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Return to the ordinary world: from The Family Reunion to The Cocktail Party.

A memorial plaque to Eliot mounted in 1998 on the sidewalk at the site of his birthplace, 2635 Locust Street in St. Louis, notes his titles: "Poet, Philosopher, Literary Critic, Dramatist, Nobel Laureate." In fact, Eliot did not get down to writing poetic drama until as late as his last masterpiece Four Quartets (1936-43), although he made an attempt to write his first poetic drama Sweeney Agonistes in 1923-25, but could not complete it. Nevertheless, he had been deeply interested in poetic drama and had written many essays on poetic dramas and poetic dramatists since the beginning. (1)


1. The Dramatist Eliot's Aspirations

Eliot used dramatic techniques in his early poems, while he was strongly conscious of poetic verse forms in his poetic dramas. Writing plays was always closely related to writing poems in his mind, as his interacting with the director E. Martin Browne during the writing of plays clearly shows. Eliot was convinced that a poetic drama was "more likely to come from poets learning how to write plays, than from skillful prose dramatists learning to write poetry" ("Poetry and Drama" OPP 86). (2) In other words, Eliot's plays are definitely written by a poet. They have been often analyzed from such a point of view. However, it is not only the element of the poet who had been ambitious for a poetic drama that established the foundations of his poetic dramas.

In the early part of the 1930s, editing The Criterion made Eliot turn his eyes to the social world. He, as a Christian and a moralist, came to be concerned about the future of the modern world without God. He remarked in a lecture in 1933: "Every poet would like, I fancy, to be able to think that he had some direct social utilityO. He would like to convey the pleasures of poetry, not only to a larger audience, but to larger groups of people collectively; and the theatre is the best place in which to do it" (UPUC 147). (3) Just after the lecture, he was asked to write ten choruses for a pageant play The Rock (1934) which had a social and religious purpose to provide funds for church-building in new housing areas. Next year, he wrote his first full-scale play Murder in the Cathedral (1935) and got a sense of an audience which reacted visibly and directly. These experiences made him think seriously about the theatre as a means of appealing to various people more directly. In those days, he became a Warden of a church and positively engaged in church works, (4) which gave him more opportunities to relate to ordinary people. At the same time, he published the two major cultural studies, The Idea of a Christian Society (1939) and Notes towards the Definition of Culture (1948) on a parallel with writing his plays. It would seem, then, that the base of his poetic dramas was established from the points of view of a Christian and an intellectual person seeking to connect with more ordinary people as well as of a poet ambitious for a poetic drama.

Eliot's writing a poetic drama focusing on poetic verse forms had broken down in the mid-1920s. The dramatist Eliot's writing began to run smoothly after he became aware of a flesh-and-blood audience reacting directly and realized what he had to convey to them. He had expressed the lives of modern people and his own philosophy of life in his poems. They would be described in his plays more widely and deeply and changed by degrees. In this article, I won't attach importance to the development of poetic verse forms in his poetic dramas. Rather, I will pay attention to the view of life which he tried to describe and convey to his audience through his plays, especially focusing on The Cocktail Party (1949) which is said to have been most commercially successful.

2. The Frontier between the Two Worlds

Eliot wrote the five poetic dramas for theatres. Speaking roughly, all he depicted in them were just the two worlds and the three kinds of people. Those two worlds are named variously by many critics--"the 'sainted' life" and "the common life" (Arrowsmith The Critical Heritage 639), "the 'spiritual' world" and "the 'normal' world" (G. Smith 197), "the Negative Way" and "the Way of Affirmation" (C.H. Smith 158, Hay 44), "the Negative Way" and "the Positive Way" (Kari 18), "the sacred" and "the profane" (McCarthy 37) or "the dimension of John of the Cross" and "the human dimension" (Yasuda 100). Eliot himself defines them as "our temporal (life)" and "(our) spiritual life," "a community of men and women" and "the higher forms of devotional life," or "the supernatural life" and "the natural life." (The Idea of a Christian Society 77, 79, 80). There exists the frontier between the two worlds. It is too difficult to cross it. His characters are divided into the three kinds on both sides of the frontier: (1) the characters who cross the frontier from the temporal ordinary world to the spiritual world, (2) those who lead and help them to cross the frontier, and stay here by themselves, (3) those who can live just on this side of the frontier without noticing the meaning of crossing it. How these three kinds of people are connected with and influence each other--this is the most important theme common to Eliot's all plays. His five plays are in sequence but go through changes by degrees. I will note which world or characters Eliot puts more emphasis on or sympathizes with in each play.

To cross the frontier to the other side--Eliot had had this theme since the beginning. He depicted a state of mind of a man who killed his mistress in his fragmentary story "Eeldrop and Appleplex" (1917)--"The important fact is that for the man the act is eternal, and that for the brief space he has to live, he is already dead. He is already in a different world from ours. He has crossed the frontier" (Little Review 9). He had also been considerably interested in Kurtz who "had stepped over the edge" (Conrad 151). He had given up quoting a passage from The Heart of Darkness as an epigraph "The horror! the horror!" (5) for The Waste Land (1922), obeying Pound's advice. It was the passage in which the narrator Marlow told about Kurtz on a death watch. Eliot quoted a passage from The Heart of Darkness as an epigraph "Mistah Kurtz--he dead." for "The Hollow Men" (1925) at last. In this poem, Eliot described a feeling of awe in the gaze of the hollow men who saw off "Those who have crossed / With direct eyes, to death's other Kingdom" (83). (6) The hollow men are the same as Marlow who confesses "True, he [Kurtz] had made that last stride, he had stepped over the edge, while I had been permitted to draw back my hesitating foot" (Conrad 151). Here are the prototypes of those who cross the frontier and those who know the meaning and see them off with a feeling of awe. This theme, which has a sense of sin and an attitude of prayer behind, becomes more religious little by little and is integrated into his plays and evolves gradually. Eliot described in his plays the characters who could live just in the ordinary temporal world without noticing the meaning of crossing the frontier as well as those who crossed it and those who led, helped them to cross it and stay here by themselves, as mentioned above. In this sense, his drama is different from his poetry. It is also different from his early poems in which only the modern superficial sterile life is described. How are these two worlds between the frontier different and connected with each other? Where is Eliot fixing his eyes upon? These two are my main questions in this article.

After Eliot wrote of the martyr of Thomas Becket the Archbishop of Canterbury in his first poetic drama Murder in the Cathedral, he wrote the four contemporary dramas. Especially, his second drama The Family Reunion (1939) and the third The Cocktail Party (1949) exhibit a striking contrast in connection with the two questions above. The Family Reunion was originally the story of Harry who returned home obsessed with an idea that he had pushed his wife into the mid-Atlantic, became conscious of his sin and set out on a journey for expiation. Afterwards, it developed into "a story of sin and expiation" (333) of the Monchenseys, by adding Harry's mother Amy's death, a murderous feud between his parents and a love affair between Amy's husband and her sister Agatha. Harry recognizes that he just repeated the sin of his father who had an intention to kill his wife too, which brings a sigh of relief to Harry. He seems to make a triumphant departure for a journey for expiation at the end of the drama. He tramples down his ordinary family relation or affection. He leaves home following "the bright angels" (339) without hesitation, even though he was warned that his cold attitudes might cause the death of his mother whose heart was very feeble. He seems neither to be penitent for his own intention to kill his wife nor to lament for her death. If anything, he seems relieved to know that he shares the intention to kill his wife with his father.

It is not shown where Harry has gone. When Eliot was asked about it by an actor who played the part of Harry, he just hinted "I think he and the chauffeur go off and get jobs in the East End" (Browne 136). However, the nature of his journey is suggested clearly by the words of Agatha who sees him off saying "You are the consciousness of your unhappy family, / Its bird sent flying through the purgatorial flame" (333).
   ... Family affection
   Was a kind of formal obligation, a duty
   Only noticed by its neglect. (334, Harry)

   ... Love compels cruelty
   To those who do not understand love.
   What you have wished to know, what you have
   Mean the end of a relation, make it impossible
   (337, Agatha)

These words support Harry's way of life to break ordinary human relations and abandon all earthly affection cruelly in the name of "love" which means divine love or "the negative way." In other words, Eliot gives his support to Harry's choice completely by these words. Eliot has crossed the frontier with Harry at the end of the drama--
   ... Harry has crossed the frontier
   Beyond which safety and danger have a different
   And he cannot return. That is his privilege.
   (342, Agatha)

Amy's death is suggested only by her cry heard from behind the scenes Agatha and Harry's cousin Mary, who supported his departure, are feeling tired and old at the moment of their second fresh start. Agatha and Mary blow out lighted candles on a cake for late Amy's birthday one by one with their transcendental last words, and the temporal ordinary world remains in the darkness at the very end of the drama.

It is possible to categorize the characters in The Family Reunion into the following three such groups as I mentioned above: (1) Harry, (2) Agatha, Mary and his chauffeur Downing, and (3) Amy and her brothers and sisters. It separates (2) from (3) whether they have eyes and ability to recognize the Eumenides--who have chased Harry as "specters" (338) and are leading him now as "the bright angels!"--and their meaning or not. Agatha says to Mary--
  ... You and I,
  My dear, may very likely meet again
  In our wanderings in the neutral territory
  Between two worlds. (343, Agatha)

In the same way, the characters in The Cocktail Party can be divided into (1) Celia, (2) Reilly, Julia and Alex, and (3) Edward, Lavinia and Peter. There exists the frontier between (1) and (2) (3), which is still extremely difficult to cross. It makes the greatest difference between The Family Reunion and The Cocktail Party how Eliot treats and describes the characters of (2) and (3) who stay in the temporal ordinary world.

After Eliot finished The Family Reunion, his writing another drama was interrupted by the World War II. He completed Four Quartets and wrote Notes towards the Definition of Culture during the years. Eliot's values changed crucially during the decade. For example, when he was writing The Family Reunion, he was openly critical of Amy--"Amy also understands nothing: she is merely a person of tremendous personality on one plane.... But Harry's departure is not a disaster for him, but a triumph. The tragedy is the tragedy of Amy, of a person living on Will alone." (Browne 107, Eliot's italics). Here is a strong theory from Harry's point of view that people who can understand nothing can't help being abandoned. This evaluation made a complete change after about ten years. Eliot confesses in "Poetry and Drama" which was written just after The Cocktail Party, "my sympathies now have come to be all with the mother, who seems to me, except perhaps for the chauffeur, the only complete human being in the play; and my hero now strikes me as an insufferable prig" (OPP 84). What does the change mean?

Amy has denied passage of time, refused any change, ignored even Harry's marriage and continued to dominate the family. However, at the very end of her life, she recognizes her faults and limitations--"At my age, I only just begin to apprehend the truth / About things too late to mend..../.../ I always wanted too much for my children, / More than life can give. And now I am punished for it" (345). Her words are full of anguish and resignation. But we can see some humility and humbleness there. Eliot demoted Harry from "a triumph" to "an insufferable prig," while he evaluated Amy's attitude to recognize her faults and limitations humbly still in the temporal ordinary world. These two changes are inextricably connected. We can see these reversed values in The Cocktail Party.

Eliot returned to the temporal ordinary world of The Cocktail Party ten years after he had crossed the frontier with Harry. The Cocktail Party draws up the curtain at a party scene with light laughter, which is quite different from the last scene in the darkness after Harry cut off any human relation and went forth to complete "a story of sin and expiation." "Eliot is not concerned with the person of exceptional spiritual awareness, or the saint, in isolation, but always with his relationship to the community, to ordinary men and women," as D.E. Jones clearly indicates (Jones 124). Eliot describes how the ordinary people as well as the exceptional person at the party will develop spiritually and choose their own life. He came back to remedy the temporal ordinary world discarded by Harry. It also means that Eliot reviews Harry's way of life. In fact, Eliot writes The Cocktail Party, fixing his eyes upon each human relation undermined in The Family Reunion. In this meaning, The Cocktail Party is an elaborately modified version of The Family Reunion. First of all, I will consider how Eliot treats the ordinary temporal world.

3. To Accept the Ordinary Temporal World

The Cocktail Party begins at a party scene at the Chamberlaynes'. The guests are Celia, Peter, Julia, Alex and an unidentified guest. The host Edward Chamberlayne is managing to treat the guests who came without knowing cancellation of the party. His wife Lavinia has left home. He makes a clumsy excuse that she went to take care of her sick aunt. The party is going in a friendly mood on the surface with Julia's light witty talking, though Edward is inwardly upset with Lavinia's runaway and an unidentified guest is among them. It becomes clear later that the unidentified guest is the psychiatrist Reilly. The audience will be aware that concealed facts and hidden truths are revealed one by one in the former part of the drama and that Reilly, Julia and Alex have collaborated closely behind their backs. For example, in the scenes where Peter or Celia comes back to ask Edward's personal advice after the ill-prepared party was gone off at half, Julia and Alex come back to intervene between them comically, innocently but deliberately with precise timing again and again to monitor their conversations. Or, Reilly arranges with Alex for treatment plans for the Chamberlaynes and Celia in the opening scene of Act II. The audience notices their close collaboration through these scenes. They are guardians whose role is to lead the Chamberlaynes, Celia and Peter to overcome their crisis and to choose their own path by themselves. In this meaning, they are the same as Agatha and Mary for Harry in The Family Reunion.

The complex relations between the Chamberlaynes, Celia and Peter are revealed by and by, opposite to the friendly atmosphere at the party. Peter returns to Edward after the party to ask him to make out why Celia "seems preoccupied / With some secret excitement which [he] cannot share" (370) though they often met and sometimes went together (Act I scene i). On the other hand, Celia, who has had a secret affair with Edward, comes back to him after the party with an expectation that she might be able to marry with him because Lavinia left him (Act I scene ii). But Edward has decided to wait for Lavinia to come back through the conversation with the unidentified guest (Act I scene i), as described later. In Act II, it turns out that Lavinia has loved Peter. The audience, who has known Reilly-Julia-Alex's close collaboration, will observe Edward-Lavinia-Celia-Peter's complicated relations disentangled one by one from more superior viewpoint. Eliot handles the Chamberlaynes' marital relationship with care, while that between Harry and his wife, or Amy and her husband had broken down before the drama began and was never represented on the stage in The Family Reunion.

Eliot wrote in a letter to the director Browne "The interesting problem, however, is that of the behaviour of the several persons while Celia is being discussed" (Browne 173). Eliot also commented "The Cocktail Party had to do with Alcestis simply because the question arose in my mind, what would the life of Admetus and Alcestis be, after she'd come back from the dead" before he began to write it. (7) These words indicate that he took a deeper interest in the temporal ordinary world than in the spiritual world. He used the Alcestis of Euripides "as a point of departure" ("Poetry and Drama" OPP 85). Admetus, the king of Pherae, treats his guest Heracles, the son of Zeus, concealing the fact of his wife, Alcestis' death who died in his stead. Heracles, who heard the fact from one of Admetus' servants, appreciates his hospitality, goes to the Hades and restores Alcestis to him. The death which Eliot referred above is a pseudo death of Lavinia who hided herself temporarily from the collapsed marriage with Edward, not the shocking martyr of Celia who is crucified in a heathen island as described later. Lavinia hides herself, thinking "I thought that if I died / To you, I who had been only a ghost to you, / You might be able to find the road back / To a time when you were real" (396). Lavinia is, in a sense, a successor of Harry's wife's mentality which Eliot explained to Browne but didn't represent in the drama--"She is trying to play one of her comedies with him--to arouse any emotion in him is better than to feel that he is not noticing her--and she overdoes it, and just at the moment, plump, in she goes" (Browne 108, Eliot's italics). However, Lavinia had another reason for her runaway as well as the self-sacrificing one. She was deeply shaken to know that Edward had a secret affair with Celia and that Peter, whom she believed her lover, loved Celia, and to find that no man could love her.

On the other hand, Edward, who felt a sudden panic about Lavinia's runaway, confesses the truth to the unidentified guest (Reilly) after the party because it is easier to talk to a stranger. Of course, Edward doesn't know the fact that Lavinia left him temporarily in consultation with Reilly. Edward explains about their married life--"I thought we took each other for granted./.../ We were used to each other" (362). Reilly points out that there is nothing to be taken for granted even in regard to his own self--
   To finding out
   What you really are. What you really feel.
   What you really are among other people.
   Most of the time we take ourselves for granted,
   As we have to, and live on a little knowledge
   About ourselves as we were. Who are you now? (363)

Reilly exhibits the humiliating fact--"You don't know any more than I do, / But rather less" (363)--to Edward who is at a loss. The word "know" used twenty-three times in the 160 lines lingers in the audience's ears. Edward is unconsciously influenced by it--
   Since I saw her this morning when we had breakfast
   I no longer remember what my wife is like.

   I'm sure I don't know what she was wearing
   When I saw her last. And yet I want her back.
   And I must get her back, to find out what has
   During the five years that we've been married.
   I must find out who she is, to find out who I am.
   (364, Eliot's italics.)

Edward notices that he didn't actually love Celia. He has been indisputably motivated to long for Lavinia to come back to him through the conversation with Reilly. Furthermore, Reilly visits Edward again the next day and tells him--
   ... we die to each other daily.
   What we know of other people
   Is only our memory of the moments
   During which we knew them. And they have
   changed since then.
   To pretend that they and we are the same
   Is a useful and convenient social convention
   Which must sometimes be broken. We must also
   That at every meeting we are meeting a stranger. (385)

The word "stranger" is also used nine times in the sixty-seven lines. The difficulty to "know" and an idea of "a stranger" are imprinted on the minds of not only Edward but the audience by the simple repetition of these words. The return of Lavinia is announced in advance with an exaggerated expression, "To bring someone back from the dead" (384), which alludes to Alcestis. Nevertheless, it is just common human relations in the temporal ordinary world that Reilly refers to here.

Edward and Lavinia who returned home on the following day as if nothing had happened, "ask no questions" and "give no explanations" (392) as directed by Reilly. They got married five years ago, because everybody told Edward that he was in love with Lavinia and he kept on saying so to her. She complains that it was she who planned their honeymoon, encouraged him, made him work at the Bar and gave him the chance of talking to intellectual people. He makes a countercharge against her and tells that it was she who made him "feel insignificant" and have "quite enough humiliation to bring [him] to the point at which humiliation ceases to humiliate" (394-5). He is being at a dead end--
   Who could I not walk out of my prison?
   What is hell? Hell is oneself,
   Hell is alone, the other figures in it
   Merely projections. There is nothing to escape
   And nothing to escape to. One is always alone. (397)

Garcin of Sartre's Huis Clos (No Exit) said "Hell is other people," which meant the situation in which he had to continue acting in front of others' eyes. Eliot intentionally reversed the situation (8) Edward's words indicate that there is the frontier between each other even in the temporal ordinary world, which is impossible to cross. In other words, there exists a dark profound lonely abyss where any other is never recognized even as an enemy to battle against. In this meaning, their marital relationship, which makes her say "You never noticed me" (409, Eliot's italics), is not different from that between Harry and his wife. (9)

After Edward and Lavinia said what they had in mind to each other without mincing their words, he left home. It is several weeks later that they meet again in Reilly's consulting room to their surprise. Reilly mercilessly shows up not only the reality of their broken married life but also Edward's illusionary relation with Celia and Lavinia's illusionary relation with Peter. And Reilly gives his final diagnosis to them who are at a loss for words--
   How much you have in common. The same
   A man who finds himself incapable of loving
   And a woman who finds that no man can love her.
   See it rather as the bond which holds you together. (410)

Reilly's advice leads them to be able to accept each other as a partner who shares their life together--

LAVINIA. Then what can we do When we can go neither back nor forward? Edward

What can we do?

EDWARD. Lavinia, we must make the best of a bad job. That is what he means. (410)

They recognized that they were just a "stranger" to each other even in a familiar relation, and became able to accept their limitations and attempt to be complementary to each other. Therefore, they have arrived to be able to call each other "we" at last. Eliot returned to the temporal ordinary world in order to represent this scene and give his message: there is a frontier impossible to cross even in the ordinary temporal world, and we have to recognize and accept our limitations rather than struggle to overcome them in vain. Eliot entrusted the Chamberlaynes with what Amy recognized just at the end of her life and couldn't make use of for herself and her family. However, we need to wait until Act III to decide whether his intention will be achieved or not. Before that, I will consider the other important modification in Celia.

4. To See off a Person Crossing the Frontier

After the party, Celia comes back to Edward with an expectation that she might be able to marry him because Lavinia left him. However, she is disappointed to know that he has changed in his attitude. That makes Celia face up to her inner mind. She realized that it was her mistake to have managed to seek in Edward "something [she] aspired to--/ No, not wanted--something [she] aspired to--/ Something that [she] desperately wanted to exist" (382). After Celia left Edward, she visits Reilly's consulting room and confesses--
   ... I found we were only strangers
   And that there had been neither giving nor taking
   But that we had merely made use of each other
   Each for his purpose. That's horrible. (416)

Celia recognizes that "one always is alone" (414). She is hopelessly trapped in "humiliation" (380), "emptiness," "failure / Towards someone, or something, outside of" herself and an urgent feeling that "[she] must ... atone" (416, Eliot's italics). She uses the same expressions--"humiliation" or "one always is alone"--as Edward did. But Eliot carefully distinguishes her situation from the Chamberlaynes'. Celia says hesitatingly that she can never understand two things: "an awareness of solitude" (413)--different from the Chamberlaynes' "isolation"--and "a sense of sin" (414). Celia is frightened by something "more real than anything [she] believed in" (415), but can't identify it. She has sought it in the relation with Edward in vain. She asks Reilly "if not anywhere, / Why do I feel guilty at not having found it?" (416-7) She strives to explain "some kind of hallucination" (415) or "the ecstasy" (417) to Reilly--
   ... I think I really had a vision of something
   Though I don't know what it is. I don't want to
   forget it.
   I want to live with it. I could do without everything,
   Put up with anything, if I might cherish it. (418)

The abstractness of Celia's explanation indicates the nature of her situation. Reilly offers the same way of life to her as well as to the Chamberlaynes at first, though he guesses that she would not choose it. He doesn't seem to attach importance to her relation with Edward, while he forced the Chamberlaynes to reveal each of their secret relations. It is because he knows that what she aspires to is not found in any relation in the ordinary temporary world. Celia chooses the second way--
   The second is unknown, and so requires faith--
   The kind of faith that issues from despair....
   (418, Reilly)

Celia doesn't hesitate to choose "a terrifying journey" (418). She is too innocent, humble and eager to be frightened and hesitative, as Julia says. It is the people seeing her off rather than she, herself, who shows hesitation and limitations. Reilly and Julia admit that they must always take risks, after Celia chose her way. They also know their limitations, even though Reilly, Julia and Alex have given proper treatment to the Chamberlaynes and Celia by their close collaboration and from their apparently omniscient points of view. Their limitations of knowledge are actually suggested through several devices: Julia's glasses with one lens missing, Reilly's song "the One Eyed Riley" (10) or Alex's way to give up the treatment of Peter to another guardian in America. They accept their limitations so humbly that their complementary collaboration is successful, as Reilly says to Julia "When I express confidence in anything / You always raise doubts; when I am apprehensive / Then you see no reason for anything but confidence" (421).

Julia says to Reilly "You and I don't know the process by which the human is / Transhumanised" (421). What they refer to Celia's future at the end of Act II is abstract and quite similar to Agatha and Mary's prayer for Harry at the end of The Family Reunion. Whereas Agatha speaks of Ag[t]he pilgrimage / Of expiation" (350), Reilly beckons the "Protector of travelers" to "Bless the road" (422).

Furthermore, Reilly applies the last words spoken by Jesus from the Cross--"It is finished" (420)--to his own work in bringing Celia to a clear decision, as Nevill Coghill points out (Coghill 225). These suggestions must alert the audience to the nature and significance of her choice. However, Eliot doesn't leave the conclusion of Celia's choice as abstract and ambiguous as Harry's. Eliot attempts to carefully modify his writing of Harry's choice through Celia's. There are two important differences between Celia and Harry. Firstly, Celia is a woman of humbleness. For example, she says "I don't want to waste your time./.../ I at least have no one to blame but myself" (412-3) to Reilly with an air of reserve in his consulting room, while the Chamberlaynes blamed each other for their nervous breakdown and were irritated by Reilly who had the initiative in the consultation. Or, Harry, who would go on a journey of expiation, revealed an attitude of arrogance: "It is not my conscience, / Not my mind, that is diseased, but the world I have to live in" (295). On the other hand, Celia humbles herself, which characterizes her journey--
   ... I should really like to think there's something
   wrong with me--
   Because, if there isn't, then there's something
   Or at least, very different from what it seemed to
   With the world itself--and that's much more
   frightening! (413, Eliot's italics.)

Secondly, Eliot clarifies the destination, content and conclusion of Celia's choice. That is quiet different from Harry's case. Harry cruelly abandoned his family who couldn't understand "a story of sin and expiation." On the other hand, it is Celia herself that suffers cruelties. After two years, Alex brings the news of Celia's death in Act III. Her choice took her as a nurse of Voluntary Aid Detachment to an island Kinkanja in the East. In Kinkanja, irreconcilable conflicts have occurred between the natives who hold monkeys in peculiar veneration and the Christian converts who kill and eat the destructive monkeys to protect their crops. Then foreign agitators came in Kinkanja and persuaded the natives that "the slaughter of monkeys has put a curse on them / Which can only be removed by slaughtering the Christians" (429), so that the Christian converts began to relapse into heathendom and eat Christians, not monkeys. Additionally, plague as well as various endemic diseases were widespread, and Celia stayed there to nurse the dying natives and was taken to be crucified. Her death was miserable as only the traces of her body were found.

Celia's death is reported by a person on the stage. It was the result of her "transhumanisation." In an original draft, her vocation was defined as "the way of sanctification" and Alex reported that "the natives/.../ Had erected a sort of shrine for Celia./.../ They seemed to think that by propitiating Celia / They might insure themselves against further misfortune." This passage was dropped finally because it had a religious nature (Browne 227). But the audience can guess Eliot's intention to have represented her death as a martyr easily from such expressions as "crucified / Very near an ant-hill" (434), "the Saint in the desert" and "It [her life] was triumphant" (438). The words, "JUICE ATTRACTIVE TO ANTS" and "DECOMPOSITION" were also in the original script for the Edinburgh Festival. They gave the audience too great a shock, so they were dropped too. At least, "Eliot wanted O to make sure that the martyrdom should be realized as actual suffering" as Browne writes (Browne 226). Eliot not only answered the audience's former simple question "where has Harry gone?" through Celia, but also explained the meaning of crossing the frontier from the imperfect perspective of the ordinary temporal world. This would have been impossible for Eliot who had gone with Harry.

The people in the ordinary temporal world are continuing their each life without being left in darkness like Amy, Agatha and Mary. Eliot created the "guardians" with the human limitations who guide and support the people lost in the daily lives. These guardians are newly expected to play an important role in the Christian society. However, at the same time, each of them is living his / her daily life as an individual who enjoys parties, travels, conversation or cooking and finds his / her job worthwhile, which is different from Agatha and Mary. This is the most significant modification Eliot made to the people in the temporal ordinary world. Additionally, Eliot conveys the meaning which Celia's death brings to them. Why did Celia have to die?--this question is closely related to how Eliot would bridge the break between the two worlds at the end of The Family Reunion. Eliot stays with the people in the ordinary temporal world and is making the meaning of Celia's death clear now.

5. Reconciliation between the Two Worlds

After the Chamberlaynes left Reilly's consulting room two years ago, they are having an affectionate conversation just before the beginning of another party--

EDWARD. I like the dress you're wearing:

I'm glad you put on that one.

LAVINIA. Well, Edward!

Do you know it's the first time you've paid me a compliment

Before a party? And that's when one needs them.

EDWARD. Well, you deserve it. (424-25, Eliot's italics.)

It is possible to criticize this as "superficial mutual compassion" (Sasayama 211). However, when we superpose the ordinary daily life Reilly described two years ago on this scene, another aspect appears. They have become as Reilly recommended:
   Maintain themselves by the common routine,
   Learn to avoid excessive expectation,
   Become tolerant of themselves and others,
   Giving and taking, in the usual actions
   What there is to give and take. (417)

Eliot admits that "there are two primary propositions, (1) nobody understands you but God; (2) all real love is ultimately the love of God" (Coghill 192) behind this scene. If they arise from the awareness of human limitations in front of the knowledge and love of God, we can do nothing about it. The Chamberlaynes, who had stuck to a fixed image of each other to make themselves trapped in a dead end, could come to accept each other as an existence ceaselessly changing. This is why they succeeded in escaping from the "hell" at last. However, it is a perceptual change at best. It is still possible to get themselves into another "hell" in which they have to continue acting in front of each other's eyes. Therefore, Eliot wrote Celia's death as a bond of their relationship.

Celia's death gave the Chamberlaynes a profound shock. Edward thinks regretfully that he was wrong if it was right for Celia. Lavinia blames herself who misunderstood and was spiteful to Celia. They become obsessed with an idea that her death is a mere waste. And Peter, who had made strenuous efforts in California in order to come back to Celia with success and self-confidence, returned to London to know her death. He notices that he was concerned just about himself and had not understood her at all. Her death led them to be able to reflect on their souls humbly like this. We can observe further growth in the words of the Chamberlaynes who comfort and encourage Peter--"You were saying just now / That you never knew Celia. We none of us did" (435, Lavinia) or "This is where you start from. / If you find out now, Peter, things about yourself / That you don't like to face" 436, Edward). The treatment which Reilly gave to the Chamberlaynes two years ago has come to fruition in their marital relationship. And Celia's death makes it possible for them to understand, sympathize with, and encourage others. Reilly advises them to relieve themselves of feelings of remorse, admitting that he had a sudden intuition "That here was a woman under sentence of death. / That was her destiny" (437) at the moment he met Celia for the first time. He asserts clearly that "We know the death she chose. /.../ That way, which she accepted, led to this death. / And if that is not a happy death, what death is happy?" (437) and that "It was triumphant." Nobody can be responsible for her triumphant as well as for her death. Reilly's last prescription is "You will have to live with these memories and make them / Into something new. Only by acceptance / Of the past will you alter its meaning" (439).

Celia's death had to be written. The people remaining in the ordinary temporal world had to be exposed directly to the fact that there existed a realm they could never relate themselves to. At the same time, they had to recognize an invisible relation between the person who had crossed the frontier and the people who remained in this side. Moreover, as for the Chamberlaynes, Eliot suggests another bond between them. At the beginning of Act III, Edward is too apprehensive for Lavinia's physical condition. Eliot explains in the letter to Sir Geoffrey Faber "I thought it was obvious O that she was going to have a baby" (Coghill 192). Sharing a piety towards the dead and solicitude for the unborn unites the ordinary people in a stronger bond, while the light of the saint illuminates the ordinary world. "Oh, I'm glad. It's begun" (440)--Lavinia's last words announce the opening of a party. The end of The Cocktail Party is extremely different from the last scene in the darkness of The Family Reunion.

6. Relation Transcending Time, Place and Religion

In The Family Reunion, we saw the negative attitude toward finding happiness in a family affection or a human relation in the ordinary daily life. It might be possible to read Eliot's personal emotions there. His unilateral separation from Vivien had given him both a feeling of release and a sense of guilt. He tried to justify himself and run away from such poignant mixed emotions by depicting Harry, but at the same time couldn't forgive such meanness in himself (Aoki 314). We certainly shouldn't analyze his works by depending solely upon the biographical facts of his life. However, it might be worth paying attention to the fact that Eliot was encouraged to write a new drama by Browne just eight months after Vivien's death (Jan. 22nd, 1947). The earthly relation between them had vanished into nothing by her death. It is one year after her death that he began to write The Cocktail Party. Eliot returned to the ordinary temporal world which Harry had coldly abandoned. Eliot made a complete change to build up the affectionate relation between the Chamberlaynes at the end of The Cocktail Party. It is the result of his "struggle ... to transmute his personal and private agonies into something rich and strange, something universal and impersonal" ("Shakespeare and the Stoicism of Seneca" Selected Essays 137). We can hear a secret requiem for his own unrecoverable relation broken off by himself behind the last scene of The Cocktail Party.

Of course, Eliot' s gaze into his personal inner mind is not the main point of my investigation. As indicated above, the most important thing is that Eliot tried to depict and convey the relation between the ordinary temporal world and the spiritual world and the ideal human relations in the ordinary daily life to the audience of The Cocktail Party. Eliot writes about the imposition of the British culture on a Hindu world in Notes towards the Definition of Culture (11) published in the previous year of The Cocktail Party--
   It is human, when we do not understand another
   human being, and cannot ignore him, to exert an
   unconscious pressure on that person to turn him
   into something that we can understand; many
   husbands and wives exert this pressure on each
   other. The effect on the person so influenced is
   liable to be the repression and distortion, rather
   than the improvement, of the personality; and no
   man is good enough to have the fight to make
   another over in his own image.
   (Notes 64-65, Eliot's italics.)

Relations between nations and ones between people are very much the same. The case of the Chamberlaynes is not peculiar but just one example of common relations of "many husbands and wives." Eliot not only proposed a question and rang an alarm to modern people, but also depicted his ideal family image--
   ... when I speak of the family, I have in mind a
   bond which embraces a longer period of time than
   this: a piety towards the dead, however obscure,
   and a solicitude for the unborn, however remote.
   Unless this reverence for past and future is cultivated
   in the home, it can never be more than a
   verbal convention in the community. Such an
   interest in the past is different from the vanities and
   pretensions of genealogy; such a responsibility for
   the future is different from that of the builder of
   social programmes. (Notes 44)

Eliot presented some causes and reasons why the Chamberlaynes and Peter couldn't help but feeling responsible for Celia--egoism, jealousy or selfish obsession--and the processes of their remorse and recovery from it; he made Reilly clearly assert that Celia's death was happy for herself because it was the result of her own choice even though it was painful and horrible; he described several elements to deepen their respect for Celia--her humbleness, her act of self-sacrifice or the love for God. Through these things, Eliot showed that "a piety towards the dead" began to grow steadily in the Chamberlaynes' and Peter' s minds without creating a burden for them. And we can observe "a solicitude for the unborn" growing in the Chamberlaynes' affectionate attitudes in Act III. Eliot succeeded in depicting both his ideal family image through the Chamberlaynes and his ideal community through the characters in The Cocktail Party.

Moreover, the relation which Eliot tried to represent in The Cocktail Party transcends "place" and "religion" as well as "a longer period of time." Eliot dealt with a drawing-room in London, California and even an imaginary place Kinkanja on the same basis and appreciated their worth equally. A relationship beyond any religion was represented in the life and death of Celia who devoted her unselfish love and herself to dying pagans. The "guardians," extending their close network across the entire world, helped the people to decide and choose their ways of life at their own free will. These above are not only bonds related by blood but also ones cemented by affection, respect, solicitude, gratitude for and piety toward lives and deaths of others including the dead and the unborn. This is the world in which the ordinary temporal world and the spiritual world are related keeping the frontier remained but without any discontinuity. Eliot puts a serious question to the people living in the faithless modern world: how should we live as a human being? The fundamental unit to achieve it in is a family and a community. Eliot's theme returns to a family relation--the smallest unit of community--again in The Confidential Clerk (1953) and The Elder Statesman (1958). It is just in The Cocktail Party among Eliot's poetic dramas that human relations are represented so extensively and deeply as this. Eliot's serious question must reach even to ourselves in contemporary society.


Ackroyd, Peter. T.S. Eliot: A Life New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984.

Aoki, Tugio "Ambiguity of The Family Reunion." Publication Committee of the Festschrift Celebrating Prof. Kenzaburo Ohasi's 60th Birthday (ed.) Literature and America III Tokyo: Nan'undo. 1980. Saeki did an English translation.

Arrowsmith, William. "Notes on English Verse Drama." Hudson Review iii (Autumn 1950): 411-30. Rpt, in The Critical Heritage. Ed. Michael Grant. Vol. 1. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. 1982. 624-643.

Browne, E. Martin. The Making of T. S. Eliot's Plays. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1969.

Coghill, Nevill, ed. T. S. Eliot's "The Cocktail Party." London: Faber and Faber, 1974.

Conrad, Joseph. Youth, Heart of Darkness, the End of the Tether. London: J. M. Dent & Sons, 1974.

Davenport, Gary T. "Eliot's The Cocktail Party; Comic Perspective as Salvation." Modern Drama 17, 1974.

Eliot, Thomas Steams. The Complete Poems and Plays of T. S. Eliot. London: Faber and Faber, 1969.

--. "Eeldrop and Appleplex I." The Little Review, iv 1 (May 1917).

--. The Idea of a Christian Society and Other Writings. 1939. London: Faber and Faber, 1982.

--. Notes towards the Definition of Culture. 1948. London: Faber and Faber, 1962.

--. On Poetry and Poets. London: Faber and Faber, 1957.

--. Selected Essays. Faber and Faber, 1951.

--. The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism. 1933. Cambridge: Harvard UP., 1964.

Eliot, Valerie (ed.). The Waste Land: A Facsimile and Transcript of the Original Drafts. London: Faber and Faber, 1971.

Hay, Eloise Knapp. T. S. Eliot's Negative Way. Cambridge: Harvard UP., 1982.

Jones, David E. The Plays of T. S. Eliot. London: Routledge & Kagan Paul, 1960.

Kari, Daven Michael. T. S. Eliot 's Dramatic Pilgrimage. Lewiston: The Edwin Mellen Press 1990.

McCarthy, Judy. "T.S. Eliot and Logocentrism in a Post-Conversion Work; The Cocktail Party." Yeats Eliot Review, xviii 1-2 (Summer 1994) 37-41.

Malamud, Randy. Where the Words Are Valid. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1994.

Sasayama, Takashi. "Alcestis and Eliot," Shoichiro Yasuda (ed.), Eliot and Tradition Tokyo: Kenkyusha, 1977. This writer did the English translation.

Smith, Carol H. T. S. Eliot "s Dramatic Theory and Practice. New York: Gordian Press, 1963.

Smith, Grover. T. S. Eliot's Poetry and Plays. 2nd ed. Chicago: Chicago UP., 1974.

Yasuda, Shoichro. Eliot's Days. Kyoto: Yamaguchi Shoten, 1984. This writer did the English translation.


(1) For example, "'Rhetoric' and Poetic Drama" (1919), "Hamlet" (1919), "Ben Jonson" (1919), "Euripides and Professor Murray" (1920), "Four Elizabethan Dramatists" (1924), "A Dialogue on Dramatic Poetry" (1928) and so on.

(2) I abbreviate On Poetry and Poets (London: Faber and Faber, 1957) as OPP.

(3) I abbreviate The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism (Cambridge: Harvard UP., 1964) as UPUC.

(4) See Peter Ackroyd, T.S. Eliot: A Life (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984) 211. "Father Cheetham offered him rooms in his presbytery at 9 Grenville Place. It was an ideal arrangement: inexpensive accommodation and the company of priests which had become congenial to himO. He was now for the first time alone in the world, and had begun his life of public action and private devotion."

(5) Valerie Eliot (ed.), The Waste Land: A Facsimile and Transcript of the Original Drafts (London: Faber and Faber, 1971) 2-3. The whole of the epigraph is "Did he live his life again in every detail of desire, temptation, and surrender during that supreme moment of complete knowledge? He cried in a whisper at some image, at some vision,--he cried out twice, a cry that was no more than a breath--'The horror! the horror!'" "Complete knowledge" is also a very important key word in Eliot's works.

(6) I cite Eliot's all passages from The Complete Poems and Plays of T. S. Eliot (London: Faber and Faber, 1969) indicating each page in parenthesis.

(7) Donald Hall, "The Art of Poetry I: T.S. Eliot," an interview by Hall, The Paris Review, No. 21 (Spring--Summer 1959) 61, cited by C.H. Smith, 177.

(8) Browne, 233. Browne writes "As Edward spoke the line 'Hell is oneself' near the end of his quarrel with Lavinia, Eliot leaned over and whispered; 'Contre Sartre.' The line, and the whole story of Edward and Lavinia, are his reply to 'Hell is other people' in Huis Clos."

(9) Harry's wife with no name is said to have been "A restless shivering painted shadow / In life, she is less than a shadow in death" (290) even by Amy.

(10) See McCarthy, Yeats Eliot Review, xviii 1-2 (Summer 1994) 38, 41n. She sees these images as "dramatic representations for a biblical injunction," citing from Matthew 18:9 as well as William Arrowsmith's interpretation "halfsight" and Gary T. Davenport's notion "lack of perspective."

(11) I abbreviate Notes towards the Definition of Culture. (London: Faber and Faber, 1962) as Notes.

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Author:Saeki, Keiko
Publication:Yeats Eliot Review
Article Type:Critical essay
Date:Sep 22, 2006
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