Motifs and Symbols in DNA


Food and Drink

Phil is constantly shown to be snacking in the play. This paints him as a grazing chimp, focused solely on his own survival instincts, neglecting the needs of others – be it his girlfriend, Leah or Adam.

Phil’s food and drink consumption is also used as a device to show an eventual dismantling of his cold demeanour as the guilt weighs down on him. We can see this in the instances when he is shown to be eating or drinking:

  • Act 1 Scene 2: eats an ice cream when Leah is asking about his feelings for her.
  • Act 1 Scene 3: drinks a can of Coke while devising his cover-up scheme.
  • Act 1 Scene 4: eats crisps while Leah threatens to kill herself.
  • Act 2 Scene 2: eats a packet of Starburst while Leah discusses human existence.
  • Act 2 Scene 3: eats a muffin while others in the group panic about the innocent postman being arrested.
  • Act 2 Scene 4: picks his teeth while Leah pleads for his attention.
  • Act 3 Scene 2: prepares a waffle while Leah threatens to leave him; he has to put it back as Jan and Mark summon them to the woods.
  • Act 3 Scene 4: eats a packet of Starburst. Offers one to Leah, who chews it for a short while before spitting it out.
  • Act 4 Scene 2: in a field with Richard, Phil “is not eating.”

Phil’s attempt to share his food with Leah symbolises how he finally wants to co-exist with her, needing her support as the guilt takes its toll. His inability to eat at all at the end shows how he has lost his single-minded concern for his own survival. He now has other things to think about – namely his guilt in Adam’s death, and the loss of Leah from his life.

Food is also used to show Adam’s decline, from when he was forced to eat leaves as part of the bullying campaign, to how he survives in the woods eating whatever he can scavenge, including a rabbit, a dead bird and insects. This symbolises how quickly he has become like a wild animal, exposing the fragility of human civilisation. This is further demonstrated by the animal-like survival of the gang in their brutal, inhumane actions.


Silence is used by Phil as a cruel, aggressive act towards Leah. We see her begging and pleading for him to speak, and he seems totally apathetic and uncaring towards her needs. He seems to only have two modes: complete silence, or speaking when there is the need for action. Noticeably, he shows a total disregard for communication as a form of socialisation or affection.

There is a reversal in the pattern during Phil and Leah’s final scene, when it is she who is completely silent, while Phil calls her name twice after she leaves. This demonstrates the psychic destruction that he has undergone as a result of his guilt.

Phil is then silent again as Richard tries to get him to talk in the final scene. We get the sense that Phil won’t be able to find the kind of personal connections that could help him recover. Nor will he find forgiveness for the severe crimes that he and his gang have committed.


The Woods

This setting represents the enclosed, mysterious and hidden acts of the group. They discuss the latest developments and plot their course of action here, This is because it is a safe area that is separated from normal civilisation. John Tate shows how their existence here is aspirational for many others, when he discusses the merits of being in the gang:

“Doesn’t everyone want to be us, come here in the woods?”

John Tate

By spending time in the woods, their actions deviate even more from normal human behaviour. They begin to act more like animals, focusing primarily on their basic survival instincts.

Adam’s quick transformation into a wild animal, and Cathy’s growing predatory instincts, are reflective of this. The murder of Adam, as Cathy leads him to an even more remote part of the woods, embodies the gang’s loss of humane behaviour.