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Can Socialism Provide the Chicken Soup with Barley?

  • Journal of Modern English Drama
  • Abbr : JMBARD
  • 2019, 32(2), pp.5-31
  • Publisher : 한국현대영미드라마학회
  • Research Area : Humanities > English Language and Literature > English Literature > Contemporary English Drama
  • Published : August 31, 2019

Soim Kim 1

1건국대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

In Arnold Wesker’s play, Chicken Soup with Barley, the “chicken soup” is used as a metaphor for socialism. Sarah Kahn, a Jewish socialist activist, asserts that socialism can be identified with the “chicken soup” which can nourish and comfort people in need. In contrast to Sarah’s hopes and expectations, socialism fails in functioning as the “chicken soup” in the play. Even though the Kahn family are ardent socialists, socialism eventually exhausts them. This paper pursues the reasons for failures in testing the applicability of some of socialism’s premises to the Kahn family and then provides potential ways in which the failures can be overcome. The main reason for the failure is the considerable discrepancy between the idealistic socialist premises and the characters’ everyday lives. Socialists assume that “the basic nature of people is cooperative” and asserts that “everyone in society receives a share of the production based on how much each has contributed.” The socialistic premises are not successfully applied to the Kahn family. Harry, betraying socialism’s underlying assumptions, is neither cooperative nor reveals any motivation to contribute to his society. Sarah, who firmly believes in socialism’s caring power, ironically refers to people as “beautiful” and “ugly”. In her classifications, Harry belongs to the anti-socialist ugly people against whom Sarah feels she should fight. The couple can be regarded as a malfunctioning negative case. It seems to be the Kahn children, Ada and Ronnie, that suffer most from their parents’ continuous bitter conflicts. However, they struggle to find solutions to problems in their own ways. Both of their solutions are based upon agonizing self-examinations about socialistideas and practices. Surprisingly, this play attributes both causes and solutions of problems emanating from socialism to the individuals, which contradicts established socialist claims that emphasize capitalist society’s responsibility for problems. In this way, unexpectedly, this play has a right-wing position. However, through Wesker’s self-examination of his socialist past, socialism may start again in a more creative way as Sarah claims at the end of the play.

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