Table of contents
2. Definition of the term suburbia
3. Analysis and Interpretation of the play
3.1. Analysis and interpretation of the language
3.2. Analysis and interpretation of the structure
3.3. Analysis and interpretation of the main characters Middie and Bro Paradock
3.4. Analysis and interpretation of themes and motifs
3.4.1. “Having a read”
3.4.2. “the (pet) animal”
3.4.3. “the comedians at the door”
3.4.4. “Uncle Ted’s sex change”
3.4.5. “the religious service on the radio”
3.4.6. “Aunt Chloe’s birthday”
3.4.7. “Cod’s eggs”
3.4.8. “Mrs. Stencil”
5. Literature list
Literary critics have discussed N.F. Simpson’s one-act play A Resounding Tinkle in a controversial manner. A number of them saw it as a representative of the British variety of the “Theatre of the Absurd” (Esslin 1964: passim); others express doubts that there really is a serious philosophical intent and state that Simpson tries to amuse his audience for more superficial reasons (Fothergill 1973: passim).
Leaving these questions aside I will focus on the question whether the one-act version of A Resounding Tinkle can or has to be interpreted as socio-cultural criticism. By analysis of the motifs, characters, structure and language I will try to show in how far Simpson makes allusions to suburbia and satirises the middle-class society.
2. Definition of the term suburbia
The term suburbia is frequently used by various authors. Most educated readers will have a more or less clear idea of the phenomenon it stands for. It is however difficult to find a full, comprehensive and precise definition of the term in literature. For my analysis it is nevertheless indispensable to define the term suburbia before analysing and interpreting the play. Due to the lack of literature about this topic I have to rely on my own experience with and knowledge about suburbia. Additionally I base my definition on the thorough research work of David Thorns from whose book Suburbia (1972) I give a number of quotations.
It is difficult to give a date for the beginning of suburbanisation, but the phenomenon is known since after the Second World War. Urbanisation, having reached a practical point of saturation, lead to suburbanisation, the desire to live in neighbourhoods with green spaces. (During the Industrial Revolution of the late 18th and 19th centuries people had started to move from the country into the cities, which therefore grew at an enormous speed. The quality of life began to decrease in the overcrowded cities. Poverty and lack of space for the individual made living in the cities more strenuous.) People wanted to escape from the anonymous, congested cities but still remain living within commuting distance of their place of work. For the first time since the beginning of industrialisation more people moved out of the cities (into the suburbs) than into the cities (from the rural communities). The individuals hoped to find a better quality of life.
The situation in the suburbs was in fact different but not necessarily better than in the cities. The density of buildings was less extreme but still high. The suburbs were mostly residential and fully dependent on the nearby cities. The most common and “typical” type of suburb, the so-called “estate suburb”, was characterised by single-family, semi-detached houses (Thorns 1972:77). These housing estates were planned in order to provide homes for the expanding city population.
The points mentioned so far are an objective description of the British suburbs of the middle of the twentieth century. However there is not only one type of suburb and not only one type of suburban way of life. It is important to differentiate between the “myth” of suburban life - which is meant when writing or talking about “suburbia” - and the reality of suburban life which would obviously be far more difficult to describe and define in a balanced and all-embracing way. In other words: the term “suburbia” means the stereotyped way of life in a suburb, respectively the stereotyped suburb itself.
David Thorns describes a set of popular ideas regarding the characteristics of the suburban way of life. “This view”, he explains, “has often been somewhat derogatory with some viewing the suburb with disdain as the centre of the middle-brow, conformist, respectable uninspiring members of society who are quite content to potter around in their own rather limited world.” (149). People in suburbia stay in their well-known domains. They do not travel in order to see the world, they do not try new pass-times every now and then and they do not aim at getting to know more inspiring people. All in all they do nothing to broaden their rather limited horizon, but develop methods of living with it. It is difficult to judge whether they are truly happy within their familiar, uneventful and monotonous suburbia. Happiness is a very individual feeling and since the “suburbians” do not know anything else, they probably feel happy. In any case they are oblivious to possible benefits of changes in life that lead to a broadening of the horizon.
The complete set of clichés and stereotypes about the “suburban way of life” can be summarised in the following six points:
a) family and child-rearing are considered major values, the husband works in the town while the wife stays at home and raises the child or children – therefore the scenery of the suburb is dominated by women and children during the (working) day.
b) a high degree of conformity and uniformity in interior and exterior design, values and lifestyle amongst the “suburbians”.
c) the demonstration and affirmation of status is important (therefore there is status competition and the need of “keeping up with the Joneses”).
d) a high degree of social activity but mostly domestic types of leisure activities (the centre of activities is the home and family).
e) the political orientation is conservative.
f) the social strata of the inhabitants is middle-class or lower middle-class.
The latter characteristic is probably the most important one. David Thorns (1972: passim) stresses that the preconceived ideas of suburbia are largely dominated by the clichés about people from the middle-class. Satirising suburbia therefore practically means the same as satirising the middle-class of the middle of the twentieth century.
3. Analysis and interpretation of the play
3.1. Analysis and interpretation of the language
The language in A Resounding Tinkle does not normally follow the rules of logic and causal relationship. Most of the time the reader wonders about the absurd dialogues. The answers do not fit what has been said before and the coherence that is nevertheless created seems to follow an internal logic of its own. It is important to say that - though the relationship between what is said and answered is not causal - there is some kind of relationship. If there were no connection at all, the reader would not recognise it as a dialogue! Bro, Middie and Uncle Ted do not even stick to their own train of thoughts. They switch topic from one sentence to the next and create connections between their utterances that defy conventional ideas of cause and effect. This phenomenon is called non sequitur. It “occurs when there is not even a deceptively plausible appearance of valid reasoning, because there is an obvious lack of connection between the given premises and the conclusion drawn from them” (Encyclopædia Britannica: → Material fallacies). Simpson uses this non sequitur style throughout the play. The following quotation can merely serve as an example for the prevalent incidents of non-sequitur:
“BRO: He was wearing an old raincoat.
MIDDIE: He was very likely trying it on for size.
BRO: (...) What would he be doing trying an old raincoat on for size?
MIDDIE: It might not be as old as the one he had before. (Pause). The coat he had before may have been in tatters for all you or I know. It may have been black with grease.
BRO: I doubt it. I very much doubt it.
MIDDIE: Or mud or something.
BRO: Mud possibly, but not grease.” (p. 74)
Middie assigns an arbitrary cause (he wanted to know if it is the correct size for him) to the effect (he was wearing an old raincoat). She makes up causes for effects that she has got no apparent reason to regard as the truth, but she does so nevertheless. Bro accepts her random version and goes on from there, having doubts only against the details totally irrelevant to his original question.
The non sequitur is Simpson’s means to underline the shallowness of communication in A Resounding Tinkle as well as in suburbia. Nobody relates to the other, shows interest in what the other thinks or is willing to consider the other’s opinion. Communication is degraded to a mere exchange of hollow words instead of deeper thoughts. John Russel Taylor (1969) points out: “the pattern of non-sequitur is rigidly adhered to, so that the participants, as well as being non-existent as individual characters, cannot even communicate with each other at the most elementary level.”(p. 68). In suburbia communication only answers the purpose of being polite. In my analysis of the motif “Mrs. Stencil” I will show in detail how superficial and shallow relationships to other people in suburbia are. Words do not carry deeper meaning but are being used to define sender recipient relationship. Pure non sequitur is not standard in suburbia but can occur when people are totally disinterested, do not listen to each other properly and instead only aim at getting their message across. Just like in the play this leads to the breakdown of communication in its deeper sense but can be kept up if sender and receiver both don’t realise or if they are too polite to criticise the other for not paying attention. “Suburbian” communication is pure small talk. Nobody wants to bother the neighbours with their own concerns and matters. At the same time they don’t want to be bothered by their neighbours either. Everybody keeps a certain friendly distance.
 The “estate suburb“ constitutes the majority of suburbs around the cities of Great Britain.
- Quote paper
- Miriam Volkmann (Author), 2003, N.F. Simpson's Play "A Resounding Tinkle" as a Satire on Suburbia - an Interpretation of Themes, Motifs, Figures, Attitudes, Language etc., Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/20974