Shelagh Delaney, who wrote A Taste of Honey at the age of eighteen, clearly drew on aspects of her own experience to create the world of the play. Like Jo, she grew up in a gritty Lancashire town and left school at sixteen to work at various menial jobs. By identifying closely with her character Jo, Delaney was able to present an adolescent’s perspective with uncanny accuracy. The incessant conflicts with her mother—with their fluid mixture of sarcasm, sensitivity, neediness, sullen rebelliousness, and longing for affection—are especially believable. In the dialogue between Helen and Jo, Delaney reflects tensions common to most mother-daughter relationships, regardless of geography or class. The play also evokes the perpetual “now” of adolescence and the sense of drifting in the present and of being neither child nor adult. As Jo puts it, “I really am [contemporary], aren’t I? I really do live at the same time as myself, don’t I?” Significantly, Jo speaks of herself in question form, which accurately mirrors her uncertainty about who she is and what she wants from life.
The play’s focus on life from Jo’s perspective comes at a price, however, and the scenes with Helen can give the audience an uneasy sense that the author is settling old scores. Helen always appears unsympathetic, with Jo her victim. Their dialogue sounds so real that it might have been quoted verbatim from actual quarrels between Delaney and her mother, unmodified by artistic insight. The male characters fare even worse than Helen. They float, shadowlike, at the periphery of Jo’s small world, fulfilling functions in the plot but having no real lives of their own. The audience does not even learn the name of Jo’s boyfriend until the second act, after he is long gone. Peter stands in for all the men who have cheated Jo of her mother’s affection over the years, while Geoff sets a standard of good mothering that Helen (or almost any real human being) could never actually...
(The entire section is 809 words.)