From Chicken Soup to Denial and Beyond
: Fifty Years of Arnold Wesker

  • Kelly McCloy

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis is a revaluation of Sir Arnold Wesker’s body of work. The aim of this thesis is to recognise that Wesker’s contribution to the literary canon, did not begin and end as one of the so-called kitchen sink playwrights of the 1950s and 1960s. Rather, that Wesker was a prolific writer for fifty years since first gaining public recognition with The Trilogy. One of the main objectives of this thesis is to demonstrate how Wesker was a fluid, progressive, writer of multiple genres who through the years continually reinvented what the term ‘kitchen sink’ drama means.
​​​​​​​The thesis begins with an analysis on what role food plays within Wesker’s oeuvre. Ultimately the diversity of food within his writing reflects the ever-evolving nature of a postWorld War Two Britain in which the boundaries between culture, ideology and religion were starting to become more plural and less simple to categorise.
Chapters two and three of the thesis study Wesker’s representation of women within his written work and also the 2000 play Denial. One of the objectives across these two chapters is to convey how at every juncture of his career Wesker used the domestic to contradict the monotony which is associated with the term ‘kitchen sink’ thereby making it relevant to every decade of the twentieth century. This is also reflected in the transformation that his female characters undergo, as in his early works women are associated with the domestic sphere and motherhood, whilst in his later works women have gained financial independence as well as freedom from the constraints of the household.
Family strength is a dominant feature of The Trilogy as Wesker uses the unwavering strength of a family to contrast the futility of a political ideology. The broken family of Denial is an emblem of the fractured society now entering into the “great Millennium” as speculated by Ronnie Kahn.
The final chapter is an exploration of how Wesker rewrote William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice with the vision of creating a legacy. Wesker felt that the theatrical establishment lacked liberal, progressive thinking due to the praise bestowed upon brand Shakespeare. However, it is vital to remember that sixteenth century English society was not the society which we have today in 2020, in that racial tolerance and gender equality were not given the same importance within the social agenda. Therefore, I will also interrogate how Wesker is passively anachronistic towards Shakespeare.
This thesis will also examine Wesker’s contribution to other genres of writing. Therefore, his short story writing including works from the collections Six Sundays in January and Love Letters on Blue Paper are examined in detail. In my analysis of Love Letters on Blue Paper I also refer to the cookery book written by Dusty Wesker, this is the first thesis in which this source is recognised therefore conveying the originality of this ground breaking insight into Wesker’s body of work.
This thesis seeks to change the commonly accepted notion that Wesker was first and foremost a dramatist whose career held no merit post 1960s after the supposed heyday of the ‘kitchen sink’ genre. However, what this longitudinal study will prove is that even though Wesker’s style appeared to change from the loftiness of political ideology to the intricacies of human sexuality which it did do, he also never ceased to use the domestic or personal to evolve in perfect synchronisation with the times in which he was living.
Date of AwardDec 2020
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorFrank Ferguson (Supervisor) & Kevin De Ornellas (Supervisor)


  • Chicken Soup
  • Denial
  • Arnold Wesker

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