Themes and Meanings

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Saved aims to expose the brutalized nature of modern capitalist society. On the surface it may appear to be an unremittingly realistic representation of urban gang violence and the meaningless, unfeeling nature of life in working-class Great Britain, but its intention goes beyond the simple depiction of emotional squalor among the laborers. Edward Bond, like a latter-day George Bernard Shaw, likes to surround his plays with explicit statements of meaning. His central thesis is the belief that capitalism debases, not only materially but also in every other way that affects the lives of human beings and their ability to live with one another.

Written in the 1960’s, Saved may seem even more stunningly apt in the early twenty-first century in its representation of urban decay, manifested not so much in the physical surroundings as in the way in which people live. However, it is important to remember, if the meaning Bond imposes on the work is to be understood, that the play does not explore a problem which is explainable simply in terms of unemployment or drugs and criminal violence. Bond’s characters in Saved are not out of work; they are enmeshed in gratuitous indifference at the best, and even more gratuitous violence at the worst, even though they are steadily employed. The capitalist system has deprived them of the capacity to live in a civilized manner. Indeed, their animal instincts have been nurtured by the system for the sake of profit—for example, through television entertainment, which provides a steady stream of violent images. As Bond sees it, capitalism uses violence, instilling it into society as a consumer commodity, available to all at a low price.

The idea that capitalism debases a society totally, depriving the working classes of their right to live in a just society and dragging them down into animality, is what the play is representing in the horrifying conduct played out in the park. The violence of the ruling classes, in the guise of law and order, breeds an answering violence in the victims. At its worst, it erupts in bestial, unreasoning acts, expressions of a kind of mad, caged-animal ferocity. Treated like dogs, human beings become dogs, but hardly of the lap-dog variety.


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Alienation and Loneliness
All of the characters in Saved suffer alienation from the natural world, from each other, from their work, and from society as a whole; the result is extreme loneliness. The stoning of the baby is only an extreme example of the alienation from all that is natural—the continuation of the species—and humane: no one even recognizes that the baby is human. Len is the only character who seems to retain even the capacity for compassion, the only one who continues to reach out to others. Nothing illustrates Len’s loneliness more than his asking Fred what he has that makes Pam so in love with him. There is slight hope: in his bumbling way Harry does reach out and asks Len not to leave their household. Len is the only human they know and he is needed if the rest are to continue to exist at all.

Anger and Hatred
Anger and hatred are the results of the alienation felt by the characters towards all areas of their lives. These feelings are expressed throughout the play: Pete’s killing of the boy; Mary and Harry’s long lasting silence and the violence that takes place when that silence is broken; Pam’s diatribe over her missing magazine; the stoning of the baby. Perhaps even more frightful than the outbursts is the seething fury that the family represses all the time and...

(This entire section contains 1281 words.)

See This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this study guide. You'll also get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

which is especially evident in the final, silent, scene.

Guilt and Innocence
The murder of the baby, obviously, represents the Biblical Slaughter of the Innocents. Assigning guilt for that act, however, is no simple matter. Fred accepts the penalty, but not out of any sense of guilt: he blames Pam for leaving the baby in the park and for having it in the first place; he blames ‘‘roving gangs;’’ he blames the police for not doing their job. Fred accepts the punishment because that makes him a hero of the criminal class, which he sees operating all around him in all areas of his life. Pete feels no guilt for killing the boy with his van, and he is admired for getting away with it by the others. Harry feels no guilt for killing the soldier in the war and even considers himself ‘‘one of the lucky ones’’ for having had the experience. There is no guilt assigned for the baby, Harry and Mary’s son, who was killed by a bomb in the park during the war. Bond places the guilt for the actions of his characters squarely on the society as a whole for having created the inhuman conditions in which they live.

Limitations and Opportunities
There are no opportunities for the characters in Saved. They are limited by their births: they were born into the working class of South London; they have very limited education; they have no contact with the larger culture; and they are inarticulate even about their own lives. Len works at two or three different jobs during the course of the play, but they are interchangeable and not worth talking about; Harry goes off to work, but won’t talk about it; Fred is in charge of boat rentals; Pete drives a van. Work is something which holds no interest for those who do it and it provides no benefits except small pay. The lack of meaningful work is part of the reason the characters are alienated from their own lives.

Love and Passion
Although Saved deals with sexual partnerings, there is little passion and even less love involved. Len and Pam don’t even know each others’ names when they first start to have sex. They even joke with one another about how many others they have had. Fred uses Pam but never expresses feelings of love or demonstrates passion. Harry and Mary no longer even speak but there never seems to have been a time when they felt love, and Harry talks of sex as something that is ‘‘up to the man.’’ Even Pam’s obsession with Fred would be hard to construe as love. Only Len seems to feel love and to express it through a desire to give and to care for others.

Morals and Morality
Morals and morality as an inherent social guide, or even as an abstract guide, do not seem to apply in the society in which Saved takes place. Being able to ‘‘get away with it’’ is the criteria for behavior. Pete is admired for killing a boy and not being charged; killing the baby takes place partly because there is no one in authority to see and, as Pete says, ‘‘You don’t get a chance like this every day.’’ However, Bond is by extension talking about the larger society which condones killing, as Harry did during the war and as his son was killed by a bomb, and which daily kills the spirit of its children.

Science and Technology
Bond sees science and technology, the basis for the industrial society, as the twin evils that have separated mankind from the natural world. There is no longer the satisfaction of creating or even individually contributing for the laborers and factory workers. They have no control over their jobs or how they carry out their work; they never see the end-product as reflecting their efforts. They are forced into regimens that are both physically and psychologically unnatural. Their rewards are material, and even the material is divorced from their understanding and control; i.e., the TV set that they are helpless to adjust. They have become parts of the industrial and technological machine, crowded into an unnatural environment of row houses and government housing that are created to serve the machine; and, the result is that they have lost their humanity. Fred standing in the park with a fishing rod purchased with time payments and fishing in an artificial lake is a powerful image of man’s alienation from nature and himself.

Sex has become an impersonal activity for the characters in Saved. Len and Pam use each other in Scene One without even knowing each others’ names, and this has apparently happened many times for both of them. Fred uses Pam and then discards her, feeling no responsibility for his actions. The sexual hunt is calculated and impersonal: the church social club and the all-night laundromats are seen as prime hunting grounds. The closest to a humanly warm sexual encounter in Saved takes place between Len and Mary when he darns her stocking and becomes aroused. But even there it seems that Mary has calculated just how far she will go and has consciously used Len for her own ego gratification. The alienation of the sexual act from warm human contact is merely one aspect of the dehumanizing lives these people are forced to live.

Certainly violence occurs in Saved. Most of the public outrage was caused by the extreme violence of the baby killing in Scene Six. As Bond says in the introduction to the Methuen edition of Early Morning, ‘‘I write about violence as naturally as Jane Austin wrote about manners. Violence shapes and obsesses our society . . . It would be immoral not to write about violence.’’ The violence witnessed in Scene Six is sickening, as is the violence regarding the manner in which Pete killed the boy with his van. Violence is the natural result of the depersonalizing aspects of the society in which it takes place, the physical and psychological twisting of the human to fit the work pattern of the industrialized world, the lack of control over their own lives, the crowding together in a sterile environment with no sense of cultural roots.