Frank Sargeson Essay - Critical Essays


Although Frank Sargeson’s two plays differ in content, setting, and style, they are alike in some ways. The plays present issues that are discussed in depth (as in the plays of George Bernard Shaw) but never resolved by characters who act as spokespersons for causes. His characters seem unable to change and appear plagued with beliefs (Puritanism, idealism, progressivism) that are at odds with the real world. In the plays, Sargeson is pessimistic about human efforts to bridge cultures or to find peace; he finds people hypocritical and destructive.

A Time for Sowing

A Time for Sowing takes place in the summer of 1819 and concerns Thomas Kendall, an Anglican missionary at the Bay of Islands in New Zealand and the first New Zealand anthropologist. Kendall, who wrote the first book about the Maori language, gained his experience by “going native” (sleeping with the Maori women), which led to spiritual problems and alcoholism. Sargeson’s stage directions for Kendall’s home include three items with symbolic import: a musket, representing Kendall’s suicidal tendency; “some Maori objects,” suggesting that Kendall is being “converted” instead of converting the natives; and a picture depicting the temptation of Adam by Eve, reflecting Kendall’s own weakness for women. As the play opens, the Kendall boys are behaving in such a way as to suggest that they are also “going native.” In the course of the first act, the audience learns that while Mrs. Kendall is aware of her husband’s infidelities, she defends him to the visiting Captain Maubey but is herself attracted to Richard Stockwell, the Kendalls’ manservant. Kendall’s hypocrisy is matched by his wife’s; she is a moral purist who objects to the Adam-and-Eve picture but commits adultery with Richard.

In act 2, Kendall puts the musket to his head but puts it down when his wife enters. He then unwittingly alludes to his wife’s situation: “Have they converted you to the native way of life?” After she leaves with Richard, Kendall is torn between the Bible and the musket, and his inner conflict is reflected in his alternation of biblical texts: the Song of Solomon as opposed to Romans and 1 John. When Mrs. Kendall reminds him that there are some people “who are in need of your guidance,” he fails to see that she, too, is torn between feeling and morals and decides to play cards, only to be reminded that it is Lent. In the third act when Captain Maubey returns, Kendall...

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