Dear Departed is a satire that criticises the peripheral relations and showy love between parents, siblings and children. Though the title itself appears to be an emotional one, it soon becomes clear that the dear departed is not Mr. Abel, father of Amelia and Elizabeth. What departed them dearly was their father’s assets and belongings. What the two daughters and their husbands had waited for was the death of Mr. Abel, not his well being. They never loved him. The two daughters fought with each other not for making their father feel at home, but to get him rid off. The poor old man learnt the true nature of his children’s love too late but was able to escape their cruel hospitality and cunning care for him.
Mr. Abel Merryweather – An aged widower
Mr. Abel is an easy going old man. A widower for some long time, he has learnt the world and its multiple faces. He is a practical man yet a little given to drinking and jollity. Even at the age of seventy he is jovial and active. There is nothing that could stop him from his ways. He is proud of being Abel Merryweather. It has been a pain for him to accept the fact that he is just a lot unwanted. When he saw in front of his eyes how much despised he was and how quarrelsome his daughters were and how cunningly they have hidden their hatred for him for long. Abel Merryweather was a man of his forebodings – he appears to be iron hearted for a while in destroying his will and shameless in getting married at the age of seventy. Surprisingly, it is hard to see why this amiable old man was equally despised/hated by all his dear ones.
Amelia – Mr. Abel’s daughter, married to Henry Slater
Amelia Slater was evil incarnated. The prime villain of the play, she had been taking care of her father for his possessions. She had been looking after her father for the last three years and was just waiting for the most wonderful happening in his life – his death. It is amazing that a daughter goes without any feeling for her father’s death. Not only that she didn’t get a doctor for her father on finding him ‘dead’ but also she left him to die there and went for her mourning costumes. It is the height of hypocrisy that she blames Victoria for being gallivanting while she was herself breathing the air of her father’s bereavement. Her pinching the bureau, the slippers and the clock are the least examples of her hardheartedness.
Victoria – The Slaters’ daughter
Victoria Slater appears to be the only character in the story with a heart. She is not entirely innocent yet there are glimpses of goodness in her. She was happy to see her grandfather alive for some hazy reasons while it is she whom her mother blames for being gallivanting. If the mother, Amelia, were right in blaming her, Victoria too was a product of the same prototype. One thing is however certain that Victoria had a delicate heart that had soft and gentle feelings for her grandfather. She asks her parents, ‘are we stealing them?’ which means she was not as evil as her mother nor as faceless as her father.
- Elizabeth – Mr. Abel’s daughter, married to Ben Jordan. As greedy and hardhearted as her sister Amelia.
- Henry Slater – A weak, short man. Not really commanding. He doesn’t appear to be as heartless as his wife, Amelia.
- Ben Jordan – A flat, funny man. He doesn’t know what to speak and when to speak. He makes you laugh.
- Jimmy – The Jordans’ son.
- Mr. Abel Merryweather is the father of his two daughters – Amelia and Elizabeth. Amelia is married to Henry Slater and Elizabeth to Ben Jordan. Victoria is the Slater’s only daughter. The Jordan have a son – Jimmy.
- The problem is, the two daughters didn’t love their father, especially since his wife died years ago (we do not know how many years ago).
- If the two daughters tolerated their father, it was only for his wealth and assets.
- At present, tor the last three years, Mr. Abel has been staying with Amelia’s family, upstairs. Before that, he had been with daughter Elizabeth who quarreled with Amelia for not taking their father back.
- This morning, when Victoria went to see her grandfather, the old man was found dead. Without checking if the old man was really dead, the Slaters sent a telegram to the Jordans announcing the much awaited death.
- While waiting for the Jordans, the Slaters get the best of the mourning dresses, steals all that they could from the dead man’s room – a bureau in exchange of their old chest of drawers, and a pair of slippers.
- The Jordans arrive. Instead of going upstairs to see the dead father, the two daughters and their husbands sit for tea and start deviding their father’s things.
- The two daughters start blaming each other and their husbands support them.
- While the tea goes on, Mr. Abel, who had been sleeping due to exhaustion, comes down from his room, in body and the realization strikes the Slaters and the Jordans alike. They cannot quite accept the fact that Mr. Abel wasn’t really dead.
- Mr. Abel wonders at seeing the Jordans after a long time and wants to know who has died in the family for which they had put on black mourning dresses. With great difficulty and confusion, they try to conceal from him that it was for him that they had put on mourning dresses.
- Slowly Mr. Abel learns that his daughters had no real love for him and that they had thought that he had been dead and were getting ready to bury him.
- Mr. Abel decides to make a new will – one that disqualifies the two daughters from inheriting his wealth.
- Mr. Abel then announces that he was getting married to his old friend’s widow because he needed someone to love him in reality. He then invites his children and grand children to attend his marriage and goes out.
Preparation for a Funeral
In this opening part you will see how Mrs. and Mr. Slater prepared their house for the funeral of her father who was found ‘dead’ early in the morning. Seeing the old man dead, they didn’t call the doctor, they didn’t rush him to a hospital. Instead, they casually informed the Jordan’s (Mrs. Slater’s sister and her family), then they ordered mourning (funeral) dresses for all of them and brought her father’s new bureau down and stole his slippers as well. Victoria is not as much greedy as her mother and Henry is just a puppet. If he stole his father-in-law’s new slippers, it was because his wife had great command over him.
Why did the Slaters bring the bureau down before the arrival of the Jordans?
The bureau was a fine piece of furniture and was recently bought and used by Mr. Abel, the old man believed to be dead. It was evident that the Jordans had no idea about the bureau as they had made their last visit before the bureau was bought. By bringing the bureau down and by carrying the drawers up, the Slaters meant to own the bureau.
What do you make of Mr. Slater’s character?
Mr. Henry Slater was a wooden puppet. He was not as shrewd as his wife yet he could be most effectively manipulated and bent. May be he lived most of his life with such a woman, he had acquired a very cheap character, not even able to correct his greedy wife when he knew she did something cheap.
“Are we pinching it before Aunt Elizebeth comes?” What were they pinching? How was that pinching? What does this reveal about Victoria’s character?
They were pinching Mr. Abel’s bureau. It was an act of pinching because the bureau belonged to Mr. Abel. This reveals Victoria’s innocent character – probably she was different from her mother and father yet she too was helpless.
Why did Mrs. Slater instruct Victoria that Mr. Abel hadn’t been drunk that morning?
Mrs. Slater was a greedy lady yet she had great knowledge about her sister Elizabeth. She didn’t want Elizabeth and her husband know that Mr. Abel had been given to drinking. If they knew that the old man had been drunk of late, that could lead to a quarrel between the two sisters. Besides, Elizabeth could invalidate the will and accuse her sister of Mr. Abel’s death.
“That was a near thing. Open the door, Victoria.” What was a near thing?
The near thing mentioned here is the Slaters’ carrying the bureau down before the Jordans had come in. While the Jordans were waiting at the door, knocking, the Slaters were bringing the bureau in great hurry.
“I am amazed at you, Victoria; I really am. How can you gallivanting about in the streets with your grandfather lying dead and cold upstairs? It would never do for them to find you in colors.”
- What does the last line refer to?
The last line refers to Amelia’s base attitude. She means that it was more important for them to appear in perfect mourning costumes because her sister Elizabeth and family would blame them for not having put on mourning costumes.
- Who is Victoria? Why is the speaker amazed at Victoria?
Victoria is the daughter of the Slaters. Mrs. Slater is amazed at Victoria because she was apathetically (without emotions) roaming around while her grandfather lay dead and the family was preparing for his funeral.
- Name the speaker.
Mrs. Slater (Amelia) is the speaker.
“I suppose it is in the family.”
- What does Henry mean by this?
“Are we pinching it before aunt Elizabeth comes?”
- Name the speaker.
- Who were pinching and what?
“That was a near thing!”
- What was a near thing? How?