What is a summary of The Cocktail Party by T. S. Eliot?

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thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Cocktail Party by T. S. Eliot is a play about choices, particularly the choices made by Edward and Lavinia Chamberlayne, an unhappy middle-aged couple. It consists of three acts, the first set during a party at the Chamberlaynes' house, the second set in the office of Sir Henry Harcourt-Reilly the next day, and the third set again at a party in the Chamberlaynes' house two years later. The main characters are:

  • Edward and Lavinia Chamberlayne
  • Celia Coplestone: A young poet who is having an affair with Edward
  • Peter Quilpe: A young man in love with Celia but who is having an affair with Lavinia
  • Julia Shuttlethwaite and Alexander Gibbs: Friends of the Chamberlaynes
  • Sir Henry Harcourt-Reilly: A psychiatrist
  • Miss Barraway: Sir Henry's secretary

At the start of the play, we discover that Lavinia has left Edward. Sir Henry, who first appears as a mysterious anonymous stranger, persuades Edward to enter into counseling. Edward ends his affair with Celia. Lavinia and Edward meet in Sir Henry's office and reconcile. In the third act we discover that all the characters have discovered their destinies, whether the comfortable mediocrity of the Chamberlaynes, the martyrdom of Celia, or Peter's success.

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The Cocktail Party

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