The Secret Rapture

by David Hare

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Last Updated on May 18, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1018

In an interview with Anne Busby published in the program for the original production of The Secret Rapture, Hare revealed that the title of the play means ‘‘that moment at which a nun expects to be united with Christ. In other words, it’s death.’’ Nuns, much like saints, face their deaths after a lifetime of sacrifice. They do not live in luxury and collect the material possessions most people desire. Rather than enjoying some of the sensual pleasures of life favored by ordinary human beings, they spend their days tending to people in need and serving God.

There are many parallels between the life Isobel leads and the lives of nuns or saints. Like them, she has a strong, unwavering sense of morality, and she is more interested in ideas and relationships than in material wealth. Perhaps most important, she makes continual sacrifices for others, and those sacrifices eventually lead to her own death. She becomes, in essence, not a nun or a saint, but a modern martyr.

Most of the other characters in the play are materialistic. Marion and Katherine urge Isobel to go out and make money like everyone else. Tom proclaims that, ‘‘God gives us certain gifts. And he expects us to use them.’’ Even Irwin compromises his ideals in order to double his salary and urge Isobel to expand her business. Isobel, though, is interested only in enough success to keep her happy and comfortable and in doing what is right for others. When she does finally agree to go into business with Tom, it is only because she feels outnumbered and because she feels an obligation to keep helping Katherine.

It is this urge to help others that is perhaps Isobel’s single most defining feature. Isobel stayed at her father’s house to care for him in his final days, while her sister Marion only appeared occasionally. She waits as long as she can before rejecting Irwin, because she would rather not hurt him. Then, when she does turn him away, she rejects him completely because she feels it is the only way for him to recover quickly. Most important, after her father’s death she devotes herself entirely to caring for Katherine, even though Katherine shows herself again and again to be unworthy of Isobel’s kindness and sacrifice.

By the end of the play, through her steadfast commitment to her beliefs, Isobel has lost her boyfriend, her business, and, finally, her life. The positive effect of her sacrifice is that the changes she could not achieve while she was alive seem to be accomplished by her death. Katherine, Marion, and Tom are all affected by her loss. They begin to realize that her virtue and her way of viewing the world were assets and that their own lives have been misdirected.

Several characters in The Secret Rapture know or discover something about their own strengths and weaknesses as they grapple with some kind of dependency. The most obviously dependent character in the play is Katherine. As she herself admits, she has been chemically dependent, either on drugs or alcohol, for most of her life. She has always felt ‘‘mediocre.’’ As a student in school, she struggled to keep up with her classmates academically. Then, as a young woman, she struggled with her weight and appearance and had several failed relationships. To cope with her frustrations, she turned to drugs and alcohol and eventually became dependent upon them. Though she tries to resist drinking once she starts working for Isobel, she can’t help it when she is faced with a difficult situation, such as the client in the restaurant who rejects her business offer. Faced with yet another failure, she takes a drink, transforms into her wilder nature, and attempts to kill the man with a knife.

Katherine is also very dependent upon other people. She had been moving from relationship to relationship, trying to find a man who could somehow get her on her feet and give her direction. Then she met Robert Glass, Isobel and Marion’s father. He took her in and became not only her husband but also her caretaker. Katherine had never held a real job, and even when she lived with Robert, she simply helped him out around his bookshop. He provided her with what she needed to survive— food, clothes, and a place to live. She, in turn, seemed to provide him with some adventure that was missing in his life. Still, as Katherine admits, ‘‘People say I took advantage of his decency. But what are good people for? They’re here to help the trashy people like me.’’

Katherine unquestionably takes advantage of Isobel’s decency. When Robert Glass dies, Isobel takes his place, and Katherine becomes dependent upon her. Katherine needs Isobel for some of the same reasons she needed Isobel’s father—to give her the basic necessities of life and perhaps to serve as an object for the abuse she doles out. At the same time that Katherine moves in, Irwin Posner, Isobel’s coworker and sometime boyfriend, reveals his dependency on Isobel. At one time, Isobel was interested in Irwin, but once she feels he has betrayed her, she rejects him completely. Irwin’s dependency for Isobel’s attention and affection becomes a dangerous obsession, which eventually leads him to murder her.

Marion and Tom display different, but not lesser, kinds of dependencies. Marion has never felt passion and has never understood other people’s feelings. As a result, she has become dependent upon her personal pursuit of power, money, and prestige. Tom, on the other hand, seems naturally adept at business and making money, but at some point in his life that wasn’t enough. He turned to religion and became a born-again Christian, and now he depends heavily upon his relationship with Jesus to guide him. Both Marion and Tom are affected by Isobel’s death and begin to view their dependencies differently. Marion is less concerned about her career, while Tom admits that he has ‘‘slightly lost touch with the Lord Jesus.’’

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