Isolated and Marginalized Characters of Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads

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Isolated and Marginalized Characters of Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads

All the pieces in Alan Bennett’s collection deal in some way with people who are isolated or marginalized, either because of circumstances or because of their own idiosyncrasies. Every character is, in some way inadequate. Graham is a mother's boy, whose dubious sexuality seems to have caused him severe mental stress. Susan, the vicar's wife, is an alcoholic woman, trapped in a loveless marriage, whose caustic intolerance of her husband's calling alienates her from the rest of the parish and forces her into behaviour which is damaging and dangerous. Irene Ruddock is narrow minded and malicious, believing herself to be a guardian of public morals, when, in fact, she is no more than a dangerous slanderer. The actress, Lesley, believes that her talent is genuine, but has not the intelligence or wit to realise that she is, in reality, a failure. Muriel Carpenter has spent her whole married life refusing to face up to reality and suffers tragic consequences from years of selective vision and poor Doris finds her age and upbringing have made her an anachronism in modern society.

Although Irene is the only one of the characters who spends "real" time in prison, it could be argued that, in a way all of Bennett's subjects are prisoners of a sort. Graham's claustrophobic existence with his aged and senile mother is a form of imprisonment. Ironically, the opportunity of "escape" offered by his mother's affair with Frank Turnbull, is very threatening to him, causing him to begin to exhibit all of his "old" symptoms and making him more nervous than ever. Although Graham seems to be unhappy with the tedium of his life, it soon becomes obvious to us that i...

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... on his own parents experiences. Her obsession with being "clean" and "decent" are typically Northern working class values. There is much about this character that is irritating but when we learn about the dead child who "wasn't fit to be called anything" we suddenly realise that there is more to her than we thought. Like Muriel, Doris has spent her life "keeping up appearances", refusing to cave in to hardship and making the best of her situation. Also like Muriel she has a strong sense of her position as a woman, although here we see the opposite attitude - that the woman is the "boss" in a marriage. Poor Walter was definitely a henpecked husband. Her strength of character is such that she quite deliberately decides not to ask the policeman for help when he knocks at the door. She knows that she will die and seems to prefer to choose her own time and place for it.

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