‘A Cream Cracker under the settee’ is a monologue which was extracted from a series of monologues written by Alan Bennett for the BBC. These monologues give the audience a window into the life of a variety of people that society often forgets. This is especially poignant in this play because it focuses upon an old woman, and how it is the elderly who are often forgotten about in modern day society.
In my essay, I am going to explore how I feel Alan Bennett uses pathos to engage the audience through the use of memories, structure, stage craft and also how the form of the play has an effect upon the audience.
The monologue is based on an old lady called Doris. Doris is portrayed as a stereotypical, old lady. As with many old people they constantly obsess that things should be done in a particular way; in Doris’s case this is cleanliness and hygiene. However, Bennett reveals that there are deeper issues than her obsession with cleanliness, issues which relate to her isolation from society, and the loneliness she faces each and every day, which I will explore in further detail as my essay progresses.
The form of the play is particularly effective at creating pathos because there are no other characters to take the attention away from Doris which helps to amplify Doris’s isolation throughout the play. Using a monologue helps give the audience a better understanding of what the character is thinking and feeling and this also creates a sense of truth. Furthermore, Doris’s use of ‘I’ again highlights her isolation and that she is almost admitting her feelings to herself. The use of the first person pronoun also shows that she is completely consumed by her loneliness and grief as she completely focuses on her problems with no awareness of anybody else’s issues. It also highlights the idea that she has nobody else in her life to think about which again creates sympathy for her as she has almost turned to self obsession because of the lack of any other company but her own. I also think that she turns inwards on herself because this is the only form of company she has known.
Another way Bennett creates pathos in the monologue is through the use of props such as the ‘broken picture’. I think the broken picture could symbolise the idea that Doris’s heart is broken, crumbled and shattered inferring that her marriage with Wilfred has been broken by his death. The fact that Doris always carries the picture with her could suggest that she is trying to hold on to what is dear to her, and it is the only bit of Wilfred she has left to comfort her. This could also imply that Doris might also feel that without Wilfred she does not function properly, and is metaphorically speaking ‘broken’. I also feel that since the picture is of her and Wilfred on their wedding day, this could reflect the idea that she is trying to hold onto sacred memories as everything around her which was special is diminishing. I think that this makes the audience feel sympathetic towards Doris as it highlights the fact that she has nobody except herself around: nobody to talk to and nobody to love her; the only source of comfort she can turn to is the ‘broken picture’. This could also link to how the cracked picture could also mirror Doris’s fractured consciousness as she constantly slips from the past to the present in the play.
Although Doris’s husband Wilfred has died she still talks to him. I feel Doris turns to Wilfred at a time when she needs to find comfort or guidance. Doris expresses this to the audience when she says, ‘the photo is cracked. we’re cracked, Wilfred.’ I feel this is because Doris cherished the photo of them on their wedding day and this could symbolise that all her happy memories with Wilfred are over and are being replaced by the difficulties of living alone, and that she doesn’t want to face the fact that her memories are disappearing or having anybody else but Wilfred to turn to for comfort. It is also clear that they had a very traditional marriage with Doris being the home maker and Wilfred being the ‘bread winner’. Wilfred came across like he often got what he wanted, Doris expresses this when she says ‘Wilfred said he would be prepared to undertake that responsibility’ this quote is explaining how Wilfred wanted a ‘dog’ to replace the death of their baby and how he wanted to take full responsibility of it. It could also interpret how controlling Wilfred might have been with Doris and how he wanted to be responsible for almost everything. This relates back to the patriarchal society they used to live in. Doris felt secure within her role in life. However, now Wilfred is dead Doris is unable to fulfill the role of being a housewife and it is like she is now no longer relied upon and feels redundant in her role as a housewife. This is tragic as it leads us to believe that she no longer has a reason to live.
Another example of how Bennett uses stage craft to create pathos for Doris in the monologue is through the use of the ‘gate’. Doris is affected by the gate during the play for example when she says ‘the gate is open again’. Doris seems to come across very sarcastic and upset about the gate being open, so therefore since Doris wants the gate closed this could infer that she wants to close all links with society. I also think this is the case as she states ‘You see Zulema should have closed that, only she didn’t’, this could imply that Doris is annoyed by her lack of consideration, however, it could also imply that she is annoyed at the interference from people who think they know what is best for her, when they don’t.
Another object that I feel is significant is the cream cracker under the settee. Doris says ‘Here’s this cream cracker’, as she rubs it. I actually think that the cream cracker is a metaphor for Doris’s life and her current situation because just as it has been hidden away in the dark, isolated from everything else so has Doris. Doris is isolated from modern day society as many people don’t even know she exists. This could then infer that Bennett wants society to notice people like Doris and start recognising people who could be hidden away and forgotten about because they have limited contact with anybody.
Alan Bennett creates a sense of pathos through the structure of the play. For example the use of the scene breaks and how the light fades to black. I think this could symbolise the end of her existence with society and how Bennett could be suggesting that society chooses what they want to see, and also how they just put a light out and ignore the people and loneliness around them, that they don’t want to acknowledge. Furthermore, when the light fades and goes to black it is very sudden and I feel that Bennett could be using this to hide things, again linking back to how society sometimes ignores people like Doris. The light changes could also be symbolic of how the day moves along from day to night, this then could be symbolic of how Doris’s body is deteriorating over time and how it could mean that it is all coming to an end for her.
Bennett also uses dramatic pauses throughout the monologue and I feel these could be there to not only create sympathy but also create a sense of tension as well. These pauses could represent many different things, maybe Doris’s flashbacks, sadness, or even that the memories are painful, but I feel that they are used to make the audience think back over of what Doris has just said, and I feel this is powerful because it is keeping the audience engaged and keeping all the focus on Doris. The pauses could also emphasis Doris’s slowing down process and this then reflects her age making the audience feel sympathy for Doris.
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But one of the most powerful techniques I feel Bennett uses to create sympathy for Doris is the use of flashbacks. At a number of points in the monologue, Doris slips from the present to the past, revealing memories from the recent and distant past. This reveals her fractured consciousness and highlights the idea that she is unable to look forward and only lives in the past and present.
One of the most powerful techniques Bennett uses to create sympathy for Doris is the revalation of Doris’ memories. At the beginning of scene 3, Doris hints at the idea that she was once pregnant. This is the first mention of any child and she doesn’t go into detail at this point however, a little later in this scene she states ‘I wanted to call him John’, this infers that she was never allowed to give him a name. It also reveals her desperate desire to be a nurturing mother, and care for him even though he died. This could reveal that Doris was not given the chance to be a mother and the death of her baby has resulted in her not being able to fulfill the most important role of her life, being a mother.
The second memory Bennett uses is when the baby dies and the midwife wraps ‘him in newspaper as if he was dirty’, again relating back to the baby Doris and Wilfred never had. I think that this could symbolise how Doris feels that the baby was treated like dirt, almost as a waste product, something that should be forgotten about. I feel this because once a newspaper is read, it is old news and is often discarded and forgotten about, just like how Doris feels that her baby was discarded and forgotten about by the midwife and Wilfred. I also feel that Doris felt that the baby was treated as though it was unimportant. Her baby was the only thing that Doris saw was fresh and clean and she despised the fact that the midwife who had been looking after Doris, and who was meant to be caring for her child during birth was making her baby seem dirty and unclean by using newspaper to wrap him up in, as though he was nothing and unimportant.
Another memory Bennett uses to create pathos for Doris is when Doris says ‘come on Dad. Come on, numby leg.’ I think this because Doris is relating back to the baby she never had. The use of ‘numby’ could suggest baby language and that the baby that once was inside of Doris is still there, and how the use of numby suggests a ‘dead leg’ relating to how the baby died and it may have brought all Doris’s feelings back and therefore she just wants to move on with the support of Wilfred, which could infer why Doris always has hold of the ‘broken picture’ of her and Wilfred on their wedding day. The use of ‘Come on Dad. Come on, numby leg’ could also amplify the family that she will never have, and since the family she could have had have both died Doris just wants to move on from that but she cannot find the support to do so.
The last memory I am going to explore is when Doris starts talking about ‘the pram’. In the middle of the play Doris moves to sitting with her back against the front door, and she states ‘this is where we had the pram’. Doris showed much pleasure in her pram and there is also a sense of how much pride she flourished for it also, I feel she shows this when she said ‘proper prams then, springs and hoods’, this is the first indication that she feels that the era was better than the one she is currently living in. Bennett therefore creates a feeling of pathos for Doris, because he makes the audience feel sorry for Doris. Doris doesn’t actually mention directly in the monologue that her baby died, but there are clues in some of her speech that certify her baby’s death. I think this is because, even though Doris knows that her child has died, she doesn’t even want to take a moment just to admit it to herself or think about how much she has lost as a mother. What makes the situation even more despairing is that Wilfred, the father of Doris’s baby doesn’t even share her grief. To Wilfred, the baby was just a craze, and he thinks that him and Doris are better off without the baby, as Doris informs us of Wilfred saying ‘We’re better off, Doris. Just the two of us.’
Doris also dwells on the past a lot, and thinks that everything going on around her was better when she was a young girl, compared to her current situation. I now feel that after studying the monologue, every bit of contact Doris has with the outside world and people around her is negative, and provides her with what she feels is useless and inadequate help. Furthermore, Doris might also feel isolated by the modern day society and feel alone because all the people she used to know have gone; Doris is alone. Midway through the play Doris explains that she feels that people don’t settle down anymore, and have no sense of permanance. She does this by quoting ‘then she went and folks started to come and go. You lose track.’ In addition to this, she also says ‘don’t know anyone around here now’ which shows that modern society feels almost alien to her. She is unable to move on with her life which is why she is unable to accept the situation she is in.
Concluding my essay, I feel that by using the type of monologue form Alan Bennett does, creates an overall effect by letting the audience see only a snapshot of one day in Doris’ life, Bennett provides us with deep explanatory and interpretation of her life, and what made Doris who she is. Throughout the play we learn that Doris comes across very careless about her views and even though she is coming to the end of her life, she would just rather be on her own and die alone than get help. I find the play very emotional as Doris is reaching the last stages of her life, and hopefully at that point you would hope that an old lady like Doris would have fulfilled what she wanted in life, but unfortunately Doris didn’t.
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