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?
The Jordans Arrive
In this section of the play, let’s meet the Jordans – Mr. Merryweather’s second daughter and her husband Ben Jordan. They too are glad that their father died but Elizabeth feels a little disappointed that her father didn’t die at her home.
- How did the Slaters and the Jordans respond to Mr. Abel’s death?
The Slaters and the Jordans were excited over the death of Mr. Abel, the father of the two women. As custom demanded, they put on mourning clothes and pretended to be sad but soon they began to behave quite happily.
- What kind of a character is Mr. Ben Jordan?
Mr. Jordan is a funny man. He was all words when he was not supposed to speak a word. Although Elizabeth, his wife, had instructed him not to speak unnecessarily, Ben manages to make a confusion and makes everyone laugh. Apart from being comical, he also appears to be a bold character who doesn’t mind anything what may.
- How do Amelia and Henry give an account of Mr. Abel’s death?
Mr. Abel was found merry in the morning, probably he was a bit drunk. After a while he went to the insurance office and probably paid the dues. He spent the rest of his day at Ring-o-Bells and returned at night. Once home, he went straight away into his room a lay on bed and slept. Later Henry went upstairs and Mr. Abel, half asleep, asked him to remove his shoes. When the dinner was over, Amelia went upstairs with a bit of food in a tray and found the old man lying dead in the bed.
Reference to Context
“Of course I did. Do you take me for a fool? I sent Henry at once for Dr. Pringle but he was out.”
“You should have gone for another. Eh, Eliza?”
“Oh, yes. It’s a fatal mistake.”
“Pringle attended him when he was alive and Pringle shall attend him when he’s dead. That’s professional etiquette.”
- What was Dr. Pringle sent for?
Dr. Pringle was Mr. Abel’s personal doctor. When Mr. Abel was found ‘dead, Dr. Pringle was sent for to confirm his death rather than checking if the old man had any life left in the body.
- What is referred to as the fatal mistake? Why does Elizabeth call it a fatal mistake?
The Slaters’ dereliction of not getting another doctor for Mr. Abel is said to be a fatal mistake. Elizabeth was always bent to blame the Slaters for every possible reason. She said that there were cases of people declared dead coming back to life if a doctors were called for in time.
- Do you think it was a fatal mistake? Support your answer.
It was of course, more than a fatal mistake, a criminal offence. Not getting a doctor when an aged man is suspected to be dead in close to murdering him because there are chances that the man were not dead – it could be a stroke, a state coma or he is slowly dying. If a doctor is unavailable, there are other doctors; a doctor cannot be called for, there are ambulances.
- How does Amelia justify her not calling another doctor?
Amelia gave a very lame justification. She believed that only Dr. Pringle could be called for because Dr. Pringle happened to be Mr. Abel’s doctor when the diseased was alive.
Don’t talk so silly, Elizabeth. What good could a doctor have done?
Look at the many cases of persons being restored to life hours after they were thought to be ‘gone’.
That’s when they’ve been drowned. Your father wasn’t drowned, Elizabeth.
(Humorously) There wasn’t much fear of that. If there was one thing he couldn’t bear, it was water. (He laughs, but no else does.)
- What was the point of Elizabeth’s clinging to the importance of getting another doctor for Mr. Abel when he was found dead?
Elizabeth was not concerned with her father’s not getting a medical aid in time. Her only point was to establish that the Slaters had not been kind enough to call a doctor for her dear father. By blaming the Slaters from all sides, she could then lay her hands on the bigger portion of her father’s property.
- Why does Ben burst into a laughter?
Mr. Ben Jordan was a blunt man. He never thought before uttering a word. He was not at times able to hold his tongue and he spoke remarkably foolish and imprudent things.
He always was thoughtful in that way. He was too honourable to have ‘gone’ without paying his premium.
Well, he must have gone round to the ‘Ring-o’-Bells’ afterwards, for he came in as merry as a sandboy. I says, ‘We’re only waiting for Henry to start dinner’. ‘Dinner’, he says ‘I don’t want no dinner. I’m going to bed!’
- Why does Elizabeth say that Mr. Abel had never failed to pay his insurance dues?
By stating so, Elizabeth was claiming that Mr. Abel’s insurance dues had been timely paid when he was with her three years ago.
- Why does Amelia suppose that Mr. Abel had been to Ring O Bells?
Amelia supposes that her father had been to Ring-O-Bells because as usual he returned merrily from the restaurant.
“We’ll see if he’s locked the receipt up in the bureau.”
“In where? In this thing? (He rises and examines it.)
“Where did you pick that up, Amelia? It’s new since last I was here.
- Which receipt is being talked about?
Mr. Abel’s insurance receipt is being mentioned here.
- What is Ben examining? Why was it examined with extraordinary curiosity?
Ben Jordan is examining the bureau which the Slaters had brought down from Mr. Abel’s room. Mr. Ben examined it with greater curiosity because it was a smart piece of furniture and he had not heard that the Slaters had bought such a fine bureau.
“After all I’ve done for him, having to put up with him in the house these three years. It’s nothing short of swindling.” “I had to put up with him for five years.”
- What does ‘swindling’ mean?
Swindling is an act of cheating, fraud or deceit.
- What was nothing sort of swindling in Amelia’s opinion?
The thing that was nothing sort of swindling in Amelia’s opinion was her father’s not paying the insurance premium.
- What does this statement speak about Amelia’s character?
- How was Elizabeth different from her sister?
Though the two sisters were almost equally greedy and heartless, Elizabeth appears to be a little gentler than Amelia.
“There wasn’t much fear of that. If there was one thing that he could not bear, it was water.”
- There wasn’t much fear of what?
- What does Ben mean by ‘the thing that Mr. Abel could not bear?”
“Yes, he had a warning. I am sure of that. Did he know you?”
- Who had a warning?
- What does ‘warning’ hear mean?
“Oh, but he did, Amelia, when he was living with us. He was very fond of Jimmy.”
- What did ‘he’ do?
- Who is Jimmy?
The Dead Man Walking
“Don’t talk so silly. There’s no one can hurt you.”
Victoria goes out reluctantly.
- What is Victoria reluctant about?
Victoria is reluctant about going to her grandfather’s room where the old man lay dead.
They look at the door. A slight chuckling is heard outside.
The door opens, revealing an old man clad in a faded but gay dressing-gown.
He is in his stockinged feet. Although over seventy, he is vigorous and well colored;
his bright, malicious eyes twinkle under his heavy, reddish-grey eyebrows.
- Whose chuckling is heard?
- Why is the person coming down on his stockinged feet?
- What example can you find in the play to approve the person’s malicious eyes?
Mr. Abel’s plan to marry the widow of Mr. John Shorock at a very old age of over seventy is a proof for his malicious character.
“What’s the matter with little Vicky? Hello! What brings you here? How’s yourself, Ben?”
(ABEL thrusts his hand at BEN, who skips back smartly and retreats to a safe distance below the sofa.)
- What surprises awaited Abel Merry Weather when he came from the world of the ‘dead?’
When Mr. Abel Merry Weather came down from his room after a deep, fatigued sleep, he was greeted by a frightened daughters and their families. He also found all of them in mourning dresses and looking at him as if they had seen a ghost. Moreover, their look revealed that they had least expected him alive.
- How did Ben react when Mr. Abel offered him his hand for a shake? Why did he do so?
Ben felt as if he was offered a hand by a ghost. Fear stricken, he withdrew, declining Mr. Abel’s friendliness.
- What makes this scene the most dreadful and painful for the others?
This is the most painful scene because Mr. Abel’s return and the realization that he hadn’t been dead was the most painful for his daughters and their husbands. It was dreadful because they felt like seeing a real ghost in front of them.
“I wouldn’t mind betting that I’m not the first in this house to be carried to the cemetery.
I always think Henry there looks none too healthy.”
- According to Mr. Abel, who was going to die before he did? Why do you think that he was right?
Mr. Abel believed that Henry, Amelia’s husband, could die before he did in spite of the age difference. It appears that Mr. Abel said right because he was a vigorous and active man in his seventies while Henry was a passive, cheerless and stooping man with no brain or smartness.
The Truth is Out
- Why was Mr. Abel glad that his bureau had been brought downstairs?
Mr. Abel, though very old for another marriage, had been all prepared to get married to a widow. After seeing that his daughters didn’t really love him and that their eyes had been upon his assets, Mr. Abel decided to leave his daughter’s house with all his furniture. He was glad to see that his bureau had been brought down.
- Why did Mr. Abel decide to make a new will?
Mr. Abel decided to make a new will because he saw very clearly that his daughter didn’t at all love him and therefore didn’t deserve his assets as well. He wanted his wealth pass to someone who would lovingly take care of him in his old age and thus decided to make a new will.
Reference to Context
“That doesn’t matter now. I’m thinking of destroying it and making another.”
- Who is the speaker?
Mr. Abel Merryweather is the speaker.
- What doesn’t matter at this point?
The fact that Mr. Abel had already made a will for his property doesn’t matter at this point.
- What does the speaker want to destroy? Why does the speaker think of destroying it?
“I may be wrong, but I don’t think father will fancy living on with you after what’s happened today.”
“So you’d like to have me again, Lizzie?”
“You know we’re ready for you to make your home with us for as long you please.”
- What does Mrs. Jordan mean by ‘what has happened today?’ What was her intention behind mentioning it at this time?
By “what has happened today,” Mrs. Jordan reminds her father Amelia’s and Henry’s brutal hospitality to him and their hasty theft of his property. By mentioning it at this time, she intended to make their father think ill of Amelia and to take him to their home and to inherit his property wholly.
- Do you think Mr. Abel was seriously thinking of going to stay with the Jordans? Give any reason.
Most probably, no. As he made all the plans to marry and settle down, as he had experienced the cruel hospitality of his daughters, Mr. Abel would never think of living with them any more.
More Likely Questions
- Justify the title of the play.
Dear Departed is a satire that criticizes 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.
- How does the author bring out the modern world’s insensitivity to the old and dying?
The play moves around an old man, Mr. Abel and his greedy daughters for whom nothing like he was dear but his property, his assets and his wealth. They pretended to be loving and being concerned for him for his wealth. Though Mr. Abel was not a wealthy man, yet he had those things for which his daughters could die and kill. The play satirizes modern instances of children pretending to be taking care of their parents. As long as there are parents, they die with something that they had earned in life and sons and daughters eager to get possession of it. The cruel aspect is that heirs wait for their parents die as early as possible and blame it on the parents’ misbehavior, acute illness and a dozen others. Heirs, who live with their ageing parents are the ones who pretend the most. To be the worthy heirs and to escape the brothers and sisters who wait to find fault, they do a lot of showy concern for their parents and this adversely affect the aged ones. Both the Slaters and the Jordans did their parts so well that they were two devils in the disguise of ideal daughters. Apart from hating each other, they proved that they hated their father. Mr. Abel was a burden for them. Had it not been for his property and other assets, they would have thrown him into the streets years ago.