How does Alan Bennett make the audience feel empathy for Doris in A cream Cracker under the Settee?

A cream cracker under the settee is a dramatic monologue written by Alan Bennett in 1987 for television, as part of his Talking Heads series for the BBC.
Doris is in her seventies. This hints at her being old and vulnerable in need of care and assistance. Moreover, she outlines that she does not “attempt to dust”, this is maybe because she is physically unable or consumed by her thoughts.
Zulema says that her “dustings days are over”. This makes you feel sorry for Doris and deeply empathise with her. She may have a fear of dirt – rupophobia or she may just be an exceptionally sanitary person.
Furthermore, Zulema exploits Doris’ old age and feelings by saying she “doesn’t have the sense she was born with”, this maybe true but it is inconsiderate towards Doris’ feelings. Then again, Zulema does have the right to speak her mind, as she has to put up with Doris’s nagging all week.
Doris is never satisfied with Zulema’s housekeeping saying, “Zulema doesn’t dust, she half-dusts” This emphasises Doris obsession with cleanliness, maybe suggesting that she has OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). Alternatively, maybe occupying her mind with such things helps her forget the melancholy she feels deep within.
However, as we progress through the monologue we learn that Zulema in fact intimidates Doris. Ultimately, making Zulema the more dominating character. She does not hesitate in telling Doris “I am the only person that stands between you and Stafford House.” In spite of this, Doris is adamant that she will not lose her independence and is sure that she will remain in her own home.
Another good example of this is when “she shoves the duster down the side of the chair”. We can only assume that Doris does this to avoid a lecture or confrontation with Zulema, preventing further distress. Again, we feel empathy for Doris as important issues such as treatment of the aged, growing old and life choices are brought to our attention. Therefore, we can conclude that she sometimes feels unhappy and unsettled in her own home.
In the midst of all this, the fact remains Doris is suffering from a “numby” leg. Alan Bennett deliberately places talk about her leg between pauses so that the audience has time to focus on and consider Doris’s current situation and therefore feel a great deal of compassion for her. These strategic pauses are used constantly throughout the monologue, giving us plenty to sympathise with.
Throughout the monologue, the ending of each scene is indication by the simple stage direction “Go to black”. This maybe connotes a temporal shift or the passing of time. Moreover, before each scene fades to black, Alan Bennett gives the audience something to ponder over and keep in the back of their heads.
For the whole of the monologue, Doris speaks to us directly. This enhances her vulnerability, yet she maybe biased, as we only know her point of view and nobody else’s. This leads us to believe that Doris thinks everything revolves around her and she may come across as self-centred or self-obsessed. Then again, we feel great sympathy for Doris as she is isolated, cut off from reality, and maybe unwanted by a society, which considers her as an outsider.
The setting changes throughout the monologue, as Doris travels to various parts of her home, nevertheless she remains in the same location. This connotes a very static nature, suggesting that Doris hardly ever goes out and mostly stays in the same room. According to her, “I never get a bona fide caller”, this tells us the only visitor she probably has is Zulema. We feel great empathy for Doris because she is lonely, lacking a faithful companion. Furthermore, the moving from the comfy position of her settee possibly indicates the movement from a secure and comfy position in life to her current situation. Still, this isolated place is her comfort zone, perhaps signifying that she is more likely to tell the truth as she is under no pressure and can speak of her own free will. Subsequently, she does in fact unravel the truth about various stages in her life.
Another clever device Alan Bennett uses to make the audience feel empathy for Doris is humour and Doris certainly has a sense of humour, we realise this when she says, “Love God and close all gates.” The audience finds it easier to empathise with her because they can laugh with her and not at her. Her dry, sarcastic humour is a hit with audience off all ages.
As Doris discusses her husband Wilfred, she talks about him “getting mad ideas”, stating how absurd they were and how he “never got round to it”. Yet, according to her, “A kiddy’d’ve solved all that”. This makes us wonder why Doris does not have a child and whether she has any family at all. We suddenly feel a great deal of compassion for her because her only family, Wilfred, has passed away. Later on, we discover that she did have a baby, which also passed away. “If it had lived I might have had grandchildren now,” she explains. Our degree of sympathy for Doris expands to greater lengths. Death is certainly one of Alan Bennett says of gaining empathy for his characters.
Further on in the monologue we discover that Doris and Wilfred were not very outgoing people. Doris plainly explains, “We weren’t the gregarious type.” This implies that even when Wilfred was alive, Doris was a secluded, reserved individual. Then she refers to Wilfred, “he thought he was, but he wasn’t”. This gives us the impression that Wilfred could have been a sociable person except Doris stood in his way as she essentially controlled their relationship. We feel empathy for both characters here since they never really experienced anything amazing in their lives; except for grief and now for Doris, loneliness.
This could all change though if Doris decided upon leaving home and moving to Stafford House but apparently “You go daft there, there’s nowhere else for you to go but daft” according to Doris. Perhaps Doris is against the idea of leaving home because all her memories of Wilfred will remain there or she might just feel afraid and unprepared to face the real world on her own at a late stage in her life.
Towards the end of the monologue, Doris hears the voice of a police officer, enquiring as to why her home lights are off. Instead of asking for his help, she lets him leave. It is assumed by the audience that Doris later dies, because she feels the time is right. Also as the conclusions to Bennett’s plays are usually miserable. Her last words are “Never mind. It’s done with now, anyway.” Then the “LIGHT FADES”, a sense of desperation and sadness fill the readers heart and mind, no greater empathy can possibly be felt for Doris at this stage. This dramatic and powerful text leaves the audience wondering, hoping. This is without doubt Alan Bennett’s cleverest writing technique!

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