Themes and Meanings
Saved aims to expose the brutalized nature of modern capitalist society. On the surface it may appear to be an unremittingly realistic representation of urban gang violence and the meaningless, unfeeling nature of life in working-class Great Britain, but its intention goes beyond the simple depiction of emotional squalor among the laborers. Edward Bond, like a latter-day George Bernard Shaw, likes to surround his plays with explicit statements of meaning. His central thesis is the belief that capitalism debases, not only materially but also in every other way that affects the lives of human beings and their ability to live with one another.
Written in the 1960’s, Saved may seem even more stunningly apt in the early twenty-first century in its representation of urban decay, manifested not so much in the physical surroundings as in the way in which people live. However, it is important to remember, if the meaning Bond imposes on the work is to be understood, that the play does not explore a problem which is explainable simply in terms of unemployment or drugs and criminal violence. Bond’s characters in Saved are not out of work; they are enmeshed in gratuitous indifference at the best, and even more gratuitous violence at the worst, even though they are steadily employed. The capitalist system has deprived them of the capacity to live in a civilized manner. Indeed, their animal instincts have been nurtured by the system for the sake of profit—for example, through television entertainment, which provides a steady stream of violent images. As Bond sees it, capitalism uses violence, instilling it into society as a consumer commodity, available to all at a low price.
The idea that capitalism debases a society totally, depriving the working classes of their right to live in a just society and dragging them down into animality, is what the play is representing in the horrifying conduct played out in the park. The violence of the ruling classes, in the guise of law and order, breeds an answering violence in the victims. At its worst, it erupts in bestial, unreasoning acts, expressions of a kind of mad, caged-animal ferocity. Treated like dogs, human beings become dogs, but hardly of the lap-dog variety.