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Isolated and Marginalized Characters of Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads

Isolated and Marginalized Characters of Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads

All the pieces in Alan Bennett’s collection deal in some way with people who are isolated or marginalized, either because of circumstances or because of their own idiosyncrasies. Every character is, in some way inadequate. Graham is a mother’s boy, whose dubious sexuality seems to have caused him severe mental stress. Susan, the vicar’s wife, is an alcoholic woman, trapped in a loveless marriage, whose caustic intolerance of her husband’s calling alienates her from the rest of the parish and forces her into behaviour which is damaging and dangerous. Irene Ruddock is narrow minded and malicious, believing herself to be a guardian of public morals, when, in fact, she is no more than a dangerous slanderer. The actress, Lesley, believes that her talent is genuine, but has not the intelligence or wit to realise that she is, in reality, a failure. Muriel Carpenter has spent her whole married life refusing to face up to reality and suffers tragic consequences from years of selective vision and poor Doris finds her age and upbringing have made her an anachronism in modern society.

Although Irene is the only one of the characters who spends “real” time in prison, it could be argued that, in a way all of Bennett’s subjects are prisoners of a sort. Graham’s claustrophobic existence with his aged and senile mother is a form of imprisonment. Ironically, the opportunity of “escape” offered by his mother’s affair with Frank Turnbull, is very threatening to him, causing him to begin to exhibit all of his “old” symptoms and making him more nervous than ever. Although Graham seems to be unhappy with the tedium of his life, it soon becomes obvious to us that i…

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… on his own parents experiences. Her obsession with being “clean” and “decent” are typically Northern working class values. There is much about this character that is irritating but when we learn about the dead child who “wasn’t fit to be called anything” we suddenly realise that there is more to her than we thought. Like Muriel, Doris has spent her life “keeping up appearances”, refusing to cave in to hardship and making the best of her situation. Also like Muriel she has a strong sense of her position as a woman, although here we see the opposite attitude – that the woman is the “boss” in a marriage. Poor Walter was definitely a henpecked husband. Her strength of character is such that she quite deliberately decides not to ask the policeman for help when he knocks at the door. She knows that she will die and seems to prefer to choose her own time and place for it.

Unresolved Issues in The Merchant of Venice

For much of the play, The Merchant of Venice appears to be vintage Shakespearean farce. A group of buffoons vie to marry the beautiful and wealthy Portia; women dress up as men and fool their betrothed; servants are willing accomplices in playful deceits. Where Merchant of Venice departs from the pattern of a typical Shakespearean farce is with the appearance of Shylock, the Jew. Shylock transforms this play from a simple comedy to a work of enormous complexity. In The Merchant of Venice, the contrast between the tragedy of Shylock and the comedy of the other characters raises many issues that are left unresolved for the thoughtful reader.

As the action begins Antonio, a wealthy merchant who deals in overseas trade, is sitting on a bench preening. The character of Antonio is clearly written as full of affection and devotion towards Bassanio. Bassanio wishes to borrow money to woo Portia, a woman of beauty and means who is constrained by her dead father’s demand that she marry the man who solves the riddle and chooses the right metal casket. Antonio is having a cash flow problem, with his many ships out at sea and not yet returned, so he suggests borrowing the necessary funds from the Jew, Shylock. He agrees to post the required bond.

Enter Shylock, a comical yet sympathetic fellow, who makes clever jokes at the expense of the Christians in his presence, while conveying the pain and rage he feels as the victim of an unfriendly society. Quickly, the reader learns that he lends money because there are laws which prevent him from pursuing any other career. He resents that Antonio lends to his fr…

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…ntent, rattles the sensibilities of anyone concerned with the ills of society. It appears too easy to turn away from the pain of others to the comfort of our own lives. No thought or mention is given to Shylock and his end. Only Antonio seems disheartened, and seemingly only because he has lost the affection of Bassanio to Portia.

Shylock is the driving force that catapults The Merchant of Venice from simple comedy to a work of enormous complexity. The contrast between the tragedy of Shylock and the comedy of the other characters is difficult to dismiss. Many questions are raised and issues left unresolved for the thoughtful reader. The presence of Shylock makes the play unsettling, raising once again the subjects of discrimination, revenge, mercy, and the very essence of human weakness.

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