Themes in A Taste of Honey


Helen shows a lack of care and maternal responsibility towards Jo. She is neglectful, moving them around to different places at her own whims. This makes it difficult for Jo to settle in at any school and gain the education that could give her a better life. It only occurs to Helen after they move to the new flat how far they are from Jo’s current school. She remarks in a detached way about the “shocking journey” that Jo will now have to take.

Jo is neglected, getting neither the emotional nor material support that she needs. She suffers from the cold and dampness in the flat, and Peter comments that she looks like a “case of malnutrition”. Jo also repeatedly says how she craves more attention from her mother, who gives affection willingly to the men in her life but not her daughter.

There are occasionally moments where Helen provides the maternal care that Jo so badly craves, such as when she is supportive of her art. Also, when she is concerned for her well-being while pregnant, she asks, “Are you going to the clinic regularly?” However, these moments are fleeting, and are quickly followed by her reverting to her normal selfish attitude.

Geof provides Jo with the care, kindness and security that she should get from her mother, and they form a happy, unconventional family unit. He also provides her with material goods (such as food and clothes for the baby), as well as emotional support. This is shown when he reassures her that Helen’s description of Jo’s father was probably inaccurate. This makes it all the more tragic when Helen returns and forces Geof out of the flat, removing the support that Jo badly needs.

Love, Sex and Marriage

Love is shown to be powerful and also deceptive. Early on, Jo remarks casually how she was in love with one of Helen’s “fancy men”, but then saw him later and he “was thin, weak-chinned, with a funny turned-up nose”. This establishes the theme of love blinding characters to the reality of situations.

This is later seen when Jo mistakenly believes Jimmie’s claim to return to marry her, and Helen doesn’t get the comfort from living with Peter that she expected.

Helen is scornful of Jo’s love for Jimmie, saying:

“I suppose you think you’re in love? Anybody can fall in love, do you know that?”

Jo comes to realise that romantic love often ends in disappointment, and the platonic love she has for her friend Geof is much more valuable.

Marriage is presented as a dangerous trap that can often lead to unhappiness. Helen paints a picture of a miserable life with her “puritan” husband, and urges Jo to “learn from my mistakes” when she finds out that her daughter got engaged.

Jo is initially wary of the marriage trap, saying that she won’t get married young. However, she then immediately agrees to Jimmie’s proposal, either out of her infatuation for him or because she sees it as an escape route from life with her mother.

Helen has a relaxed attitude to sex. She is promiscuous at a time when such behaviour would see her shunned by much of society. Despite this, she judges Jo harshly for becoming pregnant, calling her “man mad” and reporting how the neighbours consider her to be a “little whore”. Jo replies “they all know where I get it from too”, demonstrating how both of them are judged as “ruined” for their sex out of wedlock.

The pressure on women to be virtuous, and the burden of bearing children, becomes too much for Jo to bear as she faces her upcoming motherhood. She howls:

“I don’t want to be a mother. I don’t want to be a woman.”


Delaney depicts a society full of different forms of prejudice and inequality that cause the characters to feel a sense of alienation.

Helen is alienated from the normal, conformist society because of her sexual promiscuity and her “immoral earnings” which Jo refers to them as. Despite this, she herself embodies many of the judgemental, prejudiced views that cause discord in this society. She is bigoted towards Geof for his sexuality, calling him a “Bloody little pansy” and commenting that Jo should get a more conventional man to live with her. She also reacts with horror when it is revealed that Jo’s baby will be mixed race.

Jo is much more open-minded, perhaps signifying a change in attitude from the younger generation towards race and sexuality. She teases Geof about his homosexuality, but embraces his non-stereotypical version of manhood, calling him affectionately a “big sister”. She also sees a future with Jimmie, embracing their racial diversity and wrongly believing that her mother would be accepting of this.

Prejudicial attitudes towards the working class are demonstrated by Peter’s disgust at the “ghastly district” and its inhabitants. He states that “Nobody could live in a place like this” and calls it a “black hole of Calcutta”, before suggesting that all of the children in the area are criminals. The lively, humorous and humane characters of Helen and Jo counter such prejudicial attitudes towards the working class.