A Taste of Honey – Footnotes
The Footnotes to our episode on A Taste of Honey include thoughts on sins of the mother, and Shelagh Delaney’s real people.
Sins of their mothers
One of the themes that the play suggests is that it is difficult to escape repeating the patterns of behaviour we absorb from our parents. It’s a point that Helen even recognises despite her general negligence as Jo’s mother. When Jo announces that she is engaged to be married, she ironically chastises Jo for not learning from her own mistakes. We also talked in the podcast about how Jo replicates Helen’s behaviour in seeking self-worth by seducing a man and getting recklessly pregnant.
To underline the potential cycle of repetition there are echoes of Helen’s first marriage in Geof and Jo’s relationship. Helen’s husband was incapable of satisfying her sexual needs, as Geof is for Jo, and in a mirror image Geof is willing to care for another man’s child, which Helen’s husband wasn’t. The theme adduces a literary reference in Ibsen’s Ghosts when Jo tells Geof about her father, and her concerns that she has inherited his mental weakness, as Oswald inherited syphilis from his father in Ghosts. In fact it is clear that it is the sins of her mother that have the most impact on Jo.
Shelagh Delaney was determined to write about the real world that she saw around her; to show the vitality and resilience of the working-class people who were struggling to cope with the hardships of life in Salford in the 1950s: “I see the theatre as a place where you should go not only to be entertained but where the audience has contact with real people, people who are alive.” The real people we meet in A Taste of Honey are living in impoverished circumstances, are poorly educated, feckless and flawed, but are also survivors, funny, determined and independent. For a time Jo is holding down two jobs, because as Helen warns her “There’s two w’s in your future: work or want”. Tellingly it is not difficult to relate to this portrait of deprivation when we look at the current disparity in wealth and opportunity between regions of the country that is in need of “levelling up”.
Delaney’s cast of real people includes a single mother, a mixed race couple, a homosexual student, and a black maternity nurse. It is not just hindsight that affirms that Delaney was not only presenting the real world of her time but a vision of the emerging plurality of our society.
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