The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

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...

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Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

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.


(Great Characters in Literature)

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.