Places Discussed

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Chamberlayne flat

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Chamberlayne flat. London apartment owned by the Chamberlaynes, in whose drawing room most of the play is set. Although the apartment has an offstage kitchen, there appears to be virtually nothing eat in the apartment, except for a few eggs. The lack of food for the party, or even ordinary meals, symbolizes the lack of provision for any life in this shell of a home. As the play unfolds, both Chamberlaynes prove to live hollow existences that each of them has come to loathe. Relationships that Edward starts with Celia Coplestone and that Lavinia starts with Peter Quilpe prove fruitless and unsatisfying. Once the pretenses of husband and wife are unmasked, they learn to love each other, and are at last “lain” in their “chambers,” as their last name suggests. The last cocktail party held in this home shows that Edward and Lavinia have grown closer together, and Guardians toast to the partial success they have had.

Harcourt-Reilly’s consulting room

Harcourt-Reilly’s consulting room. Office of the psychotherapist Sir Henry Harcourt-Reilly. The office is arranged so that Sir Henry can manipulate the entrances and exits and meetings of people at his will. His consulting room functions like the central office for a spy network. Along with the other two Guardians, Mrs. Julia Shuttlethwaite and Alexander MacColgie Gibbs, these three function like the Greek Fates who shared an eye between them as they wove the tapestry of people’s lives. Sir Harcourt-Reilly sings about “One-Eyed Riley” and Mrs. Shuttlethwaite—whose name suggests weaving—is constantly looking for her glasses with only one lens. Alex completes this seemingly all-knowing trio with his globetrotting habits for gathering information about patients. Sir Henry ultimately sends Celia to her martyrdom, while salvaging the marriage of the Chamberlaynes, and trying to help Peter, whose future remains uncertain at the end of the play. For all of their insights and schemes, the Guardians prove limited in their ability to shape and direct lives.

Historical Context

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The Welfare State
After World War II ended in 1945, Great Britain was faced with paying off the bills that had been incurred during the fighting. Far fewer men had been killed during battle than in World War I— 250,000, as opposed to 750,000—but the machinery required to fight had been much costlier. Unlike America, where returning veterans could expect to find factories and places of business still intact, many of Britain's key industrial centers had been reduced to rubble by German air raids. During the war, the British economy had been propped up by American loans under the Lend-Lease program, which had been enacted in 1941 specifically to help out during the war. On August 21,1945, not even a week after the end of the war in the Pacific, American aid ended. In the following years, England was faced with an economic crisis.

In 1946, a National Health Service bill was enacted by Parliament, making medical services free to all citizens. That year began a series of actions that increased the government's involvement in the country's economy, nationalizing certain industries that were then put under the control of government agencies. The coal industry was nationalized in 1946, making the government responsible for the operation of what had been over eight hundred private companies with 1,634 coal pits across the country. Electricity and transportation were nationalized in 1947, along with airlines and radio stations. By 1948, about 20 percent of all British workers were on the government's payroll or working for public corporations.

The result of all of this government control of basic goods and services was that taxes paid by British citizens were raised to levels that Americans would find unthinkable, in some cases higher than 80 percent....

(The entire section contains 2878 words.)

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