From the beginning of the play, it is evident that Jo is a young woman yearning to break free from the walls of her home. Moved by youthful rebellion, she longs to work for herself in order to become economically and emotionally independent from her mother. When she is finally forced to live on her own, she discovers that an independent life also brings its share of loneliness and fear, but that she is capable of finding the strength within herself—and through the positive influence of her friend Geoffrey—to keep on thriving. Her independence ultimately proves limited, as she is unable to fully escape her mother’s grasp and the negative influence it has on her. Nevertheless, the strength she has acquired on her own marks a positive change in her life, and speaks to a greater potential for progress and change.
Moved by a desire for privacy and independence, Jo longs to escape her mother and their shared home. When Helen and Jo discover their new apartment, Jo notices that she is going to have to share a bed with her mother once again. “What I wouldn’t give for a room of my own!” she says. This situation of forced physical closeness emphasizes Jo’s lack of privacy, as well as her economic necessity to rely on her mother. As such, her idea of having a room of her own expresses not only a desire for emotional independence, but also the wish to be financially self-sufficient. Jo confirms this idea by telling Helen that the only thing she wants is to “[g]et out of your sight as soon as I can get a bit of money in my pocket.”
Helen herself emphasizes the importance of working to sustain oneself. When her daughter complains about their constant relocation from one apartment to the next, Helen ironically comments that Jo will soon be an “independent working woman,” free to make her own living choices. More seriously, Helen later explains her vision of life: “There’s two w’s in your future. Work or want […]. We’re all at the steering wheel of our own destiny. Careering along like drunken drivers.” For Helen, life should be understood not in terms of youthful desires and idealism, but in terms of material necessities: the need to work and take economic control of one’s future, however ignorantly one might manage one’s affairs.
When Helen leaves the apartment to move in with Peter, Jo finds herself forced to live on her own. In this situation born out of necessity, she begins to suffer from loneliness. However, with a little help from Geoffrey, she ultimately finds the strength to live her life freely and celebrate both her youth and her independence. While Jo’s pregnancy could lead her to seek her mother’s help, she insists on preserving her independence, telling Helen that she can handle the situation on her own. This attitude gives her freedom, but is also a source of isolation and loneliness. When Geof notices that Jo has little sustained guidance in her life, he asks her if anyone has ever tried to take her in hand. Jo mentions her boyfriend Jimmie but notes that his efforts were extremely short-lived, since he soon abandoned her. After Geof’s questions, it becomes apparent that Jo’s fierce desire for independence is also a reaction to the lack of support she has received throughout her life. Instead of relying on people who might disappoint her, she prefers to struggle through life on her own.
However, Jo soon realizes that independence does not necessarily mean refusing everyone’s help. Instead, she finds comfort and joy in her cohabitation with Geof, which makes her feel more self-confident and optimistic about the future. In a moment of elation, the two of them celebrate their youthful enthusiasm and energy. Jo says: “My usual self is a very unusual self, Geoffrey Ingram, and don’t you forget it. I’m an extraordinary person. There’s only one of me like there’s only one of you.” She aims to acknowledge that, despite their material difficulties, they have in themselves the potential to achieve greatness. She tries not to give in to gloom but, instead, to take pride and pleasure in who they are at this very moment in time.
This attitude contrasts starkly with Helen’s more rigid views. Helen does not understand how Jo and Geof’s partnership can be based on mutual respect and trust. When Helen tells Jo that she and Geof are a “funny-looking set-up,” Jo curtly replies that it is none of her mother’s business, defending her right to lead a life far from her mother’s judgment. Another time, when Helen mocks them by saying that Geof is providing for Jo, Geof corrects her, telling her that the two of them share everything. These episodes highlight that, however unusual their partnership may be, Jo and Geof have laid the foundation to live a free, independent life together, far from the judgment of other people.
While Jo’s sense of freedom makes her believe that she can achieve the impossible, she still seems doomed to suffer from her mother’s influence. Ultimately, though, she shows encouraging signs about her increasing capacity to handle her mother’s negativity and take control of her own life. Jo wants to separate herself and her life choices from her mother’s. For this reason, Jo is happy to hear her boyfriend insist on how different she is from Helen. However, Geof, who knows Jo more intimately, tells her that she has already adopted some of her mother’s traits and that she should be careful not to turn into a domineering, unstable person like her mother.
Jo seems capable of adopting a positive attitude that contrasts with her mother’s. While at first Jo complains often about having a baby, she ultimately proves willing to take care of the people in her life. After months of living with Geof, Jo insists that she is finally happy and content. “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!” she tells her mother. Her attitude is at odds with Helen’s, who has neglected her daughter in many ways. Jo inverts the mother-daughter relationship, proving that she has now become stronger than her mother in her capacity to care for other people.
This inversion of the traditional mother-daughter relationship becomes all the more evident when Helen moves in with Jo again. In the opening scene, Helen had criticized Jo for not knowing how to turn on the stove. Exasperated, she told her daughter to turn all the buttons. “She can’t do anything for herself, that girl. Mind you don’t gas yourself.” However, by the end of the play, Jo is the one giving Helen the same instructions: “Turn on all the knobs. Mind you don’t gas yourself.” This inversion reveals Helen’s helplessness and inability to be self-reliant. It also shows that Jo has acquired wisdom and practical knowledge during her time alone, and that she is strong enough to take care of her mother. Although Jo’s future remains uncertain at the end of the play, the strength and self-confidence the young girl has acquired set her apart from her earlier self, suggesting her potential to embrace a future path of growth and progress separate from her mother’s influence.
Rebellion and Independence ThemeTracker
Rebellion and Independence Quotes in A Taste of Honey
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.
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?
JO: Anyway I’m not getting married like you did.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!