Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 425

The Norman Conquests is about people’s dissatisfaction with their lives, misunderstandings that hamper relationships, and the need for romance. Sarah cannot understand how her unambitious husband can run a business, and Reg, though reconciled to Sarah’s bossiness, wishes that he could be a boy again, insulated from the world in his room, lost in his hobbies. Sarah feels unfulfilled by the monotonous life of a housewife (even though she wants to get home in time to clean the house before the cleaning lady comes), and Annie is bored with being her mother’s nurse and housekeeper. Ruth tries to use business as an escape from the rest of life, trying so hard to be unlike her lascivious mother that she is in danger of becoming hardened. Norman complains of his wife, “Don’t you think I’d take Ruth away. . . ? If she’d come. But she won’t. She has no need of me at all . . . except as an emotional punch bag.”

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Alan Ayckbourn makes his characters and situations more completely human with an ironic layer of inconsistency. Sarah tells Annie that everyone needs a “nice dirty weekend somewhere,” becomes morally outraged when she discovers that Annie is going with Norman, and finally tentatively agrees to go with him herself. Reg tells Norman that although he has always been faithful, he thinks that adultery might keep any marriage from going stale and would not mind if Sarah “went off for a few days with someone”; yet when he realizes that she may be planning such a move, he is alarmed. A major irony of The Norman Conquests is that while the mother, who makes Annie read lurid romances to her, has led a very active sex life, Reg, Ruth, and Annie, in the midst of the sexual revolution, are relatively inhibited.

Mother’s spiritual child is Norman, though he is less obsessed with sex itself than with romance. Throughout The Norman Conquests, the title character presents himself as a romantic idealist while acting like a romantic fool. When Ruth mentions divorce, Norman is outraged by her attitude that marriage is a legal contract and defines it as “sharing and giving.” When Sarah deprecates Annie’s plain appearance, he responds, “Anybody I love is automatically beautiful.” Norman finds romance being destroyed “by the cynics and liberationists,” and Ayckbourn seems to wonder whether it can survive in such an age. While Norman proclaims, “I want to make everyone happy. It’s my mission in life,” most of the time he creates only anger and confusion.

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