A Taste of Honey

Helen Character Analysis

At the age of forty, Helen leads an unstable life that revolves around drinking and her romantic relationships with lovers, whom she depends on financially. Characterized by a domineering attitude and a tendency to follow only her selfish whims without considering the effects of her actions on others, Helen has an ambivalent relationship with her daughter Jo. While she occasionally demonstrates heartfelt concern for Jo’s troubles, she seems incapable of making decisions that will actually serve Jo’s interests or make her daughter feel loved and supported. Likewise, she seems to have an ambivalent relationship to money; she looks down on poverty even though she herself is incapable of providing for herself or her daughter. She therefore abandons her daughter midway through the play to live with Peter, her new lover; despite seeming to have a vague distaste for him, she needs his money. Her insensitive attitude toward Geof, and, later, toward the information that Jo’s child is the product of an interracial relationship, demonstrates her inability to accept behaviors that deviate from what she considers to be acceptable social behavior. While her intolerance and aggressiveness often prove harmful to others, she rarely seems concerned with anyone’s feelings but her own.

Helen Quotes in A Taste of Honey

The A Taste of Honey quotes below are all either spoken by Helen or refer to Helen. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Care and Responsibility Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Grove Press edition of A Taste of Honey published in 1956.
Act 1: Scene 1 Quotes

HELEN: When I find somewhere for us to live I have to consider something far more important than your feelings . . . the rent. It’s all I can afford.

JO: You can afford something better than this old ruin.

HELEN: When you start earning you can start moaning.

JO: Can’t be soon enough for me. I’m old and my shoes let water . . . what a place. . . and we’re supposed to be living off her immoral earnings.

HELEN: I’m careful. Anyway, what’s wrong with this place? Everything in it’s falling apart, it’s true, and we’ve no heating—but there’s a lovely view of the gasworks, we share a bathroom with the community and this wallpaper’s contemporary. What more do you want? Anyway it’ll do for us.

Related Characters: Jo (speaker), Helen (speaker)
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:
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JO: I’m going to unpack my bulbs. I wonder where I can put them.

HELEN: I could tell you.

JO: They’re supposed to be left in a cool, dark place.

HELEN: That’s where we all end up sooner or later. Still, it’s no use worrying, is it?

JO: I hope they bloom. Always before when I’ve tried to fix up a window box nothing’s ever grown in it.

HELEN: Why do you bother?

JO: It’s nice to see a few flowers, isn’t it?

Related Characters: Jo (speaker), Helen (speaker)
Related Symbols: Jo’s Flower Bulbs
Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:
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JO: See yourself. I’ve got to find somewhere for my bulbs.

HELEN: See yourself! Do everything yourself. That’s what happens. You bring’em up and they turn round and talk to you like that. I would never have dared talk to my mother like that when I was her age. She’d have knocked me into the middle of next week. Oh! my head. Whenever I walk, you know how it is! What a journey! I never realized this city was so big. Have we got any aspirins left, Jo?

Related Characters: Jo (speaker), Helen (speaker)
Related Symbols: Jo’s Flower Bulbs
Page Number: 12
Explanation and Analysis:
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JO: Anyway I’m not getting married like you did.

HELEN: Oh!

JO: I’m too young and beautiful for that.

HELEN: Listen to it! Still, we all have funny ideas at that age, don’t we—makes no difference though, we all end up same way sooner or later.

Related Characters: Jo (speaker), Helen (speaker)
Related Symbols: Engagement Rings
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:
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HELEN: […] Have you ever thought of going to a proper art school and getting a proper training?

JO: It’s too late.

HELEN: I’ll pay. You’re not stupid. You’ll soon learn.

JO: I’ve had enough of school. Too many different schools and too many different places.

HELEN: You’re wasting yourself.

JO: So long as I don’t waste anybody else. Why are you so suddenly interested in me, anyway? You’ve never cared much before about what I was doing or what I was trying to do or the difference between them.

HELEN: I know, I’m a cruel, wicked woman.

Related Characters: Jo (speaker), Helen (speaker)
Page Number: 15
Explanation and Analysis:
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PETER: Is she always like this?

HELEN: She’s jealous . . .

PETER: That’s something I didn’t bargain for.

HELEN: Can’t bear to see me being affectionate with anybody.

JO: You’ve certainly never been affectionate with me.

PETER: Still, she’s old enough to take care of herself.

Related Characters: Jo (speaker), Helen (speaker), Peter Smith (speaker)
Related Symbols: Engagement Rings
Page Number: 19
Explanation and Analysis:
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Act 1: Scene 2 Quotes

HELEN: […] There’s two w’s in your future. Work or want, and no Arabian Knight can tell you different. We’re all at the steering wheel of our own destiny. Careering along like drunken drivers. I’m going to get married. [The news is received in silence.] I said, I’m going to get married.

JO: Yes, I heard you the first time. What do you want me to do, laugh and throw pennies?

Related Characters: Jo (speaker), Helen (speaker), Peter Smith
Related Symbols: Engagement Rings
Page Number: 29
Explanation and Analysis:
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HELEN: There’s plenty of food in the kitchen.

JO: You should prepare my meals like a proper mother.

HELEN: Have I ever laid claim to being a proper mother? If you’re too idle to cook your own meals you’ll just have to cut food out of your diet altogether. That should help you lose a bit of weight, if nothing else.

PETER: She already looks like a bad case of malnutrition.

Related Characters: Jo (speaker), Helen (speaker), Peter Smith (speaker)
Page Number: 35
Explanation and Analysis:
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HELEN: You stupid little devil! What sort of a wife do you think you’d make? You’re useless. It takes you all your time to look after yourself. I suppose you think you’re in love. Anybody can fall in love, do you know that? But what do you know about the rest of it?

JO: Ask yourself.

HELEN: You know where that ring should be? In the ashcan with everything else. Oh! I could kill her, I could really.

JO: You don’t half knock me about. I hope you suffer for it.

HELEN: I’ve done my share of suffering if I never do any more. Oh Jo, you're only a kid. Why don’t you learn from my mistakes? It takes half your life to learn from your own.

Related Characters: Jo (speaker), Helen (speaker), Peter Smith, Jimmie (“The Boy”)
Related Symbols: Engagement Rings
Page Number: 41
Explanation and Analysis:
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HELEN: I don’t suppose you’re sorry to see me go.

JO: I’m not sorry and I’m not glad.

HELEN: You don’t know what you do want.

JO: Yes, I do. I’ve always known what I want.

HELEN: And when it comes your way will you recognize it?

JO: Good luck, Helen.

Related Characters: Jo (speaker), Helen (speaker), Peter Smith
Related Symbols: Engagement Rings
Page Number: 44
Explanation and Analysis:
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Act 2: Scene 1 Quotes

JO: This place stinks. [Goes over to the door. Children are heard singing in the street.] That river, it’s the colour of lead. Look at that washing, it’s dirty, and look at those filthy children.

GEOF: It’s not their fault.

JO: It’s their parents’ fault. There’s a little boy over there and his hair, honestly, it’s walking away. And his ears. Oh! He’s a real mess! He never goes to school. He just sits on that front doorstep all day. I think he’s a bit deficient.

[The children’s voices die away. A tugboat hoots.]

His mother ought not to be allowed.

GEOF: Who?

JO: His mother. Think of all the harm she does having children.

Related Characters: Jo (speaker), Geoffrey Ingram (speaker), Helen
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:
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HELEN: Well, come on, let’s have a look at you. [JO turns away.] What’s up? We’re all made the same, aren’t we?

JO: Yes we are.

HELEN: Well then. Can you cut the bread on it yet? [JO turns.] Yes, you’re carrying it a bit high, aren’t you? Are you going to the clinic regularly? Is she working?

Related Characters: Jo (speaker), Helen (speaker), Geoffrey Ingram
Page Number: 61
Explanation and Analysis:
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HELEN: You couldn’t wait, could you? Now look at the mess you’ve landed yourself in.

JO: I’ll get out of it, without your help.

HELEN: You had to throw yourself at the first man you met, didn’t you?

JO: Yes, I did, that’s right.

HELEN: You’re man mad.

JO: I’m like you.

HELEN: You know what they’re calling you round here? A silly little whore!

JO: Well, they all know where I get it from too.

Related Characters: Jo (speaker), Helen (speaker)
Page Number: 62
Explanation and Analysis:
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JO: It’s taken you a long time to come round to this, hasn’t it?

HELEN: What?

JO: The famous mother-love act.

HELEN: I haven’t been able to sleep for thinking about you since he came round to our house.

JO: And your sleep mustn’t be disturbed at any cost.

Related Characters: Jo (speaker), Helen (speaker), Geoffrey Ingram
Page Number: 64
Explanation and Analysis:
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Act 2: Scene 2 Quotes

JO: You know, some people like to take out an insurance policy, don’t they?

GEOF: I’m a bit young for you to take out one on me.

JO: No. You know, they like to pray to the Almighty just in case he turns out to exist when they snuff it.

GEOF [brushing under the sofa]: Well, I never think about it. You come, you go. It’s simple.

JO: It’s not, it’s chaotic—a bit of love, a bit of lust and there you are. We don’t ask for life, we have it thrust upon us.

GEOF: What’s frightened you? Have you been reading the newspapers?

JO: No, I never do. Hold my hand, Geof.

Related Characters: Jo (speaker), Helen (speaker)
Related Symbols: Jo’s Flower Bulbs
Page Number: 71
Explanation and Analysis:
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GEOF: That doesn’t mean to say it’s the truth. Do people ever tell the truth about themselves?

JO: Why should she want to spin me a yarn like that?

GEOF: She likes to make an effect.

JO: Like me?

GEOF: You said it. You only have to let your hair grow for a week for Helen to think you’re a cretin.

Related Characters: Jo (speaker), Geoffrey Ingram (speaker), Helen
Page Number: 73
Explanation and Analysis:
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HELEN: What an arty little freak! I wasn’t rude to him. I never said a word. I never opened my mouth.

JO: Look, he’s the only friend I’ve got, as a matter of fact.

HELEN: Jo! I thought you could find yourself something more like a man.

JO: Why were you so nasty to him?

HELEN: I wasn’t nasty to him. Besides, I couldn’t talk to you in front of him, could I? Hey, wait till you see these things for the baby.

JO: You hurt people’s feelings and you don’t even notice.

Related Characters: Jo (speaker), Helen (speaker), Geoffrey Ingram
Page Number: 79
Explanation and Analysis:
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JO: So we’re back where we started. And all those months you stayed away from me because of him! Just like when I was small.

HELEN: I never thought about you! It’s a funny thing, I never have done when I’ve been happy. But these last few weeks I’ve known I should be with you.

JO: So you stayed away.

HELEN: Yes. I can’t stand trouble.

JO: Oh, there’s no trouble. I’ve been performing a perfectly normal, healthy function. We’re wonderful! Do you know, for the first time in my life I feel really important. I feel as though I could take care of the whole world. I even feel as though I could take care of you, too!

Related Characters: Jo (speaker), Helen (speaker), Peter Smith, Geoffrey Ingram
Related Symbols: Engagement Rings
Page Number: 81
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
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Helen Character Timeline in A Taste of Honey

The timeline below shows where the character Helen appears in A Taste of Honey. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1: Scene 1
Gender, Class, and Race Theme Icon
Rebellion and Independence Theme Icon
Helen and her daughter Jo are carrying luggage into their new apartment. Jo, who is seeing... (full context)
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Love, Sex, and Friendship Theme Icon
Seemingly indifferent to Jo’s remarks, Helen asks her daughter for alcohol. Jo grudgingly hands her a whisky bottle while Helen complains... (full context)
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...the two of them try to figure out if the apartment has a heating system, Helen tries to convince Jo to drink, but Jo says she doesn’t like the smell. When... (full context)
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Jo keeps complaining about the apartment’s state and, when Helen agrees that it is indeed in bad shape, Jo says that her mother never thinks... (full context)
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When Jo asks if young people live next door, Helen says that she is not sure but notes that Jo might be able to find... (full context)
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...the river and that the nearby slaughterhouse will probably smell in the summer, to which Helen cynically replies that the entire city smells. Helen complains about cold air passing through the... (full context)
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...to use to make the apartment look prettier, saying that she hopes they bloom, but Helen doesn’t understand why her daughter is going to so much trouble. She tells Jo to... (full context)
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After asking Jo if she has any aspirins left, Helen notes matter-of-factly that this new move will make Jo’s journey to school much longer. However,... (full context)
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Upset at her mother’s uncaring attitude, Jo says that Helen could probably do a better job of ruining her... (full context)
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Jo recalls a dream about her mother that she had the previous night. Policemen were digging in a garden and found her... (full context)
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When Helen begins to organize some of their belongings, she sees drawings that Jo has made and... (full context)
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Jo asks Helen why they had to move yet again. Before her mother has a chance to answer,... (full context)
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Seemingly resigned, Jo decides to go bathe and Helen tells her the communal bathroom is at the end of the hallway. When Jo notes... (full context)
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Peter suddenly walks in, boldly, with a cigar in his mouth. Helen is surprised to see him and asks him how he found her address, and after... (full context)
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Full of underlying anger, Jo tells Peter that Helen must never have mentioned to him that she had a daughter. While both Helen and... (full context)
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When Peter notices that Helen’s nose is damp, he gives her a tissue to blow her nose and she does.... (full context)
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Finally, Peter nonchalantly asks Helen to marry him. Surprised, Helen tells him she is too old for him, but Peter... (full context)
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...by sitting down and thus keeping them from talking. Peter complains about Jo’s attitude and Helen says she is jealous because she doesn’t like seeing her mother behave affectionately toward other... (full context)
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Jo says that Helen should be in bed and asks if Peter is going to leave. Helen decides that... (full context)
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Helen goes to bed, saying that they can always take care of cleaning tomorrow. Jo, who... (full context)
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Jo ironically says that Helen should have made Peter stay, since it is not the first time her mother has... (full context)
Act 1: Scene 2
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Jimmie asks Jo what her mother will say and Jo says that she will probably laugh. Jimmie does not understand why... (full context)
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...has a pretty neck and Jo tries to hide the ring away, so that her mother will not see it and laugh at her. She tells Jimmie that she is leaving... (full context)
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When Jo enters her apartment, Helen notices that Jo is late and says that her eyes betray the fact that she... (full context)
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Jo asks Helen to look up in a magazine what is playing at the cinema tomorrow. Helen criticizes... (full context)
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Love, Sex, and Friendship Theme Icon
Suddenly, Jo asks her mother what her birthdate is and Helen admits she doesn’t know, ironically saying she has always... (full context)
Love, Sex, and Friendship Theme Icon
Adversity and Resilience Theme Icon
...the magazine, Jo notices a commercial for an Arabian mystic who reads people’s destinies, and Helen makes a speech about the only two things that matter in life: work and want.... (full context)
Care and Responsibility Theme Icon
Love, Sex, and Friendship Theme Icon
Jo initially remains silent when she hears about her mother’s engagement. However, after Helen incites her to react, Jo says she cannot possibly feel happy... (full context)
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...of chocolates. While he looks uncomfortable, Jo ironically calls him “Daddy” and Peter realizes that Helen has already told Jo the news. Helen compliments Peter on how handsome he looks and... (full context)
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...father. Suddenly, in a fit of mixed tears and laughter, she attacks him physically and Helen re-enters the room, telling Jo to leave Peter alone. Peter asks Helen why she cannot... (full context)
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Peter and Helen then announce that they are celebrating the fact that Peter has bought a house, which... (full context)
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...find young women attractive. At the same time, he notes that he does not find Helen old. (full context)
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Jo asks him why he is marrying Helen and Peter asks her why he shouldn’t, to which Jo gives him a frustrated, obscure... (full context)
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Peter, who has by now become impatient, is about to tell Helen he will wait for her in the pub, but Helen suddenly appears, looking for her... (full context)
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Jo asks Helen why she is marrying Peter, and Helen says that it has to do with his... (full context)
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When Helen and Peter say they are hungry, Jo, trying to remind her mother of her responsibilities,... (full context)
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Love, Sex, and Friendship Theme Icon
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...the couple he just saw exiting the building and Jo tells him it was her mother and her new fiancé. Jimmie notes that Jo would be a lovely bridesmaid but Jo... (full context)
Care and Responsibility Theme Icon
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...is going someplace warm with the Navy, which Jimmie says he is. Seemingly obsessed with Helen, Jo continues interrogating Jimmie about her mother, asking him if he finds Helen beautiful and... (full context)
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Helen is bearing boxes full of wedding clothes and is excitedly telling Jo to hurry up.... (full context)
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 While getting ready, Helen suddenly notices that Jo is trying to hide something. Aggressive in her curiosity, she finally... (full context)
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Helen, who seems truly distraught at her daughter’s decision, suddenly softens in an effort to convince... (full context)
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Jo changes the subject to her cold, saying this too is Helen’s fault. She asks her mother for some water but Helen hands her whiskey, which leads... (full context)
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Before Helen leaves, Jo asks Helen what her father was like. Helen ends up revealing to Jo... (full context)
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Disappointed with what her mother has just told her, Jo complains about her father’s story, but Helen retorts that it... (full context)
Act 2: Scene 1
Love, Sex, and Friendship Theme Icon
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...he shouldn’t worry about her, but Geof says he likes her. He asks about her mother and Jo gives vague information about Helen’s plan to marry a man and live in... (full context)
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Helen suddenly enters the apartment, loudly asking for Jo and calling Geof Romeo, while Geof, in... (full context)
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Geof complains to Helen that Jo never leaves the apartment, which is the main reason he asked for Helen’s... (full context)
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Helen makes ironic comments about Jo’s boyfriend’s absence and Geof, in turn, attacks Helen for being... (full context)
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Helen chases Jo through the room while attacking her verbally for the dreadful situation she has... (full context)
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Geof tells the women to stop yelling, to which Helen replies that they enjoy it. Helen proceeds to give Jo a speech about the importance... (full context)
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After Geof leaves, Helen laments Jo’s thinness and, in a pacifying voice, tells her that she didn’t come here... (full context)
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Peter then enters the apartment, drunk, aggressive, and angry at having to wait for Helen outside in such a dirty neighborhood. While Helen replies equally aggressively, telling him to go... (full context)
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Love, Sex, and Friendship Theme Icon
...the kitchen to look for drinks, crashes into objects, and re-enters the room. He mocks Helen’s appearance, ultimately calling her a “sour-faced old bitch” and asking her to come out for... (full context)
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Helen calls Peter a drunkard and tells him to leave. When Peter notices that Helen is... (full context)
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Jo chats with her mother about Peter’s state, asking her how long he has been like this, but Helen changes... (full context)
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Taking on a more sincere, compassionate tone, Helen asks Jo to come stay with her, but Jo refuses, which leads Helen to attack... (full context)
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Peter then enters the apartment again, more sober but also more hostile. Helen keeps offering to take care of Jo, but Jo argues that her mother should have... (full context)
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Helen says that she does not want Jo to stay in such a repulsive neighborhood but... (full context)
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After Peter and Helen leave, Geof is at least relieved that Helen has left Jo money but Jo explains... (full context)
Act 2: Scene 2
Care and Responsibility Theme Icon
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...Jo down she admires his hands, saying that she used to try to hold her mother’s hands but that Helen would always pull away from her. Jo notes that Helen always... (full context)
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...her father was both an Irishman and an idiot. She summarizes the story that her mother told her, explaining that Helen had sex with an idiot because she never had sex... (full context)
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...this is clearly an untrue story. He asks her if she can actually imagine her mother going out with an “idiot” and Jo admits that Geof is probably right: Helen would... (full context)
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...consider giving her baby up for adoption. He wonders if Jo might feel differently about motherhood once her baby is born but Jo denies that possibility. Geof then asks her if... (full context)
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Helen suddenly enters the apartment, carrying luggage in the same way she did at the very... (full context)
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Geof joins the conversation and Helen is shocked to note that he is still there, although she also expected it. She... (full context)
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Helen then changes the subject, asking for a cup of tea and complaining that her suitcases... (full context)
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Helen then directly asks Geof to leave, saying she wants to talk to her daughter, and... (full context)
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Helen feigns surprise at Geof’s departure and Jo attacks her for being rude. Helen defends herself,... (full context)
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Jo asks Helen to stop being mean to Geof and inquires whether Peter has kicked her out. Instead... (full context)
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While Helen seems contemptuous of Jo’s lack of definite plans, Jo criticizes her mother’s attitude of superiority,... (full context)
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Helen finally reveals that Peter left her for another woman, and Jo cannot believe that the... (full context)
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Helen tells Jo that she has ordered a baby cot for her. When Jo shows her... (full context)
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Helen then asks Geof to throw out the wicker basket, saying she refuses to put her... (full context)
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...she wanted him with her during labor, since that would keep her from feeling scared. Helen finds the idea of a man’s presence during childbirth revolting, but Geof argues that husbands... (full context)
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Helen goes to sit by Jo’s side and Jo asks her if childbirth is painful. Helen... (full context)
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Jo then worries about where Helen is going to sleep but Helen tells her not to worry. As she is wondering... (full context)
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Helen then hears children singing outside and recalls her own childhood. She gives a long speech... (full context)
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Jo then announces that her baby is going to be black. Taken by surprise, Helen at first doesn’t understand what Jo is saying and thinks Jo is merely giving in... (full context)
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Irritated, Jo tells Helen that she can leave if she is not satisfied with the situation. Helen gets ready... (full context)
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Before leaving the apartment in a rush, Helen concludes that what she will with the baby is to “put it on the stage... (full context)