Analysis of the play ‘After the Ball’ by David Williamson
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The play, After the Ball by David Williamson, is primarily about the disappointments and realities that test a suburban Australian family in a time of mystifying social revolution. Much of the dramatic action within the play derives from misunderstandings between characters and their opposing beliefs about what it means to be Australian. These differing beliefs lead to tension of relationships between the characters Stephen, Judy and Ron. The conflicts and dilemmas within these relationships lead to Stephen’s progression to enlightenment. This action can be analysed through the elements of drama. However for the purposes of this essay, the focus will be on the human context and tension, and how they worked together to create the whole experience of dramatic meaning within the playtext, After the Ball.
Each character within the play has a relationship with their ideas and beliefs. The common factor found in all of these beliefs is that they are about Australia and all are in direct conflict with each other. For instance, during the play we see that Ron doesn’t like Australia’s shift in focus towards financial success rather than friends or the increasing number Asians that have immigrated to Australia. Stephen however, believes ‘that Europe has generated a priceless artistic heritage’ and chose to live there ‘rather than live in an Australia that he sees as progressively turning its back on its heritage.’ Judy disagrees with both her father and brother; she feels that Australia is developing an identity that is beyond that of Asia or Europe, a unique identity that she would ‘no more leave [it] than stop breathing’. Furthermore, it is these contrasting ideas that cause tension in the relationships between Ron, Stephen and Judy.
The tension in relationships between characters and characters exists because of the misunderstanding of ideas between each family member within After the Ball. There is tension for Stephen and Judy because of their contrasting ideas. These characters misunderstood what the other believed.
“STEPHEN: When an Australian says, “Mate, I want to be honest with you”, either punch him in the mouth or run.
JUDY: “When an Australian?” You’re not one of us any more?
STEPHEN: It’s taken twenty years to unlearn the grosser habits of my tribe, but I’m getting there.
JUDY: What you’re getting to be, Stephen, is a total pompous prick. This is nit the Australia of twenty or thirty years ago.
STEPHEN: So I keep hearing.
JUDY: It’s not!”
It is the misunderstandings between characters and ideas that caused conflict within the relationships between Ron, Judy and Stephen.
JUDY: Deep down I think they loved each other.
STEPHEN looks at his sister, surprised.
Maybe not “loved”, but certainly “needed”. I know Mum was always teasing Dad-
STEPHEN: Teasing? Tormenting.
JUDY: He gave her a hard time too.
STEPHEN: All he ever did was defend himself.
JUDY: He treated her as if she was stupid. Which she wasn’t.
This excerpt comes from a scene early on the play; and it is in this scene that it is made explicit that much of Stephen and Judy’s conflict stems from, and is a reflection of, the tension of conflict that existed between their parents.
Furthermore, it is the tension of conflict that prevents the characters from sharing moments of true intimacy. During a scene in Act One, Stephen tries to reveal to Judy some of the lowest points in his adolescence. However, neither can move beyond their contradicting beliefs about the relationship their parents shared; and inevitably begin arguing. Therefore, the characters cannot share intimate moments because of their misunderstanding of each other’s beliefs, which then leads to conflict.
However, when Stephen and Judy are forced to share an intimate moment, brought about by the death of their mother, it leads to dilemma rather than conflict. The dilemma relates directly to whether Stephen should stay in Australia, with his own “tribe”, or return to Europe and his seemingly perfect life . The death of their mother brought Stephen and Judy together which, after much conflict, forced them to share an intimate moment and led to Stephens’s dilemma.
It is Stephen’s dilemma that led to his eventual progression towards enlightenment.
STEPHEN: You were right. I asked myself who my real friends were, and cam up with the answer, zero. I asked myself what I felt really strongly about, and came up with the answer, nothing. I asked myself if there was anyone in the world who loved me and came up wit the answer, zilch.
It is in that moment that Stephen finally achieves clarity and realises that he is unsatisfied and disappointed with his progress in life.
Therefore, the conflicts, misunderstandings and dilemma’s within After the Ball all led to Stephen’s progression to elucidation. The characters misunderstanding each other’s beliefs led to conflict, which in turn thwarted the characters from sharing intimate moments. However, a forced intimate moment between characters led to dilemma, and eventually clarification. It is through the interplay between relationships and the tensions that exist there that the experience of dramatic meaning was created.