The Play

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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 928

A Taste of Honey opens in a large, comfortless flat in an apartment house in a very poor district of Manchester. The first scene introduces Helen and her daughter Josephine (Jo), who are moving in with their baggage. Through the half-humorous, half-spiteful banter between them it becomes clear that Helen, who drinks whiskey throughout, resents Jo because she interferes with her good-time life-style and that Jo is counting the days until she can leave school and gain independence from her neglectful, promiscuous mother. Helen’s current boyfriend, Peter, a brash car salesman several years younger than she is, arrives and meets Jo for the first time. They hate each other on sight and exchange pithy insults.

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In scene 2, Jo is flirting in the street below the flat with her boyfriend, a black sailor referred to throughout as The Boy. He promises to marry her when he returns on leave in six months’ time and gives her a cheap ring. Jo teases him about his color and wonders how Helen will react. The scene shifts back to the flat. Helen tells Jo, who has a bad cold, that she is going to marry Peter. When Peter arrives, with chocolates for Jo and flowers for Helen, Jo warns him to leave her and her mother alone.

Helen, who has been offstage in the kitchen, returns to tell Jo that they have found a house to move into after the wedding and that they are now going off for a weekend holiday. She gives Jo one pound, borrowed from Peter, and tells her there is plenty of food in the kitchen. “You should prepare my meals like a proper mother,” says Jo. Helen answers that she has never pretended to be a “proper” mother. She leaves with Peter, and Jo flings herself on the bed, crying. The Boy comes in; he comforts her and warms some milk to ease her cold. They tease each other affectionately and begin to make love.

The scene changes to a confrontation between Helen and Jo. Helen, who is still drinking heavily, notices the ring and urges Jo not to waste her life on marriage, but to have fun first. Jo, seizing her last chance to find out something about her real father, asks Helen about him and is deeply disturbed when Helen tells her that he was “a bit stupid, you know . . . just a bit—retarded.” It was a “little love affair that lasted five minutes,” she says. Jo wonders if her father was mad and whether she could inherit his condition. Helen answers vaguely and Jo, pretending not to care, wishes her good luck.

Act 2 deals with Jo’s pregnancy and her relationship with Geoffrey (Geof), a homosexual art student who is sharing the flat with her and who looks after her “like a big sister.” The mood between them fluctuates from adolescent grumbling to childlike high spirits. At one point they exaltedly chant nursery rhymes at each other. Jo talks about The Boy, weaving a fantasy about him as “a Prince from darkest Africa.”

Two months later Geof, who has been cutting out a baby’s gown, shares Jo’s excitement when she feels the baby’s first stirrings. Afterward she becomes self-pitying and declares that she hates motherhood. Jo asks Geof if he would like to be a father. Geof quietly says “yes,” tries to kiss her, and proposes marriage. Jo is distressed; she wants friendship, not sex. She is further distressed when Helen arrives and she learns that Geof had sent for her. “What do you think you’re running,” she asks him. “A ‘Back to Mother’ movement?”

A savage quarrel between Jo and Helen nearly leads to blows, but Geof intervenes. Peter arrives, very drunk, abuses Geof, swears at Helen and insults Jo. Helen realizes that she must choose between him and Jo; she offers to stay, but Jo rebuffs her. She goes off with Peter.

In the next scene, it is nearly time for the baby’s birth. Jo is frightened about the future and asks Geof to hold her hand....

(The entire section contains 5118 words.)

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