The Dear Departed is a satire of the Victorian middle class, exposing the hypocrisy and greed of the Slater family through the story of Abel Merryweather’s supposed death and return. It is also a commentary on the social and economic inequality of Victorian England.
The Dear Departed 1 Summary
Stanley Houghton’s ‘The Dear Departed’ is a social play which reveals the pathetic condition of the elderly and how they are ill treated, neglected and deserted by their own children. It is a satire that criticizes the degradation of moral values in the modern.
It shows the hollow relations between two daughters and their father. This play reveals the breaking of human relationships in the modern world. The two daughters and their husbands have waited for the Oldman’s (Mr.Abel’s) death. They don’t show any concern for the old man. They only want his belongings, but never love him.
Mr. Abel Merryweather, an old man had two daughters – Amelia and Elizabeth. Amelia is married to Henry Slater and Elizabeth to Ben Jordan. Victoria is the Slater’s only daughter. Abel is a widower and since the death of his wife, he has been living by turns with his daughters.
At present Abel stays with the Slaters. One morning when Mrs. Slater takes up a bit of something on a tray and goes into the old man’s room, Finding the man in deep sleep, she feels that he is dead. Without checking if the old man is really dead, the Slaters send a telegram to the Jordans revealing the much awaited death.
Mrs. Slater asks her daughter Victoria to change her dress before her aunt Elizabeth and uncle Ben come. She tells her that they are coming to talk over grandpa’s affairs. Henry wonders if they will come at all as Elizabeth has said she would never set her foot in their house again. But Mrs. Slater says that Elizabeth will come fast enough after her share of what their father has left.
Mrs. Slater asks her husband to wear grandfather’s new slippers so that those could be theirs. Then she tells him that she always wanted to have grandfather’s bureau after his death. She says that they could put their shabby chest of drawers upstairs where the bureau is. So she asks her husband to help bring down the bureau. Mrs. Slater fastens the front door and they carry old chest of drawers upstairs.
In the meantime Victoria comes there after she changes her dress according to her mother’s instructions. Henry is shocked when Victoria asks him if they are planning to pinch the grandpa’s things. Henry and Mrs. Slater put the bureau where the chest of drawers is. Mrs. Slater carries the grandpa’s clock under her arm and puts it on the mantlepiece. Then there is a knock at the door and Victoria ushers in Ben and Mrs. Jordan. Mrs. Jordan says that finally their father has been dead.
Mrs. Slater replies that he is severty-two a fortnight the previous Sunday. She also tells her that her father has been merry that morning and has gone to pay his premium. Then he is found dead on his bed. Then Mrs. Slater asks them if they will go up and look at him. Mrs. Jordan prefers tea. Then they think about the announcement in the papers. They want to look through the oldman’s bits of things and make a list of them.
Mrs. Jordan tells that father has promised his gold watch for Jimmy. Mrs. Slater is amazed to hear this. Ben talks about the insurance money. He asks if they have got receipt for the premium paid by the old man. Vitoria informs that grandpa hasn’t gone to pay his insurance that morning. At this, Ben calls the old man as ‘drunken old begger’. Mrs. Slater says that it is nothing short of swindling after she has kept him for three years.
Mrs. Slater tells Victoria to run upstairs and fetch the bunch of keys that’s on her grandpa’s dressing table. At first Victoria doesn’t want to go into grandpa’s room. She goes out reluctantly. Then both the sisters talked about the bureau. After sometime Victoria returns very scared and tells her mother that grandpa is getting up. They are transfixed with amazement because they all think him to be dead. The door opens revealing the old man Abel Merryweather. They can’t believe their eyes.
In the conclusion of The Dear Departed, Houghton exposes the hypocrisy, greed, and lack of family values of the Victorian middle class through the Slater family. When Abel returns home, they are confronted with the reality of their own selfishness and greed, and Abel disowns them, leaving them with nothing. This is a fitting punishment for their greed and hypocrisy.