Absurd Person Singular | Study Guide

Sir Alan Ayckbourn

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Christmas Traditions

The Christmas traditions in the play include parties, gift giving, games, and songs. Christmas itself represents social expectations of harmony and happiness. However, the parties feature obligation, tension, worry, and melancholy instead. In Act 3 Ronald confesses he feels Christmas celebrations are overrated. The pressure is on for the hosts to impress and upstage others. Additionally, guests often feel uncomfortable. When traditions do appear, they reflect the characters' anxious, competitive states, becoming inverse fun-house-mirror reflections of happier ceremonies.

At the end of Act 2 all the guests are tired and discouraged. Their chores at Geoffrey and Eva's home have gone wrong. When Eva begins singing the traditional Christmas carol "The Twelve Days of Christmas," she picks a song about gifts and possessions. This adds an element of situational irony since possessions cause more strife than joy in the play. The characters join in the song out of exhaustion, not celebration. In Act 3 Marion calls Ronald "Scrooge," referring to the miserly character Ebenezer Scrooge in the 1843 novel A Christmas Carol by English writer Charles Dickens (1812–70). She suggests Ronald is too cheap to turn on the heat. The play makes a contrast between the assumption of holiday generosity and the reality of Ronald and Marion's financial trouble.

Sidney and Jane use games and gifts as forced merriment in Act 3. Though the couple delivers gifts, the presents are given in a spirit of revenge, not generosity. The gifts show off the couple's wealth and remind the recipients of past failures. Sidney suggests party games in Acts 1 and 2, but he never gets the chance to play them. By Act 3 Sidney has more power than anyone else in the room. He proposes a game that will embarrass the other participants, using the festive Christmas spirit as an excuse. The last game evolves into a dance that isn't celebratory or fun. The characters feel obligated to participate, and Sidney insists they take on humiliating forfeits, or penalties, since he wants to see them embarrassed. The frenzied absurdity of the final scene contrasts with the lighthearted spirit of a typical Christmas celebration.

Alcohol

Alcohol represents the coping mechanisms troubled characters resort to—mechanisms that end up creating as many problems as they solve. Though alcohol is offered as a celebratory, communal ritual, it becomes a way to make it through the stresses of Christmas. When Geoffrey asks for a weak drink in Act 3, Ronald remarks, "You won't last through Christmas at that rate."

Hosts feel the need to offer guests drinks, and this obligation combines with the need to hide the truth of their lives and failures. Pressured to supply more tonic water for drinks in Act 1, Jane ends up locked out of the house. Marion's drinking increases in each act as she tries to cope with her fear of aging and losing social status. Her drunkenness in Act 3 leads to her confessing emotional truths she'd never admit otherwise. Eva uses alcohol to achieve a dreamlike state as she writes her first suicide note in Act 2, demonstrating how drinking can be a last resort when communication fails.

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