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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 177

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Loot is a two-act play by British writer and playwright Joe Orton. The play features a surreal narrative style that is meant to criticize the middle-class British society of the time (mid-20th century). The thesis of the play is the hypocrisy of society and their institutions and how the masses are duped by these institutions that they blindly follow. Orton and his lover were arrested for defacing books at a library. They modified selected contents of books to depict erotic acts—mostly from a homosexual perspective.

The play's theme is essentially the same political and philosophical manifesto that inspired Orton to commit the vandalism. Loot shows the privileges of those in power and that guilty people get off whilst others in the lower-ranks take the blame. The theme of the play illustrates to the audience that hierarchies of the social structure—whether it's the Roman Catholic Church, the inept police force, or social classes—are dysfunctional, and yet those at the top of these social and political structures are given the power to control the public.

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 461

Joe Orton and his lover, Kenneth Halliwell (1927-1967), who on August 9, 1967, murdered Orton and then took his own life, were arrested in 1962 and sentenced to jail terms of six months each for willfully defacing seventy-two library books. They had skillfully and puckishly rewritten the blurbs on the flaps of the book jackets and had artfully altered them and some of the inside illustrations in ways that were judged obscene. Their motive was to engage in a spoof that would fluster and bewilder the stalwart library patrons who represent middle-class virtues. During his half-year in jail, Orton began to write in earnest, and his writing had consistently the same basic aim that had inspired his defacing of the library books. He wanted to hold up to ridicule what he considered the hypocrisy of British morality, and he wanted to do it in a brilliantly witty way. With Loot, he fulfilled this aim.

Loot is a farcical attack on authority and conventions of all sorts: parental, ecclesiastical, civil, judicial, sexual, even those of the mortuary. Much as Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, 1832-1898) looked aslant at his world in Alice in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass (1872), so Orton viewed society with tongue in cheek but with rapier bared and in hand. The theme on which Loot centers is the hypocrisy of social institutions and of those who allow themselves to be manipulated by such institutions. Orton’s technique is clever: What he is saying is so outrageous that it cannot be taken at face value; therefore, it offends less than it might. In all of his outrageous statements and observations, however, there is a glimmering of truth that makes audiences seeing the play go home and later reflect on its thematic impact.

Orton’s play also leaves one with the impression that those who run society all have their price. When Fay castigates Truscott and tells him that the police used to be run by men of integrity, he makes no protest but merely assures her that such a mistake has been rectified. The play also whimsically suggests that the guilty always get off, often on the sort of technicality that makes it impossible for Truscott to build a case against Fay. He needs some cells from the dead woman’s body to prove that it is indeed Mrs. McLeavy who is dead. He needs her stomach, which is in the small coffin containing the parts removed during embalming, but the stomach explodes, and Truscott is deprived of the evidence he requires.

No matter. He can still get a conviction and add another notch to his departmental belt. McLeavy is the perfect fall guy, and by felling him Truscott solves most of the drama’s remaining logistical problems while sustaining Orton’s theme.