Delicate themes, such as old age and homosexuality, are addressed in Alan Bennett’s, Waiting for the telegram, taken from his talking heads series two. In the monologue, the tone is a mixture of tragedy and comedy, and Bennett incorporates parallels and contrasts which underline these central themes. Broadcasted on BBC2 on November 11th 1998, in the monologue, award winning Thora Hird plays the only role. Bennett wrote of an elderly woman named Violet – 95 years old and has had a stroke. Violet is bedridden, and totally dependant on the nursing staff in the home where she now lives.
Throughout the monologue, we here Violet’s account of her day to day life in the home, and also of her past regrets and experiences. Thora’s acting skills, bring an emotional depth to the role, which is crucial for the audience to feel sympathy towards Violets story. The title, Waiting for the telegram, has a double significance for Violet. The first, she is an elderly woman and nearing the age of 100, this means she is soon to be receiving a telegram from the queen, in celebration of this.
Also, we find out later in the monologue, that she used to be waiting for a telegram saying that her boyfriend was dead, from the war. This is particularly significant, as it fits in with many of the themes, including: waiting, tragedy, the certainty of death and regret. Violet regrets this incident, as the last time she saw him, was a bad memory of abstaining from sleeping with him. Violet remembers every detail of this story, which is tragic since, she can only remember the things which have gone wrong in her life.
The fact that she is waiting both times, gives us the sense that she has nothing else to do, but wait for bad news. She is waiting for a celebratory card, which is to tell her she will be dying soon. And, she is waiting to be told of her boyfriends death. All of this background information can be depicted from the title, and gives us an insight into Violet’s life. Even the stage directions at the beginning, give us an insight into Violet’s character before she speaks. The fact that she is an ‘Old lady in a wheelchair’ highlights her frailty and vulnerability.
The description of her surroundings, tells us how tedious her life in the home is, and also how boring it must be for someone of her immobility. There are not any real sentimental pieces in her room, meaning she does not have much to remember her past. In addition, Violet’s hands, twisting her handkerchief, or turning her wedding ring, show us how anxious she is, and that although she cannot remember later in the monologue, she might have been married. Finally, the directions tells us how she ‘fills up with tears’ meaning she is an emotional person, but also that she ‘Generally battles on. showing she is strong willed. Between the generations, there has always been a division of views on the world.
The older of the generations, cling to the views they have been brought up to believe, and are generally left behind with recent developments. Whereas, the younger ages are brought up in the changing of the times, and generally refuse to appreciate those who have different view to themselves. In Waiting for the telegram, this is portrayed as a division between the younger nursing staff, and the residents. ‘”What’s your name, love? ” She says, “Devon. I says, “That’s never a name, it’s a place. ” This slightly shows the division by names, Violet is an old-fashioned name, and Devon, is rather modern, so modern in fact, Violet does not even see it as a real name. ‘She looks right mad, only Francis laughs so she laughs an’ all. I think she’s got her eye on him’ From this, we can see the frustration which Devon feels towards Violet, when Violet was only voicing her opinion. Also, from the performance put across by Thora, we were able to see Violet’s annoyance, that Devon was only interested in Francis, and disregarded her.
This is an aspect that can only be appreciated through a performance, not just the script. Although there is only one performer in the monologue, there are many unseen characters, which the actress dramatically adopts a different voice for. This helps us to paint a picture of the scene she is describing. Francis and Violet have a relationship which is so strongly communicated, that it breaks the boundaries of the generations. This may be because, Francis understands being discriminated against, as we later find out he is gay.
This would give him a better understanding of how to communicate with Violet, and talks to her as if she is a real person. Violet is able to tell Francis her stories, and even cry in front of him, showing how close they really are. Francis’ unexpected and premature death, fits in with another theme to the monologue – the certainty of death. As we are told Violet is the oldest resident in the home, we naturally assume she will be the first to die. However, it becomes apparent, everyone Violet becomes close to dies around her – Francis, Edward and Rene.
This helps us to see how lonely she is, but also that she must have become used to this tragic fact. Judgement and natural assumption are a part of life, albeit sometimes they are wrong, it is from these assumptions that people can see a little about your character. Although Violet does not mind that Francis is gay, she jumps to the conclusion that he is not only heterosexual, but hat he has a girlfriend. ‘”Are you as sharp as this with your girlfriend? ” He said, “You are my girlfriend. “‘ given that it does not even cross Violet’s mind that he may be gay, demonstrates her naivety for the subject.
On the contrary, keeping with the comical side of the monologue, when faced with an elderly flasher, Violet remains calm. ‘”You can put that away. ” He said, “I’ve got a big detached house in Harrogate. ” I said, “That’s no excuse. ” He said, “It’s got five bathrooms. “‘. It is the blunt delivery of this information which makes it so humorous, and even the word ‘penis’, is laughable for the same reason. ‘Penis’ is a taboo word, it can make people such as Violet uncomfortable to say, as it was not politically correct (PC) to mention in her day.
Although the younger nurses are quite comfortable to use it in their everyday language, they are unaware of the insecurities the residents may have towards it. Violet’s composure gives us the impression, this sort situation is a regular occurrence, and therefore she has gotten used to it. The comedy factor to this particular monologue, is crucial to the drama. Without it, the entertainment value would dramatically decrease, as there would only be an elderly women moaning about her lifestyle left. It is the hilarity which initially engages the audience, and encourages them to remain watching.
Age, is he most significant theme to the monologue- growing old, and the treatment of the elderly. This relates to the division of the generations, as the elderly have different views that the youth do not value as much as their own. ‘He says, “She doesn’t seem to know what I’m talking about. ” Verity says, “Well she’s had a stroke. Come on, I’ll find you another one. ” (Violet is a bit upset. )’. this quote tells of how Violet is treated in the home, she is considered more of a chore than a person, especially shown when she is referred to as ‘Another one’.
We can also see how upset this makes Violet feel, and yet this is how our seniors are treated. What’s more, when Violet sees her own legs, she cannot believe how they have changed. ‘”Them’s never my legs. “‘, this shows us how Violet have overlooked herself, getting older, as she can only remember how her legs used to look. Violet’s son Donald comes to visit her shortly in the monologue. However, Violet doesn’t recollect ever having a son. This part of the script, is the first real indication of how bad Violet’s stroke was, and just how much it has affected her.
‘I lay there working it out. If I had a son I must have had a… usband. ‘ Getting married, else having a child is usually the greatest achievement in a persons life. Since Violet cannot remember either of these events, it is tragic that we can see she has hardly any good memories. Violet also becomes quite upset that she cannot remember, she may have made other fantastic achievements, but due to her stroke they are gone from her forever. There is an underlying argument in this, of traditional values vs. modern. In that, traditionally, when your parents grew old, and were unable to look after themselves anymore, it was your duty to look after them, as they did you.
More recently, it has become acceptable, that If you are under circumstances difficult enough, to pay residential homes to look after them. Donald’s actions were the right thing to do for him, it may have been too painful for him to look after his mother, which he loves, but does not love him back. Otherwise, we can slightly see in the monologue, he leads a hectic life, (‘”I’ve just remembered,” he says, “I’m wanted in Wakefield. “‘) which he does not have the time to look after someone.
The older generations abhor that, people cannot make time to look after their parent’s, and palm them off on other’s. ithout a thought as to what the person’s motives are. By only having one person narrating the entire monologue, helps us to see everything through the point of view of Violet. It means, Violet can put across her feelings of what the other characters say, in their actual dialogue. However, We have to wonder at this point, just how reliable Violet’s account is. We can see her condition has affected her outlook on life, and she is therefore biased in her views, and perhaps in an unstable condition to give us a well rounded contention.
When we look at the monologue, we need to think about it with an open mind, not only reading Violet’s story, but hearing the underlying messages Alan Bennett wants us to consider. For example: Devon’s hostile nature in dealing with the resident’s, to Violet she is intimidating, but this may be just because of her lack of experience- something which should be addressed in nursing homes. Thora Hird, won a award for best actress for her role in Waiting for the telegram, and it is clear to see why.
As she lives up to every expectation given by the stage directions of Violet’s character, she can switch from heated frustration with words, to poignant misery, with the greatest of ease. This, combined with the writing excellence of Alan Bennett, provides us with a well thought out technique which to communicate his feelings to the world. The monologue displays just the right amounts of engaging humour, real life, relatable situations and tragic heart-wrenching anecdotes, to be a major hit. And as the last of the talking heads series, it leaves you both thinking of your own experiences with the elderly, and wanting more.