What we know of other people
Is only our memory of the moments
During which we knew them. And they have changed since then.
To pretend that they and we are the same
Is a useful and convenient social convention
Which must sometimes broken. We must also remember
That at every meeting we are meeting a stranger."
TS Eliot said of The Cocktail Party, "Whatever you find in it depends on what you bring to it." Which, of course, applies to much of his work. How much The Cocktail Party resonates with you, as the reader, as the witness to its events, will depend on your experiences in the world.
The story surrounds a failing marriage at a crossroad. The details of the drama become apparent through conversations during and after the cocktail party and conclude with another party two years later. The catalyst that helps unfold the mystery is the "Unidentified Guest" - who turns out to be a highly-regarded psychiatrist, Sir Henry Harcourt-Reilly. The husband, Edward, abandoned by his wife, Lavinia, before the cocktail party that she planned, first opens up to this mysterious guest because he's a stranger. To which the guest, foreshadowing future engagements, replies:
"And I know that all you wanted was the luxury
of an intimate disclosure to a stranger.
Let me therefore, remain a stranger.
But let me tell you , that to approach the strange
Is to invite the unexpected, release a new force,
or let the genie out of the bottle.
It is to start a train of events
Beyond your control."
The story takes on an absurd quality as various characters play their part to maintain the crumbling facade of the happy marriage. No one believes the lies, the half-truths, the back-handed compliments - yet they're repeated throughout the play.
Everyone's alone — or so it seems to me.
They make noises, and think they are talking to each other;
They make faces, and think they understand each other.
And I'm sure they don't. Is that a delusion?
Can we only love
Something created in our own imaginations?
What I like most about this, and other similarly constructed stories, is that the conversations drive the plot. What's said and what's not said reveal the story and the characters - instead of paragraph after paragraph of descriptive prose. This manner of telling the story most closely reflects how we engage with and learn about each other. How we decide what to say, and what to hide - the things we do to maintain our own personal status quo. Yet we are revealed by our conversations.
This is labeled a comedy - and the dialogue in places is very funny - but it is also a very melancholy story in places. The story speaks to isolation, disillusionment, apathy. Like The Wasteland, how much the story is a tragedy and how much it is a comedy, will in part depend on the life history you bring to it.
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|Title||The Cocktail Party|
|Publisher||Faber & Faber|
|File size||3.8 Mb|
|eBook format||Paperback, (torrent)|
|Book rating||4.41 (993 votes)
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