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Character Analysis of A Taste of Honey

Jo

Jo is quick-witted, sarcastic and rebellious. She is angry about her new living situation and the behaviour of her mother, whom she addresses as “Helen”, showing how she doesn’t view her as a maternal figure in her life. Jo is damaged by neglect and craves Helen’s attention. In a moment of pathos, she tells Geof:

“I used to try and hold my mother’s hands, but she always used to pull them away from me. So silly really. She had so much love for everyone else, but none for me.”

She vows to be different from her mother, refusing to drink alcohol and declaring that she won’t marry early. Naively, she then believes Jimmie’s promise of a wedding. Desperate for love after her mother leaves her alone at Christmas, she sleeps with him and becomes pregnant at 17 years old.

She does gain a sense of independence and strength through living with Geof, her only friend, telling her mother “We’re wonderful” and:

“for the first time in my life I feel really important. I feel as though I could take care of the whole world. I even feel as though I could take care of you too.”

Jo

However, Helen intimidates Geof and takes his place living there, then abandons her again. It’s hard not to see a challenging future for Jo, left alone raising a mixed-race child in a prejudiced society.

Helen

An alcoholic single mother, Helen is depicted as cheerfully enjoying her life, maintaining relationships with several “fancy men” who provide her with money in exchange for sexual relationships. She is described, somewhat brutally, in the stage directions as being “a semi-whore”.

Helen is more concerned with drinking alcohol, her appearance and her relationships with men than she is with raising and caring for her daughter, Jo. She says bluntly, “Have I ever laid claim to being a proper mother?” and admits that she has “never thought about” Jo when she has been happy in relationships with men. This demonstrates how she puts her own needs and desires above those of Jo.

Occasionally, Helen does show maternal, loving behaviour towards Jo. She is complimentary about her drawings, saying she would support her daughter in “going to a proper art school and getting a proper training”. This would be a possible escape route from their squalid poverty. She also tries to give Jo money when she is pregnant, and she moves back into the flat, vowing to support her daughter and grandchild. These flashes of maternal behaviour make her cruelty and betrayals all the harder for Jo to take.

She marries Peter for “a wallet full of reasons”, which demonstrates her instinct for survival, but also her selfishness in putting her own comfort above looking after Jo.

Geof

Geof is an art student who is a kind and loyal friend to Jo. He helps her with her pregnancy and baby preparations, and lives happily alongside her. Geof has stereotypically female traits such as being caring and enjoying dressmaking. Jo even jokes that he is her “big sister” and would “make somebody a wonderful wife.”

Geof is an outsider in this society due to his homosexuality, and it is hinted that he was evicted from his lodgings after his landlady discovered he is gay. He needs Jo’s friendship as much as she needs his. This is demonstrated in his marriage proposal (which he hopes will keep them together), and commitment to helping her raise the baby. He tells her “I’d sooner be dead than away from you”, demonstrating how the friendship has transformed his life for the better.

He wilts under the domineering, bullying and homophobic behaviour of Helen and Peter. Apart from warning Helen to “not frighten Jo”, he cannot stand up to his friend’s mother. At the end of the play, he even leaves the flat after Helen intimidates him. He mistakenly believes that Jo would be better with her mother, unable to see that he is the best person to support her.

Peter

Peter is a vulgar, flash car salesman who persuades Helen to marry him, selling himself as “young, good-looking and well set up.” He wears an eye patch which adds a roguish aspect to his appearance.

He immediately makes it clear that Jo will not be part of his and Helen’s future.

Jo, seeing his photographs of other women in his wallet, knows that he doesn’t love Helen, therefore, she is antagonistic towards him. In turn, he makes sexual suggestions and insults her.

After they are married, Peter reveals himself as a cruel, drunk and hateful bully. He refuses to let Helen help her daughter financially, makes spiteful remarks about Helen’s age and appearance, and discards her when he meets a new woman.

Jimmie

Jimmie is a male nurse, a role that challenges the typical gender norms of this society. He is serving his national service in the Navy, which he claims to dislike.

As Jimmie is a black man in a racist society, he is worried about the reaction that some people may have to him dating a white girl. He predicted that Helen would look at him and only “see a coloured boy”.

Jimmie appears to be infatuated with Jo, telling her, “I dreamt about you last night. Fell out of bed twice”. However, he carries on the pattern of deceptive men in the play. After sleeping with her when she was in a vulnerable moment, he then doesn’t fulfil his promise of marriage.

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