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    20th Century Drama ‘Talking Heads’ by Alan Bennett Essay

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    The monologues I have studied are ‘A Cream Cracker under the Settee’ and ‘A lady of Letters’.

    The monologues have been written by Alan Bennett who is a playwright as well as a film director. A monologue is a long speech by one person. They are usually used to represent the loneliness of one. The two monologues have been described as being modern day tragedies meaning that there is nothing that goes right in the characters lives and usually ends with a sad ending.

    ‘A Cream Cracker under the Settee’ is about a character called Doris. The character of Doris has been played by an actress called Thora Hird.Doris is an old aged widow that lives by herself. Her old age reflects on her, as her limbs are falling weak, especially her legs that tend to go numb.

    She is obsessed with cleaning and makes an effort of dusting and cleaning the house, unfortunately her legs go numb and she falls. She lives in a council house and so the council want to send her to an old people’s home called ‘Stafford House’. Doris isn’t to keen on it and doesn’t want to move. She believes that her house holds a lot of memories of her life and her dead husband and child.

    Doris is an ordinary working class widow.She is lonely and everyone she knows has have died or left her. In the monologue Doris mentions that she had a child that died in the past and was not able to grieve over the death properly because of the lack of support her husband gave her. There is guilt shown on Doris’s face because of this.

    On page 89, she also mentions that her husband Wilfred did not show that he was upset about the child’s death. She describes her husband as one of those people who didn’t live up to their ideas. In the monologue she mentions her husband by calling him dad.She’s desperate and wishes she had another chance to do many things in the past.

    In her monologue she talks about the past a lot. She is an old fashioned woman who wishes she had a daughter. She is very critical about the people these days; her criticism about them seems more like an obsession but she seems like a good person at heart. Doris does not seem like a religious person as she quotes ‘Religious people are hypocrites’.

    Also by other quoting made by her in the monologue make the reader believe that she isn’t religious at all.She is ignorant to other cultures and races as she grew up in the country where there were not any immigrants. Doris has an Asian worker called Zulema that comes to help with cleaning the house and helping her out with other stuff, but Doris does not trust her. Doris thinks that Zulema is not a very good cleaner as she finds a cream cracker under the settee as she is talking to the audience during the monologue.

    She also does not like Zulema telling her what to do and treating her like a child. Doris is a very brave and proud person.She does not want to believe she is an old person, even though her body is falling weak she believes she’s still there within the mind. During the monologue Doris is near the door and her legs numb.

    She continuously knocks on the door and tries to seek help. Towards the end of the play Doris puts her hand under the settee and eats the cream cracker that Zulema forgot to pick up whilst cleaning. This is quiet surprising for the audience as Doris is a very clean person and one of the reasons she does not want to go to Stafford house is because of its hygiene reasons.Then when a police officer knocks on her door to asks if everything is o.

    k. Doris replies by saying that everything was ok says that her lights were off because she was having a nap. The policeman goes and Doris thinks she has done it. She believes that now that the police officer has gone she won’t be going to Stafford house.

    She also wanted to die in the same house as her husband as all his memories are in the house that she lives in. I believe that Doris is a tragic figure as nothing seemed to go well in her life and her monologue ends with her death. She has lost everyone she knew and has spent most of her life alone.She has an obsession with cleaning and obviously when you have an obsession with something you can’t help but think about it.

    She cleaned her house in a very unfit state and whilst cleaning her legs went numb. The death of her baby and husband was probably the most tragic thing in her life. There are many things that make her monologue very tragic A picture of a husband Wilfred and Doris’s wedding picture is a prop that has been used in this monologue a lot. Doris talks to the photo many times in the monologue; this represents her husband’s presence in many ways.

    It also shows us how lonely Doris is and how much she misses him. The picture is broken and this symbolises that her life is broken and is hard to fix. Another crop used in the monologue is the cream cracker under the settee, which Zulema forgot to clean and which has been under the settee for many days. At first Doris is complaining about the cream cracker and how Zulema does not clean properly but ironically at the end of the play she eats it because she is hungry and she realises having something dirty to eat wont harm her.

    A duster also is used a crop. Doris uses it to clean the house.She then hides it because she doesn’t want her worker Zulema to find out she’s been cleaning over her. Thora Hird plays the character of Doris.

    She plays Doris’s character as a very isolated at lonely character who is growing weaker by the day. To show Doris’s weakness Thora Hird is lying on the floor most of the time in the monologue. The director shows the passing of time by the camera moving up and down. Each scene gets darker and darker.

    There is also a black out it stands for the end of a scene. At the end of the black out usually Doris is at a different place in her house.The play tells us that we as a society are very neglectful to old people. Usually once people are old they are sent to an old peoples home.

    Doris doesn’t want to go to Stafford house because she does not want to be like all the other old people that smell like “pee”. In a way Doris is prejudice against old peoples homes. She does not know how an old peoples home may be unless she actually lives there. Our society is very ignorant towards old people.

    The second monologue I have studied is called ‘A Lady of Letters’. It’s about a character called Irene.The character of Irene has been played by Patricia Routledge. Irene is a very lonely lady.

    She lives by herself and by writing letter of complaints she communicates with the outer world. Her mother is dead and she is extremely depressed because of this. She is sent to prison because of her continuous complaints that have upset people. In prison Irene gets to know the youth and understand the outer world.

    She enjoys her life in prison. Irene is a depressed person who is extremely lonely. She lived with her mother until she died. She then lived by her self in her mothers house.

    She writes a lot of letter of complaints to people. This is the way she communicates with the outer world and this also may be a way she relieves her stress. This habit of writing letters becomes an obsession for Irene and so she gets in to a lot of trouble because of this. She is a nosey and a very opinionated woman.

    She is very hard to please and this also maybe another reason for why she writes a lot of letters of complaints. She has many negative things to say about the society. Irene is clinically depressed because she mentions that the doctor has given her depression tablets.Also no one sane enough would write letters of complaint as an obsession.

    The pen that she writes the letters with is given to her by her mother. I think Irene wrights a lot of letters because she may feel closer to her mum by using the pen and feels her presence through it. Through out the monologue she talks about her family in Canada. This may be because she misses them a lot as they are the only family she has.

    Irene has never had a boyfriend in her life and presumably she has never had sex in her life. She is isolated by the society due to her own doings.Irene is ignorant towards other cultures, as she is always at home and does not mix in with others, also because when she was growing up there weren’t many people with other cultures living around her. She is not very religious as she thinks that god has not helped her at all in her life.

    Irene gets sent to prison for her non-stop complaints that upset people. Everyone she sent a letter of complaint to, complained about her. Surprisingly life in prison for Irene is not too bad after all. She gets to make friends and interact with other woman.

    She gets to live like a normal woman.She begins to swear, to smoke and she also learns about sex. She becomes a mother figure to the other girls as she is much older than them. Irene learns more about life in prison and is happy in there.

    At the end of the monologue Irene seems like a completely different person and looks much younger. In many ways I believe that Irene is a tragic character because she gets her happiness by living in prison. She has not really lost her mind but she is just in a state of depression, as she had no one else in her life but her mother who died as well.She is never had a relationship with a man so this is another uncompleted phase in her life.

    She also does not have a dad, which means she has no influence of a male person in her life. The house that Irene lives in is depressing itself. This matches Irene’s character. A prop that is used a lot in the monologue is the pen that Irene uses to write her letters of complaints with.

    It is her best friend because she uses it a lot. The pen is given to her by her mother, which is why the pen is very dear to her.While in prison the colours of the stickers that Irene is playing with represent the colours and different stages of her life. At the end of the monologue Irene is wearing tracksuits instead of the boring clothes she wore before she went to prison.

    This also represents the change in her life. The director shows the time change by their being day and night. The time change is also shown by Irene’ costumes. Doris and Irene are two characters that are very similar because they both have very tragic lives in their own ways.

    They are both female and they both live by themselves.They both have someone that has died in their lives. With Doris it was the death of her child and husband and with Irene it was the death of her mother. This also may be the main reason of their depression.

    Both of them are childless. They both have old-fashioned views on society and people. They both have an obsession with something. Doris has an obsession with cleaning and Irene has an obsession with letter writing.

    Both of them are very hard to please they also have a habit of criticising their neighbours. Another thing that is a major common factor about the two is that they both don’t have a strong faith in God.They both are very critical about religion and about religious people. Doris and Irene are different characters because they have lived very different lives.

    Doris has been married and has had a child, whereas Irene has never had a boyfriend in her life, which means she has never had her own family. Doris has become very old but Irene is middle aged. They both have obsessions but have two different types of obsessions. Doris has an obsession with cleaning and Irene has an obsession with writing letter of complaints.

    The monologue I preferred was ‘A lady of letters’.This is because with Irene there was some hope of her recovering whereas with Doris her monologue ends with her death. Also because with ‘A Lady of Letters’ there is also a bit of humour involved in the monologue. Irene has not gained much happiness life; she lived by herself and never ever had a relationship with a man.

    She also spent most of her life at home. When people live by themselves they become bitter and don’t enjoy the company of another person. This is the reason why Irene had become so critical of other people. Whereas Doris had received her share of happiness but lost it with in time.

    She had a husband and a child but both of them died before she did. She did not get to grieve properly over the death of her child because of the lack of support she got by her husband. She didn’t have much to do as she also lived by herself. She had an obsession with cleaning but she couldn’t clean because her legs would go numb whenever she tried to.

    At the end of the monologue all is well with Irene as she says she’s happy now but at the end of ‘A Cream Cracker under the Settee’ Doris says she is unhappy and she dies. I also think Doris’s monologue was more tragic than Irene’s monologue.

    This essay was written by a fellow student. You may use it as a guide or sample for writing your own paper, but remember to cite it correctly. Don’t submit it as your own as it will be considered plagiarism.

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