This play was Arnold Wesker’s first popular work, although his previous plays had enjoyed considerable artistic success. Like all of his plays, CHIPS WITH EVERYTHING delineates an aspect of contemporary society, not stopping at pointing out faults, but going on to point toward solutions. Wesker’s drama is, in fact, an extension of a general concern with social causes, and his identification with those causes is as strong on the stage as it is off.
Wesker also continues his interest in the psychology of the individual character in CHIPS WITH EVERYTHING. At first the play seems to be without a plot. A group of recruits meet at a training camp and several episodes occur which have some comic or dramatic interest as episodes: Corporal Hill plays the stereotyped drill sergeant; the recruits have their first drill lesson during which it is discovered that Smiler is physically unable to stop smiling; the various officers introduce themselves and in doing so reveal their individual perversions; Pip Thompson tells the history of his distinguished family; there is a Christmas party which degenerates into a fight and a confrontation between Pip and the officers; and Pip organizes and directs a very funny sequence in which the recruits steal some coal from the camp’s central supply. However, there is little apparent connection between these events except that the same people are involved in each before the second act.
In the second act the play begins to take shape, and what seems to have been a series of discrete events merges into a distinct pattern. That pattern cannot be equated, however, with the traditional plot in which a problem is introduced, complicated, and ultimately solved. CHIPS WITH EVERYTHING is closer to life than that: the basic assumption of the play is that in life the patterns lie inside the characters, and whenever anything significant occurs it happens within the individual. The only way to approach the play is through the characters who undergo the most changes in the course of the action.
The first characters who need to be accounted for in an analysis of the play are those who do not change, those in whom those changes have already occurred which are the builders of a man’s eventual character. Corporal Hill is a contradiction. On the one hand, he is the caricature of the drill sergeant, tough, unfeeling, and dedicated to the single-minded purpose of turning out perfect fighting men. On the other hand, he is genuinely concerned with the welfare of the recruits assigned to him, with seeing that they have the opportunity to work out their individual problems on their own terms.
The Wing Commander is dedicated to two propositions: first, that the military commitment is the most important concern of contemporary society; two, that the fighting men of the line are trash and it is the duty of the upper classes to mold that trash into worthy articles to be adapted into the social apparatus. The Squadron Leader believes that the only duty of the average man is discipline and obedience and the duty of the members of the upper classes is to command that discipline and obedience.
The Pilot Officer is obsessed with cleanliness. He sees the whole world as a breeding place for bacteria that have no function but to create disease. It is his self-appointed duty to clean up that breeding ground and to make it sterile. Similarly, the Physical Training Instructor sees as his duty the building of Greek gods. The average man is, to him, an anaemic creature unworthy of living in an enlightened society.
These men are important because they form the...
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