No Sugar

No Sugar

No Sugar Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Jack Davis's No Sugar. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Jack Davis

Jack Davis was born in Perth, Australia, but raised in the city of Yarloop and on the Moore River Native Settlement, which serves as one of the settings for his play, No Sugar. Davis’s first language was English, but he began to learn the language of his Aboriginal ancestors while living on a Reservation as an adult. Davis then became interested in politics, advocacy, and activism, serving as director of the Aboriginal Centre in Perth, and chairman of the Aboriginal Lands Trust, in addition to founding the Aboriginal Writers, Oral Literature, and Dramatists Association. Davis was a lifelong poet, memoirist, and playwright, although he did not publish his first work, The First Born and Other Poems, until 1970. He went on to publish a dozen other works, including his 1991 memoir A Boy’s Life, and the three plays in his First Born trilogy, which documents Aboriginal Australian life over the course of the 20th century: No Sugar (1985), The Dreamers (1982), and Barungin (Smell the Wind) (1989).
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Historical Context of No Sugar

No Sugar takes place over the course of four years, beginning in 1930 and ending in 1934. These years represent the peak of a worldwide Great Depression, a financial and economic crisis that began with the American stock market crash in 1929, but soon became a global disaster. In Australia, as in America and other countries around the world, unemployment rates rose and poverty became widespread. Although the Great Depression was a global crisis, No Sugar also deals with history specific to Australia, primarily the treatment and regulation of its indigenous population. Aboriginal people have lived in Australia for tens of thousands of years, and lived undisturbed until British explorers first encountered Australia in the 18th century. Although the population of indigenous people was between 500,000 and possibly greater than a million at the time of colonization, violent colonial policies and diseases introduced by the European settlers quickly wiped out the majority of Aboriginal Australians. By the 1930s there were only around 50,000 Aboriginal Australians left. Many white Australians, including many government officials, believed that the Aboriginal community was inferior to theirs, and that it was their duty to do their best to control and improve (i.e. Westernize) their lives. Aboriginal Australians were quarantined in Reservations and closely monitored. They were forbidden from various behaviors, such as drinking or leaving their mandated homes. Although No Sugar only tangentially deals with this, one particularly despicable policy enacted by the government was the “child removal policy,” which took indigenous children from their families, with the intention of raising them to be as “white” and Western as possible.

Other Books Related to No Sugar

No Sugar is the second of three plays in Jack Davis’s First Born Trilogy, in which he depicts the everyday lives of Aboriginal families over the course of the 20th century. The other two plays in the series are The Dreamers, published first in 1982, and Barungin (Smell the Wind), published 1989. Davis also belongs to a canon of Aboriginal Australian writers who write about the Aboriginal experience. The first person to do so was David Unaipon, who in the early 1900s primarily collected Aboriginal legends and stories. Others include Oogeroo Noonuccal, a poet who published the first ever book of Aboriginal poetry, and Kevin Gilbert, a playwright, activist, and poet active at the same time as Davis.
Key Facts about No Sugar
  • Full Title: No Sugar
  • When Written: 1980s
  • Where Written: Western Australia
  • When Published: 1985
  • Literary Period: Contemporary Realistic Drama 
  • Genre: Historical Fiction, Drama
  • Setting: Western Australia
  • Climax: Neville’s Australia Day Speech
  • Antagonist: Neville, Mr. Neal, the Sergeant, the Constable
  • Point of View: Play

Extra Credit for No Sugar

About the Title. In the play’s early scenes rations are cut, and the characters exclaim that there is “no soap!” and “no meat!” Although their ration of sugar is never cut, and so they never exclaim that there is “no sugar!,” the title refers to the lack of kindness and empathy displayed by white Australians towards their indigenous neighbors, and the hardship the play’s central family must face on a day to day basis.

Real Life Influence. Jack Davis spent much of his life in Western Australia, and a few years of his childhood on the Moore River Native Settlement, where many of the events of No Sugar take place.