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    How Alan Bennett Creates Sympathy for His Characters

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    This essay sets out to find how a playwright, ie Alan bennet, extracts sympathy from the audience for his character. Alan Bennet is an expert at creating sympathy for his characters. He places them in situations or with problems which become the focal point of his drama. Wilfred’s character is that of a paedophile, but Wilfred also has a nice personality and is not the stereotypical monster that you would associate with his problem. So how does Alan Bennet create sympathy for a man who has created a tragic crime and would normally be rejected.

    When you read the title of the essay the title you will ask your self is what is ‘Playing Sandwiches’. Well, it is the title of play written by Alan Bennet ‘Playing Sandwiches’ is also a monologue. The main characteristics of a monologue that sets it part from any ordinary piece of drama is, when you view through any medium ie on stage, television,or book it is one person speaking. Another aspect is, there is a quick change between the thoughts of the main character, in this case Wilfred, this is called a stream of consciousness, so ideas lead quickly from one to another but not necessarily in a logical sequence.

    Alan Bennet’s first task is to create a character we can understand or relate to. So how does he make Wilfred seem normal, ie someone we can relate to. The first time in the monologue where Bennet does this is in the first paragraph. Wilfred is shown in a park attendant uniform, so he has a job just like an average man, he also starts complaining about the state of the park. Alan Bennet uses, extreme words like “filth” instead of dirty to create the sense that Wilfred is as disgusted as the audience might be.Character response to the situation is very important, because if the response is completely differently to that which might be expected, then we might start to think of Wilfred as not being normal. Again the idea being to show that Wilfred has many of the normal attitudes and standards as other members of society. Wilfred is also married to Janet which you definitely do not associate with paedophilic tendencies. Bennet also shows Wilfred with friends and family at a social event, a christening, which also builds on the sense that he is a normal part of society.

    But normally a paedophile would be treated differently, he would be thought of as scum and would be a social out cast, with no friends or a job. But Wilfred is presented completely differently, he has a number of attributes which a paedophile would not be expected to have, a wife being perhaps the most important difference. Another thought that comes into peoples minds when you think of a paedophile is, monster. This is perhaps the reason why Alan Bennet needs to make Wilfred seem normal, because it would be difficult to sympathize with a monster.

    So Alan Bennet has managed to make Wilfred somewhat normal, so that a link is formed between Wilfred and the audience. The next step for Alan Bennet is to build up sympathy between the audience and the character of Wilfred. Bennet is often very subtle at this, most of the time, but on occasions he develops situations or scenes which demand a higher level of feeling.

    One example of Bennet’s subtle approach occurs when Rosalie is “clouted” for suggesting that Wilfred be a godparent. Alan Bennet again makes use of vocabulary to its fullest effect, because the harsh words emphasise the embarrassment for Wilfred. As a result we are made to feel sorry for him. Another important subtle moment of sympathy develops when his family makes fun of him. The dramatic device here is to use the other characters to show Wilfred as the outcast and underdog and as such make him appear vulnerable, the effect is again that we are made to feel sorry for him. The effect this has on the audience is the creation of contrasting characters, which gives us an alternative perspective on Wilfred. Here we sympathise because they are teasing a character that we know more closely.

    Alan Bennet in contrast uses very direct moments as well, an example of this is when the family don’t want Wilfred to be a godfather, which is a direct insult to Wilfred. Bennet now uses a humourous reaction towards this instead of him being angry and upset. This is done to show Wilfred’s good natured acceptance of the situation. It allows the audience to sympathise with him much more easily than if Wilfred became angry.

    “The priest lad looks as if to that wheels aren’t part of the job description when Yvonne spots Grandpa Greenwood who’s just been to spend a penny and say’s, “he’ll do”. The priest says, “isn’t he a bit on the old side?” Yvonne says, “no he isn’t. He still goes ballroom dancing.” So it ends up being him. I Said to Janet, “At least baby Lorraine won’t have any problems with the Military Twostep”

    After Wilfred has been caught for assaulting Samantha, Wilfred thinks he is not guilty and tries to blame other things, i.e.

    “It was the rain that did it because i had being given the band stand a wide berth all week”

    when he is forced to go back to the bandstand because of it, the bandstand is where Sam and her mother sit. Two dramatic devices are used one is repetition, this is where the character keeps bring up the same idea again and again. The other is soliloquy style. Soliloquy allows the audience a closer insight to character through their thoughts. So we get a better understanding of who they are. In this scene we are allowed to see the inner workings of Wilfred’s mind; thus we feel we understand him more clearly. Our sympathy is raised because we recognise Wilfred’s lack of understanding and distorted view of the world. Wilfred, at times, almost seems like a naughty child who doesn’t know any better.

    The last scene in this monologue is the most important and most influential in terms of sympathy. This is when everything comes to the surface in a very powerful scene. Alan Bennet used a fade right at the end of the penultimate scene, the fade comes straight after, when Wilfred tells us that he had taken Sam into the bushes. So the fade made the audience feel very uncomfortable, Bennet also used the juxtaposition by placing the last scene directly after the horrible scene before it. Which is a test on the audience’s sympathy. Despite the fact that we despise what Wilfred has done, by placing this scene last, Alan Bennet is ensuring that the last image the audience get is of a broken and rejected man.

    “FADE, and in the black a long drawn out howl”

    The first Image you get after the scene in which he abuses Sam is of Wilfred in prison battered and bruised the dramatic device of stage direction is used here. Bennet highlights this fact which raises our sympathy for Wilfred. Alan Bennet again here uses a subtle source of information. In this last scene Bennet shows him in denial and repression although Wilfred doesn’t tell about his childhood, but Bennet makes it clear there has been something that had happened to him in the past. Again this use of the soliloquy style of drama. With this, his inner thoughts are revealed to show he has been damaged in the past and has not been able to correct it, thus we both sympathise and empathise with Wilfred.

    Wilfred at this moment is vulnerable and is used as a scape goat and does not get the promised help or treatment. This is good use of social context because the audience will sympathise due to the fact they know this sort of thing does happen, and that they should be aware of police corruption and social service neglect and apathy. Wilfred does get some treatment in prison, unwelcome treatment. Alan Bennet uses colourful vocabulary to highlight the cruelty of the other inmates behaviour and thus we sympathise with a man we have come to know quite well.

    “The judge said i would get treatment. I haven’t been given any treatment. They’ve put me by my self to stop me getting the others giving me the treatment. The scalded in the kitchen treatment. The Piss in the your porridge treatment”

    Bennet also stirs up a social context here by suggesting the other prisoners are wrong to feel they have the right to punish another prisoner, because they feel his crime is worse than their crime. Thus we sympathise with Wilfred for getting unjust treatment or harassment.

    Wilfred also says in this scene,

    “It’s the one bit of my life that feels right and it’s that bit that’s wrong.”

    In this powerful soliloquy, we sympathise with Wilfred as he confronts this cruel realisation. Wilfred has a desire to be alone and isolated, this is use of soliloquy and dramatic irony. We sympathise because we realise that it is too late for him. The damage is done. Also it is ironic that he is totally isolated and alone but it is not the way he would prefer. Wilfred is seen in despair as well in the very end stage direction, the use of fade and use of vocabulary all play their part in a memorable ending. The fade here emphasises the isolation as Wilfred is engulfed in darkness. Alan Bennet’s stage directions leave the audience with the harrowing sound of Wilfred crying. A very difficult situation not to have sympathy for.

    AB has succeeded in creating sympathy for Wilfred, by firstly developing Wilfred to have similar emotions and feelings to yourselves therefore making him seem normal and easy to relate to. He then throughout the monologue builds on the sympathy we feel for Wilfred and then secures it in the last scene with a powerful and moving ending to the play which gives the audience a lasting impression of Wilfred to think about afterwards. AB uses this monologue to contrast the man against the crime, i.e. you get to know Wilfred before knowing the crime therefore you see the human behind the inhuman acts. This is also what Bennet is suggesting about the police, social services and the other poisoners because all they could see is the crime, not the man behind them.

    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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    How Alan Bennett Creates Sympathy for His Characters. (2017, Oct 24). Retrieved from

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