Happy Family is a short play by Paul Groves and Nigel Grimshaw which revolves around seven members of the Potts family. The focus however is on the mother and it is her plight in the play that makes us question the title, whether the Potts are really a ‘Happy Family?’
Summary and Analysis
There are seven characters in the play—all are members of the Potts family. There is Mrs. Potts & Mr. Potts who have four children, Gladys Potts—the older daughter, Nigel Potts the older son and Richard Potts, the younger son and Katherine Potts, the younger daughter. Gran Potts, the mother of the Potts and grandmother of the four Potts children makes up the seventh member of the family.
The scene opens in the Potts living room. Nigil, Gran, Gladys and Mr. Potts are there each busy doing something or the other not very significant. Nigil is reading the paper, Gran is knitting, Gladys is resting in an armchair and Mr. Potts is making a fishing hook to catch fish. Mrs. Potts enters asking everybody to leave the room since she has to clean it.
[We all like clean homes but have you ever thought how difficult it is to keep a home clean and how much effort it requires?]
Rather than getting up and helping Mrs. Potts with the cleaning, each member of the family present in the room gives some excuse or the other simply because they are too lazy.
Nigel who is unemployed is just whiling away his time reading the paper and has another excuse ready when Mrs. Potts says that he could have become a window cleaner. He promptly says that he can’t clean windows because he can’t stand heights. Mrs. Potts knows only too well that such is not the case. Nigel is simply lazy and avoids work.
When she asks Gran to get up, she says she is about to finish the jumper she has been knitting for Dickey even though Mrs. Potts tells her that Richard won’t wear it because he is very particular about his clothes. At this a little altercation occurs between Gran and Mrs. Potts where Gran accuses Mrs. Potts of being rude about her knitting and also about not bringing up the children correctly. Mrs. Potts appeals to Mr. Potts who is busy with his fishing float.
Quite characteristically Gran cites her poor health are as an excuse for not being able to help in the house. She says she has poorly legs.’ [‘Poorly’ here is being used in the sense of ‘not being in the best of health or condition.’] At this Mrs. Potts statEs that she too is on her legs, from morning till night doing thankless jobs for her family. She asks Gladys to move over and is surprised to find her home. Gladys says she has a cold, at which her mother observes sarcastically that she always has a cold and it is only because of the late nights out with her boy friend. Gladys is sure however that it is her chest which always gives her a problem. One can see that this again is an excuse for not helping.
Till now, Mrs. Potts has asked three people to move and each of them has given her some excuse or the other and has not budged at all. When she asks her husband why he is at home she gets another excuse. It seems that workers walked out of the factory where Herbert works because it was too cold. Mrs. Potts Wryly observes that a month back there was a similar walkout because it was too hot and a month before that the walkout was because it had rained and the roof had leaked. So, it is one excuse after another.
All of them are having an easy time without a thought for Mrs. Potts who works morning till night to keep the house clean and the family well fed and happy. One feels sorry for her when she says that for her there is no excuse, no holiday. Whatever the weather she still has to work. She cannot say that she won’t cook because the kitchen is too hot. Mr. Potts conveniently says ‘That’s different’ to which Mrs. Potts replies ‘It’s not.’
Richard and Katherine enter the living room and their first question is ‘What’s for dinner.’ Mrs. Potts is dismayed when she looks at their shoes. The two children have been to the quarry with their friends and have came back with extremely dirty shoes. They have not cared to take them off while entering the house. As a result, the hall which has just been cleaned by Mrs. Potts, is dirty again. This proves to be the last straw for Mrs. Potts. She feels angry and used and decides to teach the family a lesson. They will no longer take her services for granted for she declares that she is going on strike. She will not cook any dinner for them but instead is going upstairs to bed and will stay there till the family realizes its mistake.
The rest of the members are taken aback. They did not expect this reaction. The first thought is about food. Nobody is ready to get it. Gladys says she has a cold, Gran says her legs are not fit. They think of going out to eat but realize that the place is closed on Mondays. Realizing that without Mrs. Potts they are in a difficult situation, Mr. Potts tries to call out to her with an affectionate tone. Till now nobody had bothered about how Mrs. Potts feels or what she wants. Now all of a sudden they realize her importance. But no amount of cajoling works for Mrs. Potts. She does not come down. At this Mr. Potts declares to the family that they will have to get their dinner themselves!
It is obvious that the title of the play is ironical. [In an irony there is one meaning which is apparent while another is implied. The implied meaning is very often the opposite of the apparent one.] In this play if we look at the title we think that the play would in all probability talk about a happy family. When we read the play, however, we realize that family’s happiness and comfort is at the expense of the discomfort of the woman of the house who is taken for granted till she puts her foot down. The moment she asserts herself everyone realizes how important her role is in the family. Without her help they are not even able to get food for themselves. A truly happy family cannot be happy unless all members are happy. The play makes us realize in an effective manner how we should all share our responsibility towards home and family. Only then can we have a happy family.