Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 756
Aunt Dan and Lemon opens with Lemon, a sickly young woman living in London, directly addressing the audience, promising to tell “everything about my life.” She lives alone in an apartment and subsists entirely on bread and the fruit and vegetable juices she considers her friends. She explains that her parents are dead and that she has little to do but sleep, masturbate, and read, mostly about the Nazi death camps. Her monologue is interrupted by scenes from the past, memories of her life with her parents and events experienced by others about which Lemon has been told. Lemon’s father, Jack, is an American who studied at the University of Oxford and stayed in England after he married Susie, a fellow student. Jack describes his idealistic, romantic view of England and then contrasts it with the intensity of the country’s economic life and the difficulties he encounters as an executive in an automobile-parts company. Susie recounts how she met Danielle, a young American tutor at Oxford, who introduced her to Jack. Lemon explains that her Aunt Dan began calling her Lemon—Leonora is her given name—and that her parents and Aunt Dan were very close when she was a child, spending long evenings together in the garden of their suburban London home discussing books, playing charades, and listening to Susie read. This idyllic friendship begins to fall apart when Lemon’s parents disagree with Aunt Dan’s evolving political philosophy.
Before this estrangement, Lemon gradually moves across the garden from the main house to the small house Jack had intended to use as a study, and Aunt Dan visits her there:. . . it was an amazing thing that a person like Aunt Dan would spend all that time talking to an eleven-year-old child who wasn’t even that bright, talking about every complicated subject in the world, but listening to Aunt Dan was the best, the happiest, the most important experience I’d ever had.
Lemon considers this intellectual who speaks to her as an equal to have been her only friend. Among the many subjects Aunt Dan tells her about is her sex life, particularly her affair with a married professor when she was a student. Aunt Dan does not, however, simply talk about herself but attempts to instruct Lemon in her view of the world, as when she tells the girl never to be rude to people in subservient positions.
Although Aunt Dan professes to know nothing of politics, these talks begin to change in the early 1970’s when she becomes enamored of Henry Kissinger, the adviser on international affairs, specifically the Vietnam War, to then president Richard M. Nixon. Aunt Dan constantly defends everything about Kissinger, from his policies to his dating attractive young women: “If he enjoys life, maybe he’ll be even more inspired to do his job of preserving life, to help us all lead the life we want!” She explains Kissinger’s strategies to Lemon: “He’s trying to get the North Vietnamese in a corner, so they’ll have to negotiate on his terms.”
Her adoration of Kissinger intensifies when she visits Washington, D.C., and sees him meeting a friend for lunch. Aunt Dan considers this friend stupid and repellent but is moved by Kissinger’s happiness at seeing him: “this is a man who loves his country, and he loves the people of his country. To Kissinger . . . the very crudeness and grossness of this man were his most American, and therefore almost his most wonderful, features.” Lemon fantasizes about running away to live with Aunt Dan and having Kissinger drop in for Sunday breakfast. She is willing to be his slave: “He served humanity. I would serve him.” Susie, however, disapproves of Kissinger; she and Aunt Dan argue; their friendship ends.
Aunt Dan enjoys telling Lemon about the wild young people she formerly associated with in London. She is particularly fond of speaking of Mindy, a prostitute, taking vicarious delight in Mindy’s escapades. After Mindy tells her of strangling a man while having sex, Aunt Dan is stimulated by this brazen act and spends a week of passionate love with the murderer.
Following Aunt Dan’s estrangement from Susie and Jack, Lemon visits her in London occasionally, neither ever daring to express their affection. When Lemon is nineteen, the older woman dies. Aunt Dan and Lemon ends with a lengthy monologue in which Lemon justifies the policies and actions of Nazi Germany, delivering diatribes, in the process, against criminals, communists, and American Indians.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 267
Aunt Dan and Lemon consists of a monologue by Lemon interrupted by the appearances of the characters she is discussing. Lemon is thus both narrator and protagonist, shifting constantly from role to role, with the adult Lemon playing herself at various stages in her life. The play has a stream-of-consciousness quality, appearing as a series of fragments connected only by the fluctuations of Lemon’s fevered mind. She often utters long, complicated sentences full of repetitions, with only conjunctions linking her jumbled thoughts. Shawn ensures this rambling effect by having kept the play seamless, with no acts or intermission.
An important unseen character in Aunt Dan and Lemon is the audience. Lemon calls it “dear audience, dear good people” in her opening lines and fully expects her listeners to be sympathetic to her views. Since she has had little contact with the world beyond her parents and Aunt Dan, Lemon cannot fathom how anyone would disagree with her. The sustained irony of this use of a naïve, trusting, but totally unreliable narrator who sees her arguments as the epitome of rationality places the burden for interpreting the play completely upon its audience. Except for Susie’s brief protest against Kissinger, no one is present to disagree with the protagonists. Shawn makes the audience solely responsible for seeing through the superficial logic behind their reasoning. If a character in the play were to combat these views, the audience’s freedom from moral responsibility would be implied. Shawn says in his introduction that he wants to make certain the audience does not go home and sleep in peace.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 91
Sources for Further Study
Billington, Michael. “A Play of Ideas Stirs Political Passions.” New York Times, October 27, 1985, p. 1.
Gill, Brendan. Review in The New Yorker 61 (November 4, 1985): 128.
King, W. D. Writings Wrongs: The Work of Wallace Shawn. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1997.
Kroll, Jack. Review in Newsweek 106 (November 18, 1985): 90.
McClennan, Kathleen A. Review in Theatre Journal 40 (March, 1988): 114-116.
Rose, Lloyd. “The Art of Conversation.” Atlantic Monthly 246 (November, 1985): 125-127.
Savran, David. “Wallace Shawn.” In In Their Own Words: Contemporary American Playwrights. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 1988.
Weales, Gerald. Review in The Georgia Review 40 (Summer, 1986): 520-521.