In the play The Dear Departed, Stanley Houghton satirizes the degradation of moral values in the British middle class. In trying to grab the things belonging to their father, the children completely disregard modesty, decency, and obligation towards their family.
At the beginning of the play, Mrs Slater goes to offer something to her father Abel Merryweather and finds him quite cold, not responding at all. He is motionless. So, she declares that her father is no more. Accordingly, her sister and her husband, the Jordans are informed about the sudden demise of their father.
Mrs Slater and her husband are busy making arrangements for the mourning. They are expecting the Jordans to join them. They start using the various belongings of their father. Victoria, daughter of Mrs.Slater does not like all this but reluctantly she is helping her parents in these matters.
Victoria is asked to keep a watch on the main door to inform her mother about the arrival of the Jordans. Mrs Slater is not willing to share her father’s belongings with Mrs Jordan. When the articles are being shifted, the Jordans arrive.
The family members start a detailed conversation on the deeds of their deceased father, planning the details of the obituary announcement in the papers and the insurance premium payment. They start a discussion over the distribution of their father’s belongings among them.
Surprisingly, at this point in time, the play witnesses a turn of events. Victoria who has been sent to the grandfather’s room returns very scaredly. She tells everyone that grandfather is alive. To everybody’s surprise, grandfather is seen coming downstairs. He is surprised to find the Jordans over there too.
No one dares to tell him that he had been declared ‘dead’. While taking tea, the truth comes out and he gets to know how his daughters have been in a hurry to divide his possessions among them.
On knowing the harsh reality, the grandfather decides not to live with any of his daughters. He even expresses his final intention to change his will. He declares that he is going to give everything to Mrs Shorrocks whom he will marry. He feels that by marrying Mrs Shorrocks he will have someone to look after him wholeheartedly without considering him to be a burden.
Q. Mrs Jordan says that she has a feeling that the father has not paid his insurance premium. How do all react to it?
A. They all were about father’s overdue insurance premium. Mrs Jordan says that she has a ‘warning’ from the insurance office. She says that father has done it on purpose. After a long search, the receipt is found in the bureau. The two sisters express anger at the father’s irresponsibility and ‘swindling’ motive.
Q. Why does Abel Merryweather say, “Its a bit late to say it (sorry) now”?
A. Abel Merryweather knew the real nature of his two daughters. Neither of them had any love and affection for him. They regarded him as a burden over him. They simply pretended to have a love for him. When Mrs Slater came to know that Abel was dead, she started stealing his items. The two sisters started quarrelling over their share in the property of Mr Abel Merryweather.
Q. What message do you get from the play, ‘The Dear Departed’?
A. The drama ‘The Dear Departed’ throws light on the deteriorating human values in modern society. People are hankering after materialistic pleasure and losing real human values. Elderly people are regarded as a burden on the family. Every member of the family wants to get rid of them. The elderly people are helpless. Everybody throws a greedy glance over their property but nobody wants to take care of them.
Q. What reasons does Amelia give for not getting another doctor to examine Mr Merryweather?
A. Amelia does not want to go to any doctor as she wants to get rid of Mr Abel so she says that Dr Pringle has been providing treatment to Mr Abel for a long time. She pretends that it would not be a wise step for her to call another doctor to check Mr Abel. Another might give him the wrong treatment. She tries to prove that her decision of not calling another doctor is justified.
Q. Why does Elizabeth wish to draw up a list of Grandpa’s things?
A. Elizabeth is well aware of the nature of her sister Amelia. She knows that Amelia is a dishonest and cunning lady. She also knows that Amelia will try to keep the maximum items of the grandfather. It will not be an easy task for her to get fifty per cent of her share. For getting the full share and for ensuring a proper and smooth process of the division of the property, she wants to make a list of the things.
Q. What change in the grandfather’s will led to another spat between his two daughters? Why?
A. The grandfather, Mr Abel Merryweather announced that he would change his old will. In the new will, there would be a provision that his property would go to the person with whom he would be at the time of his death. This very provision was a bone-house as both of them had avarice.
Q. Even at the time when the grandfather is supposedly dead, the sisters are trying to pull each other down. With reference to the play, The Dear Departed, mention the traits that the sister display. Do you approve of them? Give a reason for your answer?
A. NO, I do not approve of the selfish motive and morality of the two sisters, Mrs Slater(Amelia) and Mrs Jordan(Elizabeth).
At the time when the grandfather is supposedly dead, the selfish and greedy sisters are craving to grab his wealth. In fact, he was not dead merely drunk.
In the play, both the sisters – Amelia and Elizabeth are portrayed as greedy and selfish. Amelia is after the bureau and Elizabeth wanted the gold watch. Since their father is alive, the truth behind their spat comes out. The sisters do not love their father, they only want his wealth and belongings. So says the grandfather, “It seems to me that neither of you has any cause to feel proud about the way you treated me…. neither of you cared to put up with me”.
- Mrs Slater – Mrs Slater is a vigorous and plump lady who stays prepared to do any amount of straight-talking to get her own way. It is understood that she is very dominating by the way she treats her daughter. She is insensitive too. She does not believe in making any sort of kind gestures or suggestions. She is shown to be very greedy and quite a huge opportunist.
- Mrs Jordon – Mrs Jordon is a stout and complacent woman. She is impassive and always has an irritating air around her. She is very witty and sharp. She holds the capacity to drive a hard bargain over things to gain possession. She too is a greedy person who takes every opportunity to criticize the Slaters and finally decides to take her father with her just for the sake of money.
- Victoria – Victoria is a daughter of Mr. and Mrs. slaters and granddaughter of Mr. Abel merry weather she is a precious girl of ten her childlike simplicity can be reflected through various events in drama she is an innocent and a simple girl when the play opens she is gallivanting in the street unconscious of the fact, that her grandfather is lying dead, and cold upstairs she is not able to understand whats all going in the house …as when she goes upstairs to fetch the bunch of keys as per her mother instructions…when she comes back she is scared and exclaims emotionally that grandpa is getting up…she fails to understand trick of her parents…..she simply calls it stealing !! victory is great love for her grandpa…
- Ben – Ben is surely a practical and a very big hypocrite in the play The Dear Departed. He is practical when he says that everyone has got to die someday. This shows that he is not at all mournful of the fact that Abel passed away. Ben called Abel Merry Weather ‘the drunken old beggar’ because the latter had not paid the premium for his insurance. This meant that none of the family members would be able to get his insurance money. This angered and disgusted everyone in their family. This incidence shows that Ben was very logical and very materialistic. He did not believe in the importance of relationships.
- Henry – Henry Slater is a man who has no will of his own and no say in the house. He is Amelia’s husband, Victoria’s father and the son-in-law of Abel Merry Weather. He has a drooping moustache and a heavy built. He wears a black tailcoat, grey trousers, a black tie and a hat. Henry does what his wife tells him to do. He’s not bad and greedy in nature like his wife Amelia, but he hides some things of Grandpa before the arrival of Amelia’s sister. He did this because his wife asked him to. He also wears the slippers of his dead father-in-law because his wife asks him to do it.
- Abel – Abel Merryweather was an old man, widower and stayed with his daughter Amelia. One morning Amelia found her father dead in his bed. Instead of calling the doctor, she confirms her father’s death. She calls her sister’s family to divide their father’s property.