Analysis

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Tea and Sympathy, Robert Anderson's 1953 play, was perhaps one of the first to explore the theme of sexual orientation and associated prejudice. It tells the story of a sensitive adolescent in a prep school who is harassed for his perceived homosexuality. Tom's ambiguous sexuality and interest in music and poetry instead of the more “masculine sports” make him an easy target. The play reflects the social anxieties of the 1950s. It depicts nonconformity and the fear of wrong accusations and their lifetime implications.

In the play, a crisis erupts when Tom supposedly swims nude with a male teacher. His only consolation is his friendship with Laura, the housemaster's wife. Laura's character depicts a state of emotional turmoil. She understands Tom and wants to help him prove that a sensitive man can be heterosexual. She also nurses the pain of a marriage devoid of love. She beds the young man to save him from a tortured life. Laura's sympathy could be just as dehumanizing as the homophobia of the male characters. An unsettling question lingers. Is Laura allowing Tom to be himself, or is she forcing him to be someone she desires?

The play does not attempt to define Tom's sexuality. The central issue is that a "different" person evokes fear and loathing in society. Homophobes still equate artistic talent and sensitivity with emasculation and a man's prowess on the athletic field with heterosexuality. The play also describes the negative impact of bullying and peer pressure on the minds of young adolescents.

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