The main theme that rounds throughout the play are those of: life and death, decisions, responsibility and authority. The story is about a paralysed sculptor who wants to end his life against the wishes of the authorities (the Doctors). The main characters are Ken – the paralysed man, Dr.Emerson and Dr.Scott. In addition to this their is John, Nurse Saddler, the Sister, the Judge and they two lawyers, though these last 3 characters only make a brief appearance in Act Two.The play is mainly set in Ken’s room in the hospital occasionally going to the Nurses Office. There is a lot of conflict between Ken and Dr.
Emerson; it represents the occurrence of a person with a debilitating illness fighting against the authority for their rights. It also represents the strong views Doctors have for saving life at all costs. Brian Clarke uses the conflict of opinion to create dramatic tension that draws the audience in to the reality of life.Ken is presented as an individual through his relationships with different members of the hospital hierarchy. Ken says to John that he likes ‘Steel bands’, this shows he has an opinion about music, thus making him an individual. Another reason he is an individual is because he makes choices about his treatment, although they are often ignored by the hospital, he decides he doesn’t want drugs – he wants to keep his conscious mind.
‘Ken: My consciousness is the only thing I have and I must claim the right to use it, as far as possible, act on the conclusions I come to.”Ken: I am an individual so the choice is mine.’Emerson’s role and ethical beliefs are particularly seen through his relationship with Dr Scott. Dr Emerson has a strong ethical belief that life should be ‘saved at all costs’ as he said to Dr Scott.
He also says that Ken should have the drugs despite it being against his wishes, ‘we have years of experience, he cannot challenge that’. Dr Scott suggests that maybe Ken has a choice, but Dr Emerson says ‘no according to my morals’. Emerson is of the opinion that Ken can live a life and that he is mentally ill when he effectively wishes to take his own life. Dr Emerson believes that he is right in his role as a Doctor and ethically, it is on this that he fights to keep Ken in the hospital.Clarke introduces a clash between Ken and Dr.Emerson in the first meeting.
When Dr.Emerson first meets Ken he is patronising towards him and when he refers to Ken’s problems he refers to them as our problems’Dr.Emerson: .
.. we have almost overcome it all…’It is not very thoughtful and it is very patronising, Ken then says’Ken: you only grow the vegetables here – the vegetable store is somewhere else’This shows that Ken is under stress when he is told that he will remain in hospital for the rest of his life in another ward.
Dr.Emerson says that he is the best person to make Ken’s decisions for him.’Ken: I think notDr.
Emerson: You can’t decide that’Dr.Emerson then sticks the needle into Ken, this creates dramatic tension between the two characters for the rest of the play.As the conflict develops Ken calls in Mr.Hill, his solicitor after Ken expresses his wish to be discharged so that he can die.’Ken: I want to be discharged so that I can die’At this Dr.Emerson take a professional stand and gets Ken sectioned. Dr.Emerson made sure that his examination was fixed so that he would be sectioned regardless.
‘Dr.Emerson: Get someone who sides with us to examine him’This creates tension between the characters and also brings out Dr.Emerson’s professional/ethical beliefsWhen Dr.Emerson tries to bend the rules his integrity is undermined. He tries to keep Ken in the hospital under the mental health act but instead of getting a neutral second opinion he got someone whom was biased towards his view.’Dr.
Emerson: Do me a favour old chap, try and find an old codger like me who believes in something better than suicide’During the court scene Ken and Dr.Emerson are forced to take a more passive role. When they are questioned they are given the freedom to express their opinion and views in an unbiased way. When Dr.Emerson is questioned he ‘refers to his notes’ and tells everyone the history, he then continues and say how Ken should be detained because of his ‘obvious mental trauma’. When Ken is questioned he tries to sympathise with Dr.
Emerson when he says’Ken: He’s a good doctor and won’t let a patient die if he can help it.’When the judge reaches his decision all the characters respect the ruling.’Judge: I’m afraid you’ll have to release your patientDr.Emerson: I see.
. Thank you’Dr.Emerson seems a bit put out that he is going to have to let a patient die, but he isn’t awkward, instead he allows Ken to die peacefully in the hospital’Dr.Emerson: Where will you go?Ken: I’ll get a room somewhere.Dr.Emerson: There’s no need.Ken: Don’t let’s.
..Dr.Emerson: We’ll stop treatment, remove drips. Stop feeding you if you like.
‘At this Ken is left in the hospital to die, as he wished.Ken’s presence as an individual is shown throughout the play, he is on his own with only his own judgement to go on. On the other hand Dr.Emerson is extremely authoritarian telling everyone what to do just to keep Ken alive, which some people would view to be unfair.The length of scenes is kept short throughout, this is to enhance the tension between the characters before the long court scene at the end. It is also rather unique that the court is in the hospital as this brings a new type of atmosphere to the play.
The audience is led to sympathise with Ken through Dr.Emerson getting him sectioned and forcing him to stay alive against his own wishes. This is what keeps the audience interested – this conflict.