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The Dear Departed Summary in English by Stanley Houghton
The Dear Departed Summary in English
In the play The Dear Departed, Stanley Houghton satirises the degradation of moral values in the British middle-class.
In trying to grab the things belonging to grandfather, the children completely disregard modesty, decency and filial obligation. The materialistic attitudes of Mrs Slater and Mrs Jordan come in for bitter criticism. This story is about a middle-class family in a provincial town. Grandfather Abel Merryweather is presumed to be dead and his daughters Amelia Slater and Elizabeth Jordan try to grab his belongings.
The curtain opens to reveal that Abel Merryweather, father of Mrs Amelia Slater and Mrs Elizabeth Jordan has apparently passed away. Abel Merryweather has been staying with Mrs Slater for the past three years. Mrs Slater has informed her sister about his demise. We learn that the two sisters are estranged. However, she is expected shortly due to the father’s demise. We also learn that Abel Merryweather is a drunkard, who spends a fair amount of time at the nearby pub, Ring- o’-Bells, run by a widow, Mrs John Shorrocks. That day, too, he had returned drunk from the pub and fallen into bed in a daze. A while later when Amelia took some dinner up for him, she found he had ‘gone’.
The Slaters, Amelia, her husband Henry and daughter Victoria, are making arrangements for the arrival of the Jordans. They dress partly in mourning as they do not have mourning clothes and will acquire them soon. Before the Jordans arrive, Mrs Slater takes hold of her father’s new slippers, his new bureau and clock.
Mrs Jordan arrives with her husband, Ben. Both are dressed in new mourning clothes. Ironically, while both the families make a show of grief, the two sisters are more interested in their inheritance. Elizabeth wants to make a list of her father’s belongings. She wants his gold watch and she claims her father had promised it to her son, Jimmy. They then begin quarrelling over their father’s belongings. They are worried about the payment of their father’s insurance premium. When Victoria tells them Abel Merry weather had not paid the premium, the two ladies, Amelia and Elizabeth, express their anger at their father’s irresponsibility.
And then Abel Merry weather, who had had a little too much to drink and was in a drunken stupor, comes round. The family is surprised to see him. He, in turn, is surprised to see them in mourning. They try to hide the fact by saying that Ben has lost his elder brother. But the truth soon comes out and Abel is upset by his daughters’ shameful behaviour. He announces he is going to make a new will leaving all that he has to the person he is staying with at the time of his death. Each sister tries to convince him to live with her. A quarrel ensues where the two reveal secrets about each other. Their earlier fights have been over keeping the old man as neither had wanted him with her.
Disgusted with their behaviour, Abel announces that he is getting married to Mrs John Shorrocks, the owner of the Ring- o’-Bells and moving in with her as she wouldn’t find looking after him a burden. So saying, he leaves the house. The daughters who had their eyes on the inheritance are taught a lesson in filial duty.
The Dear Departed Summary Questions and Answers
Given below are the main incidents in the play. They are in a jumbled order. Arrange them in the sequence in which they occur in the play.
(3) Mrs Slater discovers that grandfather is ‘dead’.
(2) Mrs. Slater instructs Victoria to put her white frock on with a black sash.
(6) Henry wears the new slippers of grandfather’s.
(4) The Slaters fetch the bureau and the clock from upstairs.
(11) The Jordans arrive and learn the details of grandfather’s ‘demise’ from the Slaters.
(10) They discuss the obituary announcement in the papers and the insurance premium payment.
(1) Victoria is asked to fetch the bunch of keys to the bureau to look for the insurance receipt.
(5) The family sits down to have tea.
(9) Grandfather comes down and is surprised to find the Jordans.
(7) Grandfather comes to know how his daughters were in a hurry to divide his things between them.
(8) Grandfather announces his intention to change his will and to marry Mrs. Shorrocks.
Answer the following questions briefly.
1. How does Mrs. Slater plan to outshine the Jordans? What does it reveal about her character?
Mrs Slater is dressed in black, but is not in complete mourning. She has got her husband to wear a black tailcoat, grey trousers, a black tie and a bowler hat. Victoria, her daughter, is wearing a white frock with a black sash. She feels she will outshine the Jordans as Ben and Elizabeth will not have thought about mourning yet, so they will outshine them there.
2. Why does Mrs. Slater decide to shift the bureau from grandfather’s room before the arrival of the Jordans? How does Henry react to the suggestion?
Mrs Slater has always wanted to have the bureau after grandfather died. She feels she can easily take it before her sister arrives as it has been bought recently and her sister doesn’t know of it. She says if she leaves it in grandfather’s room, her sister will drive a hard bargain over that. Henry feels it is not sensitive or becoming to do that.
3. What is the reason for the Jordans taking a long time to get to the house of the Slaters? What does it show about the two sisters ’ attitude towards each other?
The Jordans come late because they bought new mourning clothes and dressed up in them before reaching the Slaters’ residence. This shows that both the sisters were trying to get the better of each other all the time.
4. What does Mrs. Jordan describe as ‘a fatal mistake ’? What is the irony in the comment she makes on Mrs. Slater’s defense?
Mrs Jordan calls not calling in a doctor to see grandfather ‘a fatal mistake’ as a doctor may have saved Abel Merryweather’s life. Presuming Abel Merryweather was dead and not getting a doctor turns out to be a mistake as he turned out to be alive. He realized his daughters were selfish and money-grubbing and he decides to change his will.
5. Ben appreciates grandfather saying ‘its ’ a good thing he did’. Later he calls him a ‘drunken old beggar’. Why does he change his opinion about grandfather?
Ben praises Abel Merryweather when he thinks that the old man has paid his insurance premium that morning and they will inherit his insurance money. But when Victoria Slater tells them that grandfather had not gone to pay the insurance premium that morning but had gone with his friend to the Ring-o’-Bells for drinks, Ben is angry and calls him a drunken old beggar as the insurance policy may have lapsed and there may be no money for them.
6. What change does grandfather make in his new will? What effect does it have on his daughters?
Abel Merryweather said that he will change his will to say that his money and his bits of things would go to whomever he was living with when he died. His daughters at once began to fight as each wanted to keep him with . her, while earlier they had fought over not wanting to keep him.
7. What are the three things that grandfather plans to do on Monday next?
On Monday next grandfather planned to do three things. He planned to go to the lawyer’s and alter his will leaving all he had to the person he was staying with, at the time of his death. He also planned to go to the insurance office and pay his premium. The third thing was to go to St. Philip’s Church and get married to Mrs John Shorrocks.
Answer the following in detail:
1. Bring out the irony in the title of the play.
The title ‘The Dear Departed’ refers to the death of a person who is loved but Abel Merryweather is neither dearly loved nor departed. The daughters do not mourn his death. They wanted to grab whatever they can (bureau, clock, gold watch, insurance premium), after his death. He is not dead but merely drunk.
2. How does the spat between his daughters lead to grandfather discovering the truth?
He hears about the spat between his daughters when he gets up. Elizabeth shows him the bureau and the clock grabbed by Amelia. Amelia talks about the gold watch supposedly promised to Jimmy. He realises the truth behind the fight. He knows that Amelia wanted to get rid of him two years ago and Elizabeth didn’t want him either.
3. Compare and contrast Henry’s character with that of his wife. Support your answer with evidence from they play.
She is greedy and wants to take some of grandfather’s things she likes before her sister arrives. She is straight talking, while Henry tells Victoria that grandfather had promised the bureau to them, she just tells Victoria to be quiet and not tell her aunt. She is rude and impolite to her sister and lacks feelings. She hurts grandfather by telling him that Elizabeth did not wish to keep him. Henry is sensitive and does not wish to take the slippers or the bureau. He has a weaker character and allows himself to be dominated by Amelia. He is evasive and hides from the ugly truth. He tells Victoria that grandfather had promised them the bureau.
Bring out the traits in Mrs. Slater’s personality quoting evidence from the play.
|Trait||Evidence from the play|
|greedy||‘We could put that shabby old chest of drawers upstairs where the bureau is now. Elizabeth could have that and welcome. I’ve always wanted to get rid of it.’|
|Overpowering/ dominating||‘Pringle attended him when he was alive and Pringle shall attend him when he’s dead. That’s professional etiquette.’|
|Blunt/ straight talking||‘You want a whole poem. That’ll cost a good lot.’|
|impolite||‘Promised to your Jimmy! I never heard of that.’|
|Insensitive||‘After all I’ve done for him, having to put up with him in the house these three years. It’s nothing short of swindling.’|
Answer the following with reference to the context.
1. “Are we pinching it before Aunt Elizabeth comes?”
(a) What does‘it’refer to here?
It refers to the bureau belonging to Abel Merryweather
b. How does Vicky conclude that her parents are‘pinching it’?
Vicky concludes her parents are pinching it because it belongs to grandfather and they are taking it without permission after his death.
c. Mention the two reasons that Mrs. Slater gives for her action.
Mrs. Slater says that she has always wanted it and if her sister Elizabeth were to see it, she would drive a hard bargain over it.
d. What does it reveal about the difference between the attitude of the elders and that of Vicky?
The elders are out for what they can get while Victoria has more of a sense of what is right.
2. “I don’t call that delicate, stepping into a dead man’s shoes in such haste. ”
a. Who makes this comment?
Mrs Jordan makes this comment.
b. What prompts the speaker to say this?
The speaker is prompted to say this when she sees Henry Slater wearing Abel Merryweather’s slippers.
c. Bring out the significance of this statement.
The Slaters and Jordans have started dividing Abel Merryweather’s things amongst themselves as soon as they presume him to be dead. Herein lies the irony as both of the daughters are acting in the same greedy manner.
3. “Now, Amelia, you mustn ’t give way. We’ve all got to die some time or other. It might have been worse. ”
a. Who is the speaker of these lines?
The speaker of these lines is Ben Jordan.
b. What prompts the speaker to say these words?
Amelia is giving way to her grief at Abel Merryweather’s death. This prompts Ben to say these words.
c. What does he mean when he says ‘It might have been worse ’?
Ben means that it could have been one of them who had died instead of Abel Merryweather.