The awakening of Deborah in the play ‘A Kind of Alaska’ is a very slow progressing process, causing it to be one drawn out tense moment throughout the play. The struggle that is happening throughout the play conveys how difficult it is for Deborah to come to terms with herself and things that have happened without her influence. Confusion, reality and truth are the key points in causing the struggle for her, and decide on how she comes to terms with her life.
Deborah succumbed to a ‘sleeping’ illness when she was fifteen. She has been in that illness for twenty-nine years and is not aware of anything that has taken place since the point she fell asleep.
At the opening of the play, Deborah finds herself awakening in a plain room with two chairs, a table and the doctor. This causes Deborah confusion and distress, as she is struggling to come to terms with herself, her location and who the doctor is. Because this is the first time she has awoken in twenty-nine years, a fuss is made of her by the doctor. He is patient and waits for her to make the first move before he decides to question her about her ‘sleep’.
Deborah struggles with her words due to her not being provoked to make the first move. First she whispers, for this is all she can do due to her voice lying dormant for twenty-nine years. Her voice probably would have sounded hoarse and croaky due to the lack of use.
“Something is happening.”
These are her first words. Deborah confuses herself with what she said as she does not fully understand. She does not know what is happening or what has happened to her.
Mood and atmosphere is being set as the tension builds up. The doctor, Hornby, tries to provoke her into saying something.
“Do you know me?”
“Do you recognise me?”
“Can you hear me?”
She does not look at him
Deborah does not respond to him immediately, even when she is addressed directly. She acts as if she can hear him, but cannot answer him back, for that is how she would act if she were still in her illness. She does not see the point in answering him because the whole situation would probably seem as a dream to her.
“Are you speaking?”
“Do you know who I am?”
Who am I?”
“No-one hears what I say. No-one is listening to me.”
This last line shows us that despite her responding to what Hornby says she still fails to believe that she is awake and communicating with people. Deborah is struggling to come to terms that she is awake, talking and having a conversation. There are a lot of pauses throughout this part of the play as Hornby is being patient and is waiting for her to say something first. He is giving her time and wants to hear what is on her mind and what she has to say without being motivated. Hornby is trying to get acknowledged by repeatedly asking her questions.
“Who am I?”
“You are no-one.”
Deborah suddenly accepts that she can be heard, and starts talking about irrelevant information that in the past she may have been proud of.
“Who is it? It is miles away. The rain is falling. I will get wet.”
Here, Deborah is confusing herself and is talking in jumbled up sentences. She cannot keep her mind focused on one thing and that is reflected in the way she is speaking. This shows how she is struggling to have a conversation about the simplest of things.
“I can’t go to sleep. The dog keeps turning about … I talk French”
Deborah still has no confirmed idea of who she is. Pieces of information is spilling out of her mouth, slotting her past back together. She is struggling to find out who she is but the memories she is sharing with Hornby are helping her find herself.
It is taking her a long time to process the information given to her. As it is all a struggle to understand everything, the information needs to be fed to her slowly so it is easy to understand and accept. Hornby has to repeat himself before he gets any recognition out of Deborah. He tries to give her the information she needs to know in the easiest way possible for her to understand, very blunt and to the point.
“You have been asleep for a very long time. You have now woken up. We are here to care for you.”
“You have been asleep for a very long time. You are older, although you do not know that. You are still younger but older.”
Deborah decides to disregard what Hornby had just said, as it probably seemed to hard for her to understand. Instead it seemed to snap her out of her sleep properly, even though she seemed awake before that.
When she looks at Hornby and acknowledges him for the first time it is a very tense moment in the play. She has realised that there is life outside her head and that she is back to reality, and becomes more aware of what is happening around her.
“You have been asleep. You have awoken. Can you hear me? Do you understand me?”
She looks at him for the first time.
Deborah most probably expected to wake up in her own bed and experience her everyday routine that she went through before she fell asleep.
“If I have been asleep, why hasn’t mummy woken me up?”
This shows that she thinks she has overslept for a couple of hours at the most. This will make the struggle harder for her when she realises that she has been asleep for twenty-nine years.
Instead she looks at Hornby and notices this is not the case, and get confused and anxious. Deborah asks the natural questions a person would ask if the woke up in a place unfamiliar to them.
“Where is everyone? Where is my dog? Where are my sisters?”
Deborah becomes unsure about simple pieces of information. She struggles to recollect what happened to her the day she fell asleep and is not certain of her age.
“I am twelve. No. I am sixteen. I am seven.”
“I do not know. Yes. I know. I am fourteen. I am fifteen. I’m lovely fifteen”
She repeats that she is fifteen twice, giving the audience the impression that she has become sure of her proper age.
It is almost as if she snaps back to reality. Now begins the struggle of coming to terms with who she is, what happened to her and where she is. Deborah would feel isolated and alone, as she is in a bare room with a person who is unfamiliar to her. It would appear to her that her family has left her behind and moved on without her, and now all she has left is the doctor. Because Hornby is the only other person in the room, she sees him as many different people.
“You shouldn’t have touched me like that. I shan’t tell my mother. I shouldn’t have touched you like that.”
These lines suggest that she is maybe talking to a boyfriend of hers she remembers before she fell asleep. Deborah might have recollected a moment where she felt guilty, and has had time to think about it. Because she had felt like this while in her sleep she needed to voice her guilt, and this is what she did as soon as she remembered it.
Deborah’s perception of people change dramatically. She reads the doctor as different people as she remembers different pieces of her life before she fell asleep. She talks about her daddy and sisters, and sees the doctor as her daddy.
Because he supplies her with the answers to her questions, she continues to read the doctor as her father. This illustrates the confusion she is feeling and the struggle to come to terms with the information given to her. It is hard for her to process all of this information, as it is new to her and hard to understand. Deborah finally begins to understand where she is who Hornby is.
“I’ve seen this room before.”
This line suggests that while in her sleep, Deborah has managed to make communication with reality. She may have woken up for a split second and then fallen back into her slumber, and probably would have recognised the room from when she woke up briefly.
Deborah begins to show her distress and begins to think irrationally.
“My mother? My father?”
“Did they bring me to you as a sacrifice? Did they sacrifice me to you?”
“No, no. You stole me…in the night.”
She is using her imagination to fill in the gaps that do not make sense to her. Because no one has been able to reassure her of the things that do not make sense to her while she has been asleep, it is mandatory for her to think such things.
In her panic Deborah begins to say the first thing that come into her head. She does not think before she is speaking, suggesting she is uptight, nervous and edgy. She becomes very defensive and says things that are unnecessary, information from her memories that she was not proud of or she feels the need to confess.
“You had your way with me…My lust was my own…You took it from me. Once open never closed. Never closed again. Never closed always open. For eternity. Terrible. You have ruined me.”
This suggests that she may have lost her virginity before she fell asleep and regrets it. It may have been resting on her conscience while she was asleep and needed to be voiced. Deborah is struggling to understand that these things do not matter and she should not need to feel guilty over them.
Deborah suddenly realises that she doesn’t sound right, not what she is used to sounding like.
“I sound childish. Out of…tune.”
She is struggling to understand why she is so different, and believes it is down to her age.
“How old am I?”
She does not realise that she has been asleep for so long, making it a harder struggle for her to understand this when she is told.
Her imagination keeps wandering and is not focusing on one thing. She uses her child like imagination to fill in gaps. She doesn’t know where she is so she pretends she is somewhere else.
“This is a hotel…This is a white tent, when I open the flap I’ll step out into the Sahara Desert.”
Hornby seems to lose his patience and brings her back to reality. Once again he tells her she has been asleep, causing Deborah’s temper to rise. She does not understand why an issue is being made out of her being asleep, as she does not realise she has been asleep for longer than she expects.
“Oh you keep saying that!…Why shouldn’t I have a long sleep for a change?…My body demands it…I may have overslept but I didn’t do it deliberately.”
These lines are very poignant, as she is completely oblivious to the fact that she has been asleep for twenty-nine years. When she is told this, there is a very long silence, suggesting that it is taking a very long time to sink in. Her imagination starts running away with her again as she struggles to believe that she has been asleep for so long.
“You mean I’m dead?”
“I don’t feel dead.”
Not only is it a struggle for Deborah to come to terms with what she has been told, but Hornby is also struggling to convince her that she has been asleep for so long. Deborah is in denial and won’t accept the fact that she has been asleep for so long. The only explanation she can think of that sounds reasonable to her is that she has been dead, and it is hard for Hornby to convince her otherwise.
Once again Deborah perceives the doctor as a different person. Because he is the only other person in the room he is the only person she can share her feelings with.
“I think I love you.”
“No you don’t.”
Deborah is confused here and does not realise what she is saying. Teenagers are always on the lookout for the opposite sex, and when they see them they weigh them up as potential partners. Because there was no one else to compare Hornby to she went straight ahead and told him she loved him. ‘I love you’ are very strong words and don’t mean anything to teenagers. As teenagers fall in and out of love easily, it is not a big deal for her when she says she loves Hornby. When he rejects her and says she doesn’t, she becomes very defensive and hot headed.
“Well, I’m not spoilt for choice here, am I? There’s not another man in sight.”
Her past life interferes the present as she talks about her childhood. She then talks about her future and how she has the rest of her life to look forward to now she is awake.
“But now I’ve got all the world before me. All life before me. All my life before me.”
This line is very poignant, as we know she does not have the rest of her life before her. The drug used to wake her up is only temporary, be she is not aware of that. It will be a struggle for her when she realises she will fall back to sleep sooner or later.
From the way she speaks about her sister we get the impression that she liked to act a lot older than she was. She talks about her younger sister Pauline in a very mature manner, using unusual words a fifteen year old isn’t expected to understand, let alone use in their vocabulary.
“I’m not prepared to tolerate her risible, tendentious, her eclectic, her ornate, her rococo insinuations and garbled inventions.”
This suggests to the audience that Deborah might have felt slightly insecure with her position in the house. She is trying to sound sophisticated, and as she is the second oldest sister out of the three she might have felt the need to act older than she is as a role model for her younger sister. Because her mother expected a lot of her she might have felt the need to prove herself as a responsible daughter who is able to earn her parents trust. She feels that acting more mature she feels is the best way to do this. This shows that not only is Deborah struggling to understand what is happening now, but also she struggled to find herself when she was younger.
Deborah doesn’t understand Hornby when he tries to explain to her that she just ‘stopped’. He uses words like ‘sleep’ when he doesn’t specifically mean sleeping, which confuses Deborah.
“You fell asleep and no-one could wake you. But although I use the word sleep it was not strictly sleep.”
“Oh make up your mind!”
Deborah is struggling to understand what he means by the term ‘sleep’, as this is what Hornby keeps referring her illness to be. When he says it is not a sleep, she gets confused and finds it difficult to process the information given to her. She tries to fill in the empty gaps with her imagination and once again tries to sound sophisticated.
“You mean you thought I was asleep when I was actually awake?”
Deborah uses her language the way she thinks is correct, but slips up from time to time. Instead she sounds childish and sounds her age. Because of this she fails to take her illness seriously when told to her.
She does not believe that she had not laughed once while in her illness and refuses to take in what Hornby is saying.
“And when I laughed…did you laugh with me?”
“You never laughed.”
“Of course I laughed. I have a laughing nature.”
Deborah abruptly changes the conversation once more, emphasising how she is struggling to keep her mind on one topic of conversation. She is also struggling with staying still and not being able to move, so she decides to get out of her bed.
“Right, I’ll get up now.”
He moves to her
“No! Don’t! Don’t! Don’t! Don’t touch me.”
Yet again she is revealing her insecurity. Deborah does not feel comfortable with the help of a person she does not know. This also could be perceived as an issue of pride – she might not want the help from Hornby as she wants to prove to herself that she is capable of moving by herself. She feels like a fifteen year old ready to leap out of bed, when in fact she is frail and appears like an old woman. Hornby knows this, which is why he tries to aid her. Previously in the play Deborah has only had to deal with the mental struggle, but this is a physical struggle for Deborah as she needs to get her body used to functioning again, She feels that she can cope with this, which is why she does not need Hornby’s help. The slowness and tension of this part of the play really conveys the struggle that not only Deborah is going through, but Hornby as well.
At the part of the play when Pauline, Deborah’s Younger sister, enters Deborah does not pay attention. She is not aware of anyone walking into the room, let alone this person being her younger sister. Deborah does not recognise her sister and carries on talking as if she isn’t there. She becomes fixed on one topic of conversation, which happens to be her dancing and how she danced in confined places, suggesting she has had a trapped image in her mind while in her illness. Deborah talks about the light and darkness so much, suggesting that she has not seen the light for so long and all she has seen is the darkness and gradually trails off as she becomes aware of Pauline. Pauline is in her mid forties and is unrecognisable by Deborah. Twenty-nine years ago Pauline would have been Deborah’s younger sister, but now in Deborah’s eyes she herself has not aged, so now Pauline has become the older sister.
All Deborah does is stare at Pauline, which to Pauline seems like a substantial improvement and becomes overwhelmed with happiness.
“…She’s looking at me. (She turns back to Deborah) You’re looking at me. Oh Deborah…you haven’t looked at me…for such a long time.”
She decides to tell Deborah that she is her sister, to which she replies with a short laugh. Hornby realises that it is too soon for Pauline to enter the conversation and becomes agitated, as it will now become harder for Deborah to come to terms with her life at present.
“I didn’t call you.”
Pauline regards him
“Well alright. Speak to her.”
Pauline becomes anxious at the thought of speaking to her sister. She does not know what to say to her, as she has not spoken to her in so long. She asks Hornby for his advice.
“Shall I tell her lies or the truth?”
Telling her both lies and the truth will make it easier for Deborah to cope with, but will cause a struggle for her when she finds out that the information given to her is not fully correct. She will have a hard time coming to terms with the truth a lot more than she will with believing the lies. When Pauline speaks to Deborah, the first thing she talks about is her family. She over exaggerates slightly with what is said and has to make herself sound more childish and less mature to make it easier for Deborah to understand. Pauline explains in the easiest way possible for Deborah to understand that their family have gone on holiday.
“Daddy’s not too well, although in many respects he’s as fit as a fiddle, and Mummy…It’s a wonderful trip”
Pauline trails off the conversation when talking about their mother suggesting that something has happened to her, death perhaps. Pauline tells her that their family send their love to Deborah, especially their mother. This once again suggests that something has happened to their mother.
Deborah decides to move to her bed and lie in it, and does so with a great deal of slowness. She does everything spending a lot of time and precision and then shuts her eyes, as if exhausted. This slowness emphasises the struggle she is going through to deal with reality. She calls Pauline over to her so she can get a good look at her. She studies Pauline’s eyes, and Pauline confirms that she is her sister.
“Well, you’ve changed. A great deal. You’ve aged…substantially. What happened to you?”
Again she decides to giver her own opinion and tries to sound sophisticated, but adds a touch of childness when she says where she found the information.
“Was it sudden shock? I know shocks can age people over night. Someone told me.”
Pauline then decides to give Deborah an account of what happened to her the day she fell into her illness. She gives her a lot of information in a very short space of time, which causes a struggle in understanding and accepting what is said. The language she uses sounds that of a child: she uses words like ‘Mummy’ and ‘Daddy’. It could also be because she comes from an aristocratic family. Either way, she does this to make Deborah feel comfortable with what she is saying and tries to make it easier for her to understand. When she is finished talking Deborah speaks.
Deborah turns to Hornby.
“She must be an aunt I have never met. One of those distant cousins.”
Here it is plain that Deborah was either not listening to what Pauline had said or she chooses not to accept it. From Deborah’s point of view she has fallen asleep and woken up the next day as if it was a normal day. She is struggling to understand what is happening to her, but Pauline is also struggling to convince her that this is reality. Pauline reassures Deborah that she is her sister, and her first reaction is to retaliate with some smart remark.
“Well, if you’re Pauline you’ve put on a remarkable amount of weight in a very short space of time.”
Even when she does accept that Pauline is her sister, she still does not believe that she has been asleep for 29 years. Because Deborah has been asleep for such a long time, she may be looking for an argument. This could be seen as sister talk or rivalry which she would have been used to before she succumbed to her illness. She then becomes shocked as she realises that she has aged also.
“My God! You’ve grown breasts! (She stares at Pauline’s breasts and suddenly looks down at herself)
“You’re a grown woman, Deborah.”
This is very hard for Deborah to come to terms with, and decides to disregard it just as she did when Pauline spoke of their family earlier. Again sister rivalry comes in when Deborah becomes aware of her appearance.
“I’m slimmer aren’t I?”
“Yes. I’m slimmer.”
Here it appears as if Deborah is taking pleasure in being slimmer than her sister. She is always on the look out for a reason to be better than her sister, and somehow it makes it easier for her to understand things when she feels good about herself.
She begins to stop conversations as soon as they start, making Hornby impatient. When she begins to question Pauline about the truth, Hornby’s patience gives way and he decides to hit her with some truths in attempt to make her understand. He tells her that Pauline regularly comes to visit and that he is her doctor. He informs her that Pauline really is her sister and does not give her time to answer back and question him about this. He tells her that her father is blind and Estelle takes care of him and has never been married. He also tells her that her mother is dead. He pauses for her to say something but she is so shocked that she cannot say anything. Hornby tells Deborah how Pauline and him are married and that he was the one who woke her up with an injection. He describes the place she was when she was in her illness as a ‘Kind of Alaska’, which would be a metaphor for her. Alaska is cold and isolated part of America, which would be the perfect words to describe Deborah. He puts everything into perspective for her and makes her realise that the world does not only revolve around her and that she is not the only person that has suffered because of her illness. She is acting childish and selfish as that is the only way she knows how to behave. He then become passive and tells her that he has never left her side.
“I have never let you go.”
“I have lived with you.”
This shows his feelings towards Deborah, and suggests he has affections for her-love maybe. If this is the case he could have married Pauline as a replacement for Deborah.
Deborah finally takes in what is said to her and suddenly she becomes anxious.
“I want to go home.”
This is every child’s reaction when they get scared. They feel safe in the comfort of their own home with their parents to look after them. She becomes cold all of a sudden and gestures for Pauline’s support as she takes her hand. At this point it seems that Deborah has accepted Pauline as her sister. She asks about her birthday and Pauline reassures her that she will have a birthday with plenty of presents along with all of her family and friends. Deborah soon becomes distressed when Pauline says about saying goodnight to her and her waking up in the morning.
“I don’t want to lose them.”
“They’ll never be lost. Ever.”
As Hornby keeps referring to her illness as a ‘sleep’, that’s is how she sees it. Deborah becomes frightened at the thought of falling asleep as she thinks she will not wake up. Suddenly she shows her distress by flicking her cheek, as if brushing something from it. This seems harmless at first, but becomes more serious as it grows more frequent. It seems un-natural, and looks as if she is trying to communicate to the outside world what it is like inside her head. She repeats words like ‘ Oh dear…The walls are closing in…Oh no…” She refers to the situation as someone shutting the walls in on her and she cannot get out. Everything seems to go black and she describes the feeling as being in a vice, not being able to breath and only being able to see the shadow of the tip of her nose. At this point I think the information has finally sunk in and she is trying to come to terms with it. She is struggling to come out of herself and is afraid of falling back into her illness. When she stops flicking herself and becomes still she describes what it is like in her illness.
“You can’t imagine how still it is. So silent I can hear my eyes move…People bend over me, speak to me. I want to say hullo, to have a chat.”
She comes back into reality and accepts that she is old, and is curious of her appearance. She admits she has no intention of looking into a mirror. This could be because she is frightened of actually seeing the truth rather than just hearing it. The easiest way for Deborah to accept the present is to understand it in the easiest way possible. For her, the lies that were told to her seem easier to understand, so that is how she chooses to accept it. She reveals the information to Hornby and Pauline in the way that she wishes to accept it. For her it is the easy way out, she feels that if she sees the information the way she wants to she doesn’t have to accept it in the way that is too difficult for her to understand.
When she looks at Hornby and speaks to him, she starts every sentence with “You say”, suggesting that they are his opinions and they do not matter. She looks at Pauline then turns back to Hornby, and repeats the lies that Pauline told her. She says these as if these are fact, and it is obvious that this is what she chooses to believe.
She summarises what has been said to her in a few lines, making everything sound simple, when in fact it merely scrapes the surface of all the things she has to come to terms with and leaves her with the struggle of what is to come.