A Taste of Honey - Plot


These slides provide a complete overview of the events of Shelagh Delaney's 1958 play, A Taste of Honey. Also contained are embedded links to videos which will provide the student with a better understanding.
Evan Barton
Slide Set by Evan Barton, updated more than 1 year ago
Evan Barton
Created by Evan Barton over 5 years ago

Resource summary

Slide 2

    A Taste of Honey - Overview
    Shelagh Delaney's A Taste of Honey is a realistic portrayal of poverty and working class life in England in the 1950's. These 'kitchen sink' plays were popular with an impoverished nation that was still recovering, economically and psychologically, from both WW2 and the fracture of the British Empire. Delaney's play depicts the gritty life of Jo and Helen, a daughter and mother living in Salford, Manchester. Helen is an alcoholic and a prostitute, barely providing for herself and her daughter through her affairs with a number of 'fancy men'.  Jo is a seventeen year old, who drops out of school at the beginning of the play. She alternately displays signs of weathered wisdom and extreme naivety through the drama.  The other characters are Jimmie, a sailor, who impregnates Jo; Peter, Helen's lover and husband for a time; and Geof, Jo's homosexual friend and flatmate during Helen's absence.  Delaney wrote this play at age 18 in an effort to address social issues not usually discussed in popular culture. Themes include poverty, racism, homophobia, broken homes, delinquency and motherhood. 

Slide 3

Slide 4

    A Taste of Honey - Act 1 Scene 1
    The play opens in a dingy flat, which Helen and Jo have just moved to. The reason for the move is unclear, but there are hints it has to do with Peter, Helen's younger 'boyfriend'.  Helen is sick and her selfishness is immediately evident. Jo looks to find somewhere to plant her bulbs. She has never been able to grow anything because of their frequent relocations. Likewise, her schooling has suffered from their unstable lifestyles, though her pictures indicate that she has a talent for art - 'You're wasting yourself', Helen tells her daughter. 'So long as I don't waste anybody else', Jo answers, a comment on Helen's skills as a mother, as well as an irony given what will soon happen to Jo. Their relationship is spiky. Their language is mean. But there is love between Helen and Jo, though not in a traditional mother/daughter sense. 
    Peter enters. He has tracked Helen to the new flat. This is the first time he has met Jo, who may be closer to his age than Helen is. They don't get along: 'a snotty-nosed daughter', he calls Jo. In the most unromantic terms, Peter proposes to Helen: 'The world is littered with women I've rejected...marry me, Helen...I may never ask you again.' He leaves and Helen seems taken with his offer. The flat is still a terrible mess. Jo and Helen prefer to turn the light out than tidy it. 

Slide 5

    Act 1 Scene 2
    Jo and her boyfriend, Jimmie, take a walk together. The boy is a black sailor, who is about to ship off for six months. He asks Jo to marry him, even though they hardly know each other. She accepts and hides the ring he offered around her neck so her mother won't know. His other gift, a toy car, demonstrates how child-like they both still are.  They talk of plans for the future - how she plans to leave school and start working, so she can stop living with Helen. He wishes he wasn't in the Navy.  They talk about race. Where are your ancestors from?, Jo asks. 'Cardiff', he answers, aware that Jo is unconcerned with his racial heritage - 'the first girl...who really didn't care.'

Slide 6

    Act 1 Scene 2 - Continued
    The scene moves to the flat, where Jo and Helen discuss men. Helen warns Jo not to do anything stupid with a sailor, and says she's known a few in her time. Peter arrives and talks with Jo, while he waits for Helen to dress. Like Helen, his promiscuity is obvious, evidenced by the photos of other women that Jo finds in his wallet.  They announce their intention to marry and honeymoon over Christmas, leaving Jo alone. The boy calls around to keep her company before shipping out.  On her wedding day, Helen calls around and chastises Jo when she learns about Jimmie. When Jo asks about her father, Helen tells her that she was married to a 'puritan' once, and fulfilled her sexual needs with a simpleton. Jo worries about her future and Helen leaves to live with Peter. 

Slide 8

    Act 2 Scene 1
    Some months later, and a pregnant Jo has just been to the funfair with her friend, Geof.  Jo guesses that Geof needs a place to stay. It is hinted that his landlady threw him out for being homosexual. As Jo works all day in a shoe shop and all night in a bar, she could do with some help around the house and with rent. Geof, who is an art student, remarks of Jo's pictures, that they are just like her - 'no design, rhythm or purpose.'  They begin to live together and settle into to something like a marriage. Geof even proposes to Jo, though she rejects it, because she sees Geof more like a 'big sister.' 

Slide 9

    Act 2 Scene 1 - Continued
    The faux marriage continues, and Geof and Jo develop a kind of harmony together, though as her time gets closer, Jo becomes more irritable. Jo doesn't like the idea of abortion, nor the idea of motherhood. Jimmie has not returned. She worries about the child's intelligence, believing her mother's account of Jo's father. She wants Geof to look after the child, which is something he wants to do. Helen arrives, having been tipped off about the pregnancy by Geof. Mother and daughter argue and bicker. When Geof tries to intervene, he is shouted down. For a few moments, Helen offers genuine concern and leaves money on the table to help Jo. She offers Jo a place under her roof.   A very drunk Peter enters...

Slide 10

    Act 2 Scene 1 - continued
    ...Peter takes the money back and says there is no place for 'that bloody slut' in their house. He also insults Geof, calling him a 'lily', 'Mary', 'Jezebel' and 'fruitcake', adding to Helen who has earlier labelled him a 'pansified freak'. Geof and Helen's relationship is clearly abusive and based on mutual alcoholism. By contrast, Geof and Jo's dynamic is shown to be built on a genuine concern for one another. Helen enters the scene promising Jo a home, security, love and financial stabiliity. Her promises are empty and she leaves only a solitary cigarette, which is as intransigent as her maternal instinct.

Slide 11

    Act 2 Scene 2
    Some months later again and the baby is nearly due.  Geof works hard to get the flat tidy and has been busy sourcing a wicker cot and other essentials. Underneath a table, he finds the bulbs that Jo never got around to planting - perhaps an omen about her ability to look after herself or a child. On a positive note, Geof has got Jo some work, retouching photographs.  As Geof bakes a cake, they seem happy. Until Geof gives Jo a baby doll to practice upon. Seeing the white doll, she erupts, claiming it is the wrong colour. Remembering Jimmie, she feels he was 'only a dream I had', though the baby remains very real. Helen enters.....

Slide 12

    Act 2 Scene 2 - Continued
    In a mirror of the opening scene, Helen enters loaded with baggage. She is clearly planning to stay for a while.  Within moments, she destroys the sense of domestic harmony. She insults Geof, tells him to leave, and begins to 'tidy' the already clean room. Jo correctly guesses that Peter has thrown her out. She eventually confesses that he has left her for a younger girl.  Jo is torn between her affection for Geof and her new desire to 'mother' her mother - 'I feel as though I could take care of the whole world. I even feel as if I could take care of you, too!' As Jo sleeps, Helen forces Geof from their lives. Awake and looking for Geof, Jo is confused and may be going into labour. Helen decides she is going for a drink. 'Are you coming back?' asks Jo, just before the play ends. Jo's final words recall a nursery rhyme that Geof had once recited. 
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