A Taste of Honey - Themes


These slides discuss some of the major themes in Shelagh Delaney's A Taste of Honey. These include sex, love, darkness and fortitude.
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

    One possible interpretation of the title is that the 'taste of honey' refers to the brief sexual experience between Jo and Jimmie. Sex, in the play, is something that undoubtedly enjoyable, but not without its consequences - for the female characters, at least.  Helen is the most sexualised individual in the play. Her first marriage, to a 'puritan', is destroyed by her need for sex, which she claims to have had with a man 'not very bright', who impregnates her. For Helen, sex is also inextricably linked with money, as her only source of income is through her 'fancy-men.' For Jo, sex is initially seen as a gateway to freedom. By performing this adult act, Jo believes she can break free from her life with Helen. The opposite outcome occurs, as Jimmie never returns and Jo is left to follow in the footsteps of her mother by having an illegitimate child at a young age.  Peter is the most promiscuous man in the drama, both with Helen and other women. However, as a man (and a man of means), he is not governed by the consequences of his relationships. He calls Jo 'a bloody slut', without any sense of irony, given his choice of bride and his own lascivious behaviour. 

Slide 3

    By contrast, love within A Taste of Honey is something other than sexual love. One could argue that sex is something opposite to love in the play. Helen, for example, does not really love Peter, but does love the lifestyle he provides her.  Jimmie and Jo claim to love each other before consummating their relationship but, once they do, they never see each other again. Jimmie, and therefore love, becomes a dream, while the outcome of sex is a very tangible baby.  Helen and Jo occasionally trade moments of concern, which are almost always grounded in a conversation regarding their sexual partners. 
    In truth, the only seemingly genuine love in the drama is shared between Geof and Jo who develop a relationship based on mutual respect and concern. Geof, though apparently homosexual, is never involved in a sexual relationship through the play. 'I used to think you were such an interesting, immoral character before I knew you' Jo remarks to Geof, 'you're just like an old woman really' - indicating that, for Jo, sex still provides and important marker of identity. Without sexual baggage, Geof offers the only example of selfless love within the play. 

Slide 4

    The traditional role of the mother in the play is something that is altered from the first scene. Helen is sick and supposedly incapable of looking after herself, but her comments suggest that Jo will be no better a caretaker. Helen, as we see from the surroundings and what we hear of Jo's schooling, has never been maternal. Her frequent absences point to a pattern of abandonment that looks set to be repeated at the end of the play.  Jo has never known a mother and so, when she learns of her pregnancy, she panics having no frame of reference to draw on. During this period, when her own mother has once again vanished, Geof becomes the mother figure she can learn from. Geof's caring instincts bring some thing out in Jo, that later she even believes she could take care of her own mother, Helen. By this stage, the language has reversed from the first act as well, and we can see Jo warning Helen not to 'gas herself' by the end.  One other strange instance of the theme of 'motherhood' lies with Peter's references to Oedipus who, like him, is blinded. For Oedipus, this followed the revelation that he accidentally bedded his own mother. Peter is, likewise, attracted to older women. 

Slide 5

    Gender, Race & Class
    All of the characters, with the exception of Peter, exist on the margins of society, made obvious by their decentralised position beside an abattoir. In the 1950's society generated a culture of shame on unwed mothers. Considered worse still were mixed-race, illegitimate children of a teenage mother, raised on poverty on the charity of a prostitute, alcoholic grandmother and a homosexual.  Jimmie's race is brought up in his opening lines, when he says he prefers winter so that Jo and he can kiss. This infers that a mixed race relationship was considered taboo, an idea later confirmed by Helen when she learns about the baby's racial heritage. Homosexuality was a criminal offence in the United Kingdom in 1958. The attitudes of Peter and Helen toward Geof demonstrate how abusive behaviour could be towards the gay community, even when characters exist within the same social strata.  Helen cannot accept her position of poverty despite having had 40 years to get used to it. Her desire to live beyond her means is so strong that she will abandon her only daughter in the pursuit of an abusive relationship because that man has money. 

Slide 6

    Helen and Jo have little to celebrate. The play opens on what is yet another move to another sub-standard property, which seems to be the pattern of their lives. Their primary coping mechanism is to verbally lash-out, at each other and each-other's 'men'. Helen, it may be fair to say, has never faced her problems head-on. Her maternal instincts are limited, her looks are fading and she has no savings. Her strategy is escapism, both physically through  location changes, and also through alcohol and sex addiction.  Jo, on the other hand, has a small degree of hope for the future. Her relationship with Geof rouses a previously dormant care-taking instinct. She and Geof don't keep any alcohol in the house. Her artistic talents are nurtured by Geof, who secures her some work touching up photos. There is a chance she can escape the same trajectory of her mother, even though there are so many echoes between their early experiences. 

Slide 7

    Jo, at the beginning, is afraid of the dark, yet with Jimmie, she claims to prefer the winter, precisely because of the early night.  Jimmie is another 'dark' element, her 'Othello', that she loves for  a time. Jo's other platonic lover, Geof, always wears a black shirt, thanks to their economic utility (white shirts have to be changed more often).  The last exchange between Jo and Helen relates to the darkness of the baby. Helen's remarks are all racist, culminating in her parting line 'Put it on the stage and call it Blackbird.' 
Show full summary Hide full summary


An Inspector Calls Revision Notes
Noor Sohail
The Captain of the 1964 Top of the Form Team
Summer Pearce
Hamlet - Character Analysis
Jess Watts
Sheila Birling Quotes
Joe Blockley
The Duchess of Malfi Critics Quotes
Biha Saeed
The Merchant of Venice - Act 1 - Plot
bill fingleton
The Merchant of Venice Relationships
Antonia Blankenberg
Relationships in Pride and Prejudice
Antonia Blankenberg
Macbeth Act One - scene summaries
Ashleigh Huddart
A Taste of Honey - Characters
Evan Barton
Romeo and Juliet plot
Jadey Gemini