The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The Subject Was Roses begins on Saturday morning after a welcome-home party for Timmy Cleary. The year is 1946, and twenty-one-year-old Timmy is home after fighting in World War II.

One by one, the three members of the family appear for breakfast. Though they try to hide their differences, it is clear from their conversation that John and Nettie Cleary are uncomfortable with each other and that Timmy is aware of their problems. They discuss last night’s party, which was a success, although Timmy drank too much and was sick during the night.

Nettie and John exchange accusations over Timmy’s drinking, with references to their ongoing disagreements. Money is part of the continuing argument, and the quest for more money sends John out to a business appointment on this Saturday morning, instead of going to a ball game with his son.

Left alone with his mother, Timmy muses about how his father has aged. He is oblivious to his mother’s attempts to change the subject and turn his attention to his favorite breakfast. When Timmy fails to appreciate the waffles and then recoils from a possessive touch, Nettie is hurt. When the waffles stick in the waffle iron, she breaks down. This long-anticipated homecoming is not turning out as she had planned.

Timmy breaks the mood by turning on the radio and dancing with his mother. He promises to go with her to visit her mother and cousin. They are still dancing when John returns to go to the ball game after all, and the two men leave.

Scene 2 begins that afternoon, after the ball game. John and Timmy enter, drunk, carrying a bouquet of roses. Timmy insists that his father tell Nettie that the roses are from him; then he asks, half jokingly, how much money his father has. When John reacts angrily, Timmy asks to hear the story of how his parents met. John is in the midst of a sentimental memory when Nettie enters and again the tensions emerge.

Nettie sees the roses, accepts them as a gift from John, and tries to express her pleasure. The more grateful she seems, however, the more uncomfortable John becomes. He changes the subject, and to keep the mood light, he proposes dinner and a night on the town; the three prepare to leave.

In scene 3 the family returns after their night out. John and Timmy are drunkenly discussing Timmy’s plans to become a writer. When John looks for more to drink, Nettie follows him into the kitchen, where they reminisce briefly, and touchingly, about their...

(The entire section is 1027 words.)