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Roots


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A: Arnold Wesker Pf: London, 1959 Pb: 1959 G: Pol. drama in 3 acts S: Rural homes, Norfolk, England, 1950s C: 5m, 4fBeatie Bryant, who has been living in London with her boyfriend Ronnie Kahn for three years, comes home to visit her family in Norfolk. In Act 1, she tells her sister and brother-in-law, a farm mechanic, how much she has learned from Ronnie and denounces the empty lives of her family. Stan Mann, a neighbour, jokingly says he'll take her if Ronnie doesn't hurry up and marry her. In Acts 2 and 3, Beatie stays with her mother and father, also a farm labourer. Again she tells her mother how intellectually deprived the family is, and is dismayed by her father's resigned attitude when he is threatened with the sack. News comes of Stan Mann's death. A high tea is prepared for Ronnie's arrival, and the family, including Beatie's brother and sister-in-law, gather to meet Ronnie, the socialist intellectual. Instead, a letter comes from Ronnie, breaking off the relationship with Beatie. Angry and disappointed, she feels that she now has no roots, neither at home nor in the town. In this recognition, she discovers a newfound articulacy: ‘I'm talking…I'm not quoting no more.’

A: Arnold Wesker Pf: London, 1959 Pb: 1959 G: Pol. drama in 3 acts S: Rural homes, Norfolk, England, 1950s C: 5m, 4f

In the wake of Look Back in Anger, British theatre relinquished its polite conversations in middle-class drawing rooms in favour of so-called ‘kitchen sink’ drama. Roots, the central and best part of the ‘Wesker Trilogy’ (which includes Chicken Soup with Barley and I'm Talking about Jerusalem), was one of the most significant contributions to this new wave of realism, using a rural working-class setting and naturalistic dialogue. However, the poor are not sentimentalized; rather, to Beatie's frustration, they lead empty, passive lives. Beatie herself is not idealized: she tries to impose progressive ideas borrowed from her treacherous boyfriend, without attempting to understand her family. Only when she begins to speak with her own voice at the end, is there a sense that genuine political education might be possible.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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Arnold Wesker (b. 1932) English dramatist


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