A Taste of Honey opens in a large, comfortless flat in an apartment house in a very poor district of Manchester. The first scene introduces Helen and her daughter Josephine (Jo), who are moving in with their baggage. Through the half-humorous, half-spiteful banter between them it becomes clear that Helen, who drinks whiskey throughout, resents Jo because she interferes with her good-time life-style and that Jo is counting the days until she can leave school and gain independence from her neglectful, promiscuous mother. Helen’s current boyfriend, Peter, a brash car salesman several years younger than she is, arrives and meets Jo for the first time. They hate each other on sight and exchange pithy insults.
In scene 2, Jo is flirting in the street below the flat with her boyfriend, a black sailor referred to throughout as The Boy. He promises to marry her when he returns on leave in six months’ time and gives her a cheap ring. Jo teases him about his color and wonders how Helen will react. The scene shifts back to the flat. Helen tells Jo, who has a bad cold, that she is going to marry Peter. When Peter arrives, with chocolates for Jo and flowers for Helen, Jo warns him to leave her and her mother alone.
Helen, who has been offstage in the kitchen, returns to tell Jo that they have found a house to move into after the wedding and that they are now going off for a weekend holiday. She gives Jo one pound, borrowed from Peter, and tells her there is plenty of food in the kitchen. “You should prepare my meals like a proper mother,” says Jo. Helen answers that she has never pretended to be a “proper” mother. She leaves with Peter, and Jo flings herself on the bed, crying. The Boy comes in; he comforts her and warms some milk to ease her cold. They tease each other affectionately and begin to make love.
The scene changes to a confrontation between Helen and Jo. Helen, who is still drinking heavily, notices the ring and urges Jo not to waste her life on marriage, but to have fun first. Jo, seizing her last chance to find out something about her real father, asks Helen about him and is deeply disturbed when Helen tells her that he was “a bit stupid, you know . . . just a bit—retarded.” It was a “little love affair...
(The entire section is 928 words.)