN The pubs aren’t open yet.”

The issue of alcoholism interests a contemporary audience, as it is still very prevalent in our society, particularly among poverty stricken areas. The issue of alcoholism interests a contemporary audience, as it is still very much a high profile issue within modern culture. The issue of prostitution is explored within "A Taste of Honey" The issue of prostitution engages a contemporary audience as it is still relevant within the world today. As the play is set in the post war period, single parent families were fairly common due to the lack of males returning from the war. However, there was still a stigma with single parents out of choice.

We are told that the reason that Helen is a single parent is because she was unfaithful to her first husband and this resulted in a divorce. The relationship between Jo and Helen is very fraught throughout the play, perhaps the reason for this is because Helen blames Jo for her divorce and therefore their monetary issues. Helen was also a very young bride and mother:

JO You're not exactly a child bride .
HELEN I had been once or near enough. Even though single parent families have become very common within our society, the issue still interests a contemporary viewer as it shows a clear progression in what society considers to be acceptable. The title of the play comes from a reference in the Bible from the Book of Samuel which refers to a story where a character called Jonathan tasted honey when he shouldn’t have and then has to be punished.This therefore suggests that each character has to pay for their happiness. Jimmie is Jo’s physical taste of honey and Geof is her emotional taste of honey. Isolation Jo isolates herself because she has always been pushed away and rejected by her mother. Although she craves attention, she is constantly denied it, she then isolates herself from the world. This is evident from the line;

"You're nothing to me. I'm everything to myself." Neglect It is evident throughout the text, that Helen has always neglected Jo. She even says herself ;
"Have I ever laid claim to being a proper mother?"
She treats Jo horribly and abuses her both physically and verbally;

"Silly little bitch"
"I'll kill her. I'll knock the living daylights out of her."

This is also an example of dysfunctional parenting. Poverty Poverty is a significant theme within “A Taste of Honey”. It is evident from the opining scene that the play will investigate the theme of poverty, as we are made aware of the women’s financial situation; Jo expresses her dislike for their new home and Helen explains that it was all she could afford:

“When I find somewhere for us to live, I have to consider something far more important than your feelings… the rent. It’s all I can afford.”

Helen’s financial difficulties stem from her lack of ambition and self worth, although she blames society for her poverty and desperation. As the play is set in the post war period, poverty was almost inevitable for the working class. This is a similar economic crisis that we are currently facing within our own society. The issue of poverty, therefore engages a contemporary audience as it is something that they can relate to and is still significant in our own times. Homosexuality Perhaps the biggest difference between culture then and now is the legalisation of homosexuality. Homosexuality was a crime in England until 1967 when the ‘Sexual Offences Act’ was passed, the English reform, was only extended to Scotland in 1980.
During the play, Geof is referred to on several occasions’ by Helen as a:

“Pansified freak”

This offensive insinuation portrays the widespread opinion at the time, that being homosexual was abnormal and immoral. Homosexuality is now legal within Britain and therefore discrimination towards the community is not as prominent in our culture as it was in the 50s. Teenage
Pregnancy Teen pregnancy is perhaps one of the most significant issues within the text that a contemporary audience can relate to, as it is still a primary concern within today’s society. It is clear that during the second act, Jo is embarrassed and ashamed that she will be a teen mother; we know this as Geoff states that she will not leave her flat:

“She won’t go out anywhere, not even for a walk and a bit of fresh air.”

It is evident that this is a common feeling amongst teen mothers of all eras, as even within our own society, teen mothers are made to feel alienated and condemned. Jo even risks the health of her own baby, to avoid judgement, as she does not go to the clinic for regular check ups:

“HELEN … Are you going to the clinic regularly?
GEOF No, I told you , she doesn’t like people looking at her.”

The attitude that Jo has to her pregnancy is identifiable to the contemporary viewer as it is familiar to the attitudes of our own civilization towards teen pregnancy. Jo’s pregnancy, interests the audience as it communicates a different aspect to her personality. Loneliness Jo is not the only lonely character within the text, perhaps the real reason behind Helen and Peter’s relationship is the fact that they are both lonely. To some extent, Peter adopts a child role in their relationship and Helen gives him all of the love she never gave Jo. Peter refers to himself as Oedipus, a child who marries his mother, which ends in tragedy, in Greek mythology:

“His name was Oedipus, he was Greek I think. Well, the old bag turned out to be his
mother… So he scratched out both his eyes.
But I only scratched out one of mine…” Friendship
Throughout the text, we can see that friendship is the only reliable source of love that Jo has in her life. Without Geoff’s love and support, Jo may not have been able to survive. However, it is evident that Geof, too needs Jo, as he states:

“I’d sooner be dead than away from you.”

The intense friendship that Geof and Jo have together, shows how much love they have both been lacking in their life. Jo feels safe and secure when she’s with Geof as he provides the much needed love that Helen never did:

“JO Hold my hand Geof.
GEOF Hey, Jo. Come on, silly thing, it‘s all right. Come on there.”

The theme of friendship throughout the text, interests the audience as it shows the unconditional love one can experience from a friend, no matter what age, gender or sexual orientation they happen to be. This relates to a contemporary viewer, as friendship is a universal theme everybody can relate to, no matter what era the drama is viewed. Mixed Race Relationships As the drama is set in the post war period, mixed race relationships, were looked at as being abnormal and in fact disgusting. This is evident during the play as Helen says to Jo;

"You mean to say that...that sailor was a black man? Oh my God!" Dysfunctional Parenting Helen rejected the maternal role that she gained and therefore, in the process neglected her child, so that she could continue to lead a promiscuous lifestyle:

“ You know I used to try and hold my mother’s hands, but she always used to pull them away from me. So silly really. She had so much love for everyone else, but none for me.”

“Have I ever laid claim to being a proper mother?”
Mixed Race Children The attitude in society towards mixed race children in the post war period is much the same to that of mixed race relationships, if not worse. During the play, we catch a glimpse of what Jo's mixed race baby will endure:

"...drown it"
"Put it on the stage and call it Blackbird" " "A Taste of Honey" by Shelagh Delaney was written in 1958, when she was a mere 18 years old. Although this play was originally being written as a novel, it was rewritten as a play in response to Delaney’s dissatisfaction with contemporary theatre. Delaney felt that she could write a better play, with more realistic dialogue, than the plays that were currently being staged. ‘A Taste of Honey’ became an unexpected hit, winning several awards both as a play and later as a film..Delaney’s play opened to mixed reviews. In many cases, her characters were praised for their honest, realistic voices. The play was also singled out for its accurate depictions of working class lives.
Delaney believed in social protest and has not been afraid to speak out on the need for a more realistic theatre, one that depicts the working class environment of many British citizens."
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