Drama – The Dear Departed by Stanley Houghton | Summary and Discussion

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The Drama The Dear Departed by Stanley Houghton is a hilarious drama about the deteriorating moral values among the middle class in England.  It is a brilliant satire on the way the elderly are sometimes treated by the younger generation.  It is also about the superficial façade and false show put up by certain middle class and rich folk in front of society, even though they may be cold and shallow within.   This is a drama which can be performed by higher secondary students.  By reading such dramas by notable playwrights, students can be inspired to write their own witty scripts.   A drama like The Dear Departed can be lots of fun to stage or even act in an informal manner in a Drama Club or in a neighborhood gathering.  It is also a drama which is greatly enjoyed and appreciated by many students.  At the same time, it helps students hone their acting skills, understand various social issues and personalities and improve their communication and expressive skills.

In this drama, Abel Merryweather, the elderly father is believed to be dead by his daughters Amelia Slater and Elizabeth Jordan, his sons-in-law and his grandchild Victoria.   Amelia Slater and Henry Slater are very materialistic and only after money and status and put up a show about caring for elderly Abel Merryweather.  The other daughter Elizabeth and his son-in-law are also of a similar disposition.  Victoria, the granddaughter is caught in the middle of this false and superficial façade put up by her parents and relatives but has retained her warmth and regard for her grandfather.  Victoria is in fact a very precocious and observant 10-year-old.  She can see beyond the façade and superficiality and does not hesitate to point out her observations when things are amiss.  Amelia Slater is bothered about wearing the finest mourning dress to show off and out-dress the others instead of as a mark of respect for the deceased.  Her sister has the same kind of mentality.  This is reflective of crass and materialistic values that have crept into modern society where dressing has only a superficial and vain value.  It does not take long for Henry Slater to wear grandpa’s new gaudy slippers without any fuss when the Slaters believe that he is dead.  All this is satirical and funny but also raises an alarm about the problem of materialism and irreverence shown to the elderly and dying.   They also go to the extent of shifting the bureau and the clock which Amelia Slater has been eying.  This crazy and funny craving for belongings of the dead can be likened to the way some children fight over the property of the departed.  There is no real mourning for the so-called dear departed and instead the Slaters are busy moving the bureau.  Elizabeth and Ben Jordan turn up in their own sweet time taking pains to dress up in their finest mourning.  Both of them are more worried about things like insurance premium and a gold watch which shows they are only hankering after money and material goods.   The Slaters and the Jordans also discuss what message they will put in the obituary.  The heartfelt messages which they discuss are only a façade to show off to the outside world that they hold the departed “dear” whereas what is going on in the minds is something superficial and materialistic altogether.  In the end, Abel Merryweather walks into the living room much to the surprise and embarrassment of the family members.  He also announces that he is going to marry Mrs. John Shorrocks, the lady who runs the pub he frequents.  Mrs. John Shorrocks truly loves and cares about him unlike his daughters and sons-in-law.  This also makes a point that the elderly have the right to enjoy themselves, make their own choices and be around people who genuinely love them.  Thus, the Dear Departed is a brilliant satire about how some materialistic people treat the elderly and the superficial show they put up.

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