Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 319
The Ham Funeral by Patrick White is a play that traces its stylistic DNA to surrealism and Gothic literature. The play's plot, dialogue, and atmosphere are a mixture of both of those styles. While the story itself doesn't seem to have a central message, at least on the surface, there are prominent themes that make up the structure of the play. For instance, the setting is very important in creating the atmosphere of the story. It is set in post-war London.
Death has become so commonplace during and after the war that the subject is not something that is shied away from in society. Death is a main element of the story, which the title blatantly suggests, but only because visions of death were a regular occurrence in the city during that time period (the late 1940s).
The area of London the story is set in is also vital to creating the mood of the play. The setting is not upper-class whatsoever, but possibly a working-class district with old dilapidated houses. This gives the boarding house a gothic appearance, evoking images of haunted houses or asylums. This setting makes the portrayal of Mrs. Lusty and her late husband fitting: a couple who were eccentric and possibly suffering from mental illness.
The hapless young poet who deals with advances by the aptly named landlady, Alma Lusty, is portrayed as someone who is trapped in this madhouse. The casual way the landlady deals with the sudden death of her husband, Will, shows the power of delusions over reality. She is so intoxicated by her lust for the poet that she even hosts a feast—which is where the title comes from—for her husband's funeral. The preparation of ham for the feast indicates Mrs. Lusty's lack of wealth or worldliness. In post-war England, food rations were given to the citizens by the government, usually containing four ounces of ham and bacon.