Isolated and Marginalized Characters of Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads
All the pieces in Alan Bennett’s collection deal in some way with people who are isolated or marginalized, either because of circumstances or because of their own idiosyncrasies. Every character is, in some way inadequate. Graham is a mother's boy, whose dubious sexuality seems to have caused him severe mental stress. Susan, the vicar's wife, is an alcoholic woman, trapped in a loveless marriage, whose caustic intolerance of her husband's calling alienates her from the rest of the parish and forces her into behaviour which is damaging and dangerous. Irene Ruddock is narrow minded and malicious, believing herself to be a guardian of public morals, when, in fact, she is no more than a dangerous slanderer. The actress, Lesley, believes that her talent is genuine, but has not the intelligence or wit to realise that she is, in reality, a failure. Muriel Carpenter has spent her whole married life refusing to face up to reality and suffers tragic consequences from years of selective vision and poor Doris finds her age and upbringing have made her an anachronism in modern society.
Although Irene is the only one of the characters who spends "real" time in prison, it could be argued that, in a way all of Bennett's subjects are prisoners of a sort. Graham's claustrophobic existence with his aged and senile mother is a form of imprisonment. Ironically, the opportunity of "escape" offered by his mother's affair with Frank Turnbull, is very threatening to him, causing him to begin to exhibit all of his "old" symptoms and making him more nervous than ever. Although Graham seems to be unhappy with the tedium of his life, it soon becomes obvious to us that it is that very predictability which keeps him relatively sane. For Graham, the prison of life with Mother IS freedom of a sort - freedom to be himself and not to have any decisions to make. When this stability, tedious though he sees it, is threatened, he cannot cope with the change it will make to his life and he becomes very anxious and paranoid. We cannot help but feel his relief when he finds out from Frank's daughter that Frank is already married. Even his mother's waspish retaliation about the "chess men" in Graham's magazines cannot dampen the obvious sense of relief Graham feels. In his case, the prison called "home" is secure and it is the threat of freedom from its predictability, which causes his disquiet.
Susan, also, is a prisoner, trapped as she is in a loveless and, we feel, unequal marriage to an ambitious clergyman. In addition she is confined within a rigid and sterile religion, which seems to attach more importance to outward observance of ritual than inner spirituality. Her drinking is an attempt to forget, or block out her frustrations, both sexual and spiritual. It s an artificial life she is forced to lead, having to seem to be what she is not - a competent and willing helpmate - a subordinate,...