Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 541

In Plenty, David Hare’s characters serve as figures in a political allegory detailing the post-World War II moral and psychological decline of England, as represented by various characters in the play. In the midst of postwar optimism and “plenty,” both Susan and England are unable to adjust, to acclimate, to changing conditions. Susan may believe that there will be “days and days” of sunshine and promise, but her lucrative postwar advertising work is trivial. She wants to move on, to be productive, but she cannot get pregnant; her sterility reflects that of her generation and of England itself. Like England, she cannot accept her diminished power and control; her response is to withdraw through drugs and mental illness.

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Raymond represents another England, as he lies battered and stripped at the beginning of the play. Though he has some reservations about English life (England looks a “trifle decadent” to him), he maintains his belief in privilege and property, and, like England, he resents the ingratitude and flight of those he has cared for paternalistically: “I’ve spent fifteen years of my life trying to help you. . . . I am waiting for . . . some sign that you have valued this kindness of mine.” When Susan tells him that she is leaving, he threatens to have her committed, thereby binding her to him in a kind of “commonwealth” status. Although he jokes about Darwin being “God’s joke . . . a modern Darwin who is in every aspect less advanced than the last,” Raymond resembles his mentor, who has paternalistic notions about Europe. Darwin, as a representative of the old ruling class, believes in the empire but cannot reconcile himself to England’s emulating the American “cowboys.”

Darwin also feels betrayed by his government, which is epitomized by Sir Andrew, who symbolically “cuts less of a figure than Darwin but . . . has far more edge.” The failure of English diplomacy is tied to the moral decay that accompanies a loss of power: “As our power declines, the fight among us for access to that power becomes a little more urgent, a little uglier perhaps.” By having Darwin die in 1961, the year that England applied for membership of the Common Market, signaling its dependence on nations it had aided after the war, Hare ties Darwin’s fate to England’s.

Hare’s Plenty dramatizes decline and the failure to reconstruct a nobler past, whether it be in jazz (Mick’s reference to the post-1919 decline of jazz), in literature (Alice is reading F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Last Tycoon, 1941) in classical music (a piece called Les Ossifies, suggesting decay and calcification, must be the product of “reclamation”), or in personal relationships. Susan and Lazar want to reenact the “mackerel sky” love they shared in the war, but the reunion is spoiled because both have sold out and compromised: Susan has lied to make a living, and Lazar works in a corporate bureaucracy. When Susan says, “I want to believe in you. So tell me nothing,” she tacitly acknowledges that time cannot be reclaimed or reconstructed in the decaying hotel room they share. Her realization undercuts the optimism of the final scene, in which her “days and days” reference becomes an ironic comment on her expectations and on England’s.

Themes

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1029

Duty and Responsibility
Much of the themes of duty and responsibility in Plenty revolve around social expectations and patriotic obligations. Susan fulfills her patriotic duty to England by serving in the resistance efforts during the war. Likewise, Brock, Darwin, Begley, Charleson, and M. Aung's service in diplomatic positions reflects their patriotic responsibility to represent their countries. Both Mick and Brock...

(The entire section contains 1570 words.)

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