- Play title: Saved
- Author: Edward Bond
- Published: 1966
- Page count: 120
Saved by Edward Bond is a play about young, working-class people in 1960’s London. The chief characters are Len, his girlfriend Pam, her parents, and a man named Fred. Bond describes a section of London society that is poor, but he approaches his subject without favouritism. For example, he shows the scarcity of good careers and the abundance of dead-end jobs for London’s young, but he simultaneously highlights parenting skills in this specific community which are often sub-standard to the point of being dangerous. All characters in the play are 25 years old or younger, apart from Pam’s parents. The chief character, Len, is a pacifist and one witnesses how Pam and others mercilessly abuse his patience and kindness. The shocking event of the play involves Pam’s baby who may be Len’s child, or Fred’s, or possibly someone else’s. In the wake of the baby’s death, the value systems of various characters are exposed, and the depictions are grim. Only Len is shown to be humane, but aspects of his own behaviour nonetheless raise questions marks. Bond’s play depicts an unsavoury, sometimes repulsive side of modern life. Key themes in the work include parenthood, poverty, violence, and endurance.
Ways to access the text: reading.
There are several free online sources of Bond’s play such as the study resource website named FDocuments.in. One may also use the Open Library, Scribd (membership needed) or Perlego (free trial available).
Please note that the play script is not reader-friendly since much of the dialogue involves short, often mundane exchanges. Nonetheless, Bond’s play communicates a valuable social message and is recognized as a ground-breaking work and is therefore worth the effort.
There is no audiobook or filmed version of this play.
Why read Saved?
Saved deals with aspects of poverty including and beyond the all-important meaning of being without adequate financial means to subsist. The play’s characters work menial jobs or are unemployed, they live in council or poor-quality housing, and they have few or no luxuries in life apart from cigarettes and the occasional night out. However, the really crushing poverty depicted in the play is the poverty of ethics as evidenced by exceptionally poor parenting skills. We also witness individuals who are incapable or uncomprehending of their responsibilities even in the aftermath of atrocious, violent deeds. Bond shows us people who have no moral compasses or are psychologically warped to the point of depravity. The London scene is also one of unrelenting cultural poverty where only the blandness of scheduled television or tabloid magazines feed the characters’ need for entertainment and escapism. Nobody speaks of a spiritual life, of intellectual stimulation, of future ambitions, they speak mostly of nothing except meagre survival.
Murdering a baby.
Part of the fame and notoriety of Bond’s play is due to the fact that the work depicts the murder of a baby. We are pre-warned in Scene 3 that at least one of the play’s characters is capable of violence against children and, at the time, his friends treat this as joke material. When Pam’s baby is murdered, it is done by this same group of men who seem detached from any sense of right and wrong. The shock of the moment when the child is killed is imbued with the adrenalin of the perpetrators, but later, the cold responses from central characters indicate an eerie moral deficiency. Pam exhibits a strange response to her child’s death and Len’s response is also unpredicted. Bond confronts his audience with not only a crime but a study of the repercussions of that crime in a flawed societal milieu. The significance of the child’s death only becomes apparent in the latter stages of the play.
Len: Hero, Coward, or Bystander.
In the author’s note to Saved, Bond writes the following, “Len, the chief character, is good in spite of his upbringing and environment.” This opening comment is contentious for anyone who has seen the entire play. The playwright initially frames Len in a way that will soon challenge his audience. Is being good ‘in spite of’ something quite different to being good? If Len is a good person, then surely, we may admire him or view his characterization as a paragon of the model citizen! However, maybe the author’s comment is ironic – Len is uneducated and from a working-class background so we should expect a lower-than-average standard of conduct from him. Yet, such an interpretation is a mismatch with the playwright’s frequently shown sympathy for the working classes. What then is Bond’s point? The playwright describes his lead character in a particularly flattering manner but one’s instinctive responses to Len’s actions and inactions are frequently negative. A man who witnesses a child’s murder but does nothing is hardly a good person but rather a bystander at best, or coward at worst. One is reminded of Pam’s taunt to Len – “Yer wouldn’t ‘elp a cryin’ baby” (Bond 84). How does Len end up being the good guy aka the hero of Bond’s unsettling play?
The bystander effect.
In the play, Len stands by, literally, while a baby is tortured and eventually stoned to death. Len’s presence and lack of any action allows us to categorize him, with all the authoritative backing of a dictionary definition, as a bystander. The word itself is powerful but also just the first step to understanding Len. His behaviour may be more thoroughly interrogated with the aid of bystander effect studies which fall within the realm of psychological research. By first tackling the motivation behind Len’s inaction on the infamous night of a baby’s murder may one then more confidently proceed to assessing Len as either a coward or a hero, or yes, just a bystander.
Catherine Sanderson is the author of a book called The Bystander Effect in which she offers the following definition:
“As numerous studies have shown, we are less likely to intervene when other people are present. We assume that others will do something and we don’t have to. Ironically, this tendency, which psychologists refer to as “diffusion of responsibility,” means that the chance that a victim will receive help is inversely related to the number of people present. Psychologists call this phenomenon the ‘bystander effect.’”(Sanderson 39)
In line with this definition, one can say that Len did not act to save the baby since it was possible that Fred, Mike, Pete, Colin, or Barry could have intervened at any time to stop the attack. For instance, Fred takes no part in the attack until the very last moments and then only because Barry goaded him, saying “I noticed ‘e ain’ touched it [the baby]” (Bond 69). All the named men finally choose to participate, leaving Len as the only ‘neutral’ spectator. Len’s hypothetical defence is the “diffusion of responsibility” and the fact that Fred, the last attacker, does appear to deliver the killer blow to the baby. It is a weak defence because Bond’s lead character suddenly appears emblematic of all that is wrong with an apathetic society. The weight of responsibility on Len drastically increases once the child’s other possible father figure and saviour turns into an attacker. Len fails to make the morally courageous choice and he is left as an impotent bystander. In the dramatic presentation of the play, Len is ironically spotlighted not because of barbaric acts but because of inaction. The ‘good guy’ then becomes the fall guy since we need someone to blame, someone who could have helped. The use of bystander effect theory shows, to begin, that Len is our focal point rather than the gang of barbaric men.
In the aftermath of the child’s murder, Len experiences a sense of guilt. He makes a disclosure to Fred, saying, “I saw the lot … I didn’t know what t’do. Well I should a stopped yer” (Bond 76). The acknowledgement that stopping the attack was the right action is salient and Len wants to confess his sin of inaction even if it is directly to the killer. Sanderson points out that there are common traits to situations where people fail to act, namely, “confusion about what was happening, a lack of a sense of personal responsibility, misperception of social norms, and fear of consequences” (8). Of these four, we may dismiss numbers one (confusion) and three (social norms) without hesitation as they do not apply to Len’s situation. The remaining matching criteria are that Len surely felt a sense of personal responsibility since it was his child (disputed point) and lastly, there is a possibility that Len’s intervention would have caused consequences that he feared. Sanderson explains that “it’s easier to overcome our natural human tendency toward inaction in a group setting if we feel some connection to the person in need of help” (57). So why didn’t Len help his own child? The answer appears to be the consequences to the intervention (Sanderson’s last point), whatever Len imagined them to be, outweighed the benefits of saving his own flesh and blood. This interpretation presents Len as a monster who cautiously deliberates while a child is tortured and finally murdered. Bystander effect research reveals that Len’s lack of reaction is potentially quite complex.
Witnesses to horrific incidents do make mental calculations on whether to intervene because as Sanderson writes, “before deciding to act, we conduct a subconscious cost-benefit analysis. If the benefits outweigh the costs, we help. But if the costs outweigh the benefits, we don’t” (81). Subconscious is a key word in that quote and Sanderson explains of the bystander effect – “many of the processes that drive inaction occur not through a careful deliberative process, but at an automatic level in the brain” (9). This observation leads to a more profound finding by Sanderson, namely that “The question of why some people act badly and others don’t is not really about good and bad people. Situational factors and questions of self-identification are far more important than we might imagine” (28). Situational factors cannot be accurately applied to Saved because Sanderson only gives the examples of doing something because one is ‘following orders’ or one believes that something is done for a ‘worthy purpose.’ As a sidenote, Sanderson does not refer to the fight or flight responses linked to one’s sympathetic nervous system, nor the freeze response activated by the autonomic nervous system. In Len’s case, we cannot readily propose that a situational factor or a nervous system response played roles in his inaction since we have no evidence for either factor. ‘Self-identification’ holds the answer since Sanderson finds a link between a person’s type of response with how that person self-identifies. In summary: we have established that Len’s reaction was most likely automatic (though not of the fight, flight, or freeze variety), that his reaction does not make him a bad person, but also that a calculation did happen within his brain that led to him remaining as a bystander. This leaves Len’s character as the key to explain his behaviour on the night of the attack. His character type was the major influence over his subconscious decision not to intervene, not to save the baby.
An analysis of Len reveals a man who is, at his core, afraid of losing a sense of kinship with his social peers. Sanderson explains that “We are actively motivated both to learn and to adhere to the norms of our group, and we tend to fear the consequences of calling out bad behavior, especially when it is perpetrated by members of our own social group” (99). Len witnesses a horrible crime but chooses, albeit subconsciously, to abstain from action due to a sense of loyalty to the attackers, his social peers. Sanderson identifies just one group of individuals who break this trend, and these are “moral rebels … those who show moral courage generally feel good about themselves. They tend to have high self-esteem and to feel confident about their own judgment, values, and ability” (211). Len is negatively defined by his lack of the moral rebel’s qualities made clear by his frequent appeasement of people like Fred, even after the murder. Len also endures Pam’s insults rather than take a firm stand, for example, when she berates him about looking after a child that she claims isn’t his – “I don’t understan’ yer. Yer ain’ got no self respect … The ‘ole street’s laughin’ be’ind yer back” (Bond 39). On the other hand, it is Len’s loyalty and his sense of community that the play emphasizes as his strengths. He is the good guy who frequently reminds Pam – “I’m tryin’ t’ ‘elp” (Bond 84). Len does help and this is shown most clearly and paradoxically in his concern for Pam’s baby. When Pam suggests that Len take the baby and leave, Len is unable to act as he has no house of his own, but he does say – “Wish t’God I could take that kid out a this … No life growin’ up ‘ere” (Bond 42). Len envisions how he could save this child, but he is simply not in a position to enact it. In this light, the death of the child could be a mercy killing from Len’s perspective since the child has no apparent future. On the night of the attack, Pam drugged the baby to sleep using Anadins (UK brand of painkiller) and we also learn that the child already had pneumonia. Under such circumstances, it is possible that Len’s subconscious deliberations on whether to intervene and stop the men are tilted firmly towards inaction, not exclusively out of loyalty to his peers but as the best for all concerned!
Having assessed Len as a bystander, we gain important insights into his character. Yes, he fully meets the criteria of a bystander but in addition we learn that this does not make him a bad person, that subconscious factors influence his decision not to intervene during the attack, and ultimately, that a normally altruistic person may fail to help at the most crucial moment even with the most vulnerable of victims. Furthermore, Len evidently sees no future for the child and this points to Bond’s broader political message of the hopelessness of working-class areas. Though Len is clearly not a moral rebel, he is equally not a coward. Len understands the grimness of his own life and that of his community and he faces this with endurance. The complexity of Len’s response to the attack helps shift one’s focus to the prospects of the next generation.
A child’s future potential.
Pam’s baby is murdered in a public park and there are only minor repercussions. Does this indicate that the child’s life was without value or that the child’s future was so barren in outlook that the death is insignificant? In 2011, Maddy Costa wrote an article in the Guardian newspaper entitled, “Edward Bond’s Saved: We didn’t set out to shock.” Costa spoke with Tony Selby who played the role of Fred in the original production of Saved and who gave the following interpretation of the play – “Saved is about ignoring young life. The baby is a sacrifice. In actual fact, the baby is saved. It’s saved from a non-existent life.” This reading of the play corresponds with how Len reacts to the child’s death, for instance when Mary says, “I feel sorry for ‘er about the kid” (Bond 88) and Len responds, “One a them things. Yer can’t make too much a it” (88). There is no evidence of mourning by any of the adults and the lack of any emotional response is unusual – unless the baby’s life really did have no significance and then it makes perverse sense.
In the author’s note to the play, Bond provides a slightly different nuance on the death of the baby by writing –
“Clearly the stoning to death of a baby in a London park is a typical English understatement. Compared to the ‘strategic’ bombing of cities it is a negligible atrocity. Compared to the cultural and emotional deprivation of most children its consequences are insignificant.”
Bond emphasizes the insignificance of a single infant’s death. On the surface the comparison used by Bond seems odd until one understands that governments’ ‘strategic’ actions shape lives not just during wartime but also in peace time. Deprivation in working-class areas is a direct result of the strategies of successive governments and lives are lost to hopelessness, addiction, and violence. The common denominator to Bond’s and Selby’s perspectives is that most working-class children growing up in early 1960’s London were doomed to lead sad lives of deprivation and experience an unending lack of opportunities.
Len focuses on the emotive issue of bad parenting and how the right type of home can benefit a child. Pam’s baby cries incessantly during Scene 4 but is ignored by all present, prompting Len to say, “Wish t’ God I ‘ad some place” (42). Pam’s negative attitude to motherhood is that of a burdened, single woman who is “stuck with a kid” (39). Len intuitively suspected the worst for the child once Pam got pregnant. He cast a judgemental eye over Pam’s parents, Mary and Harry, and over his girlfriend’s potential to be a good parent given her background.
Len says, “Livin’ like that [Mary and Harry] …
They ought to be shot …
Supposed you turned out like that?”.(Bond 24)
It is soon clear that Pam perfectly reflects her own mother’s poor parenting skills, especially when we hear the older woman’s plea to Pam “Why don’t yer shut that kid up” (37). Even Fred recognises Pam’s inability to parent correctly because good mothers don’t bring their babies to the park in the dark – “Never know why yer ‘ad the little bleeder in the first place! Yer don’t know what yer doin’ ! Yer’re a bloody menace!” (73). Pam abandons her child in the middle of the park after her fight with Fred, signalling that the child has zero value even to its own mother. When Pam returns, she simply says “No one else wants yer” (72) without realizing that her child is already dead. The tragic scene highlights the level of neglect and how the ills of society fall hard upon a defenceless child without their natural protector of a loving parent. Len stands by, doing nothing, and it is as though the child’s life had already been lost and therefore no hope remained to save it. He is not in a position to rescue the child by becoming the guardian himself, so a tragic fate takes its course.
Bond as playwright, Selby as actor, and Len as character, all focus on distinct aspects of the doomed child. A deprived society offers no future and bad parenting offers no protection and bad governments don’t care. In answer to the initial questions – neither the child’s life nor future have any value in such circumstances. Debra A. Castillo gives the opinion that Saved “offers Bond’s metaphor of present urban society” (2). If so, then it is a depressing and nihilistic outlook. Even though the child’s life has no significant meaning to those around it, the act of killing the child is the most meaningful event in the play.
The child’s death as a sacrifice.
According to Tony Selby, the child is sacrificed, but for what reason? One finds a convincing answer in Sigmund Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents, where he writes that “It is always possible to unite considerable numbers of men in love towards one another, so long as there are still some remaining as objects for aggressive manifestations” (26). He goes on to give the prime example of the persecution of the Jews throughout many centuries. Freud’s key point in the section entitled “Man is to man a wolf” (25) is as follows:
“The existence of this tendency to aggression which we can detect in ourselves and rightly presume to be present in others is the factor that disturbs our relations with our neighbours and makes it necessary for culture to institute its high demands.”(Freud 25).
The sacrifice of a human being, be it a member of a maligned, religious community or an abandoned child in a park, simply becomes the release-valve for man’s natural aggression. Someone must act as the scapegoat so that the pent-up anger finds a release and the group of aggressors maintain a cohesive relationship. Man’s natural aggression is referenced in Saved, for example when Barry tells his mates of his experiences “In the jungle. Shootin’ up the yeller-niggers. An’ cut ’em up after with the ol’ pig-sticker” (Bond 29). At a later point, Pete suggests physically harming the child, saying, “Give it a punch” (Bond 67). The child is soon being compared to individuals and communities deemed appropriate targets/sacrifices, like when Colin and Barry respectively refer to the child as “Looks like a yeller-nigger … *Onk like a yid” (68). Additionally, the attack on the child is deemed acceptable since the men have already concluded that babies cannot be hurt at that age since they have “no feelin’s … like animals” (67). Therefore, the child is devalued in three separate respects by comparison with a downtrodden racial group, a demonized religious group, and even with animals. The sacrifice is thus prepared, and the attack proceeds more easily once the child embodies the imagined enemy in multiple ways. While the child is certainly made into a sacrifice, the men are not gratifying some god or other. The sacrifice is not an offering but simply the means by which an unusual, perverted level of aggression is dissipated. Len could easily substitute for the child as victim and one wonders if his abstinence from the public sacrifice is also partly self-protection which would indeed reveal him in a cowardly light.
Violence in society.
The focal point of Bond’s play comes in Scene 6 when the baby is murdered. In total, Saved has 13 scenes and therefore we are provided with an extensive epilogue to the vicious crime. It is tempting to say that Bond’s play is a stark condemnation of the working/lower classes of English society except that Len contradicts this interpretation through his exceptionalism. What is certain is that Bond is fascinated by violence. In Maddy Costa’s article about Saved in the Guardian, she gives her interpretation of the play and includes a quote from the playwright.
“[Bond] believes people were most disturbed by an accusation that lay beneath the surface of the play: that the violence of Auschwitz and Hiroshima was not locked in the past but embedded in the fabric of British society, ready to erupt from a frustrated underclass. “I wanted to show that we are destructive of human values,” he says. “The people who are killing the baby are doing it to gain their self-respect, because they want to assert human values.”
Bond’s words are somewhat paradoxical since to assert human values involves the destruction of the same values! The clue seems to rest in the ‘we’ of the first section of the quote, interpretable as the conformist force of society which is then set against the individual who obeys or rebels. Rebellion equals a statement of personal value, namely, freedom of choice. This simplification of Bond’s quote is problematic since one discovers that violence is crucially the method of asserting individuality. Also, why does Bond speak of a ‘frustrated underclass’ if this does not imply sympathy for rebellious acts, like the dramatic one he depicts in the play. Even if one interprets the killing of the baby as a metaphor, which seems likely to have been Bond’s intention, we are still left with the issue of violence in society as part of its very fabric. Additionally, Len whose behaviour is exceptional due to the absence of any violence is the lead character whose passivity is deemed praiseworthy, yet, we have just learned that resorting to violence asserts freedom.
In an interview with Giles Gordon, Bond says the following about the violence depicted in Saved.
“The whole point about the violence in the play is that it was, or, at least I tried to place it, in a context. So it wasn’t the act of violence that was important but the context it was put into, the consequences that came from this violence and the sort of society which the violence indicated. Just talking about the act of violence, I shouldn’t think, would be much use”
This quote directs us to bypass the dead baby and look at the broader societal issues. The playwright seeks to understand the context, consequences, and type of society. To begin with society, it is shown to be obscenely defined by the class system. For example, Maddy Costa provides a quote from Irving Wardle of the Times’ who said of the characters in the play – “these people spoke like urban cavemen.” Such remarks show how great the divide was between the English classes even in the 1960’s and the disdain with which the upper classes regarded the poor. In an essay by Debra A. Castillo, there is an engaging analysis of the animal imagery in Saved which links to the previous remark on cavemen. Castillo writes as follows:
“In Bond’s society, the polished veneer of society is in unremittent tension with the raging beast, a tension which is intensified by images and metaphors that call up man’s relationship to the repressed animal in both its positive and negative associations” (2).
If one returns to the previous quote from Bond with Castillo’s analysis in mind, then one sees the overall situation more clearly. The context of the violence is a drugged, unwanted child abandoned in a park by its neglectful mother. The judicial consequences of the violence for Fred are meagre since his prison sentence is short and the other men are never even held accountable for the crime. Within Pam’s family, there is no appreciable emotional consequence since we witness no mourning or sense of loss. Finally, the society indicated by the violence is an inhumane one made up of disenfranchised youths and a disgruntled older generation. It is apt that the raging beast that Castillo writes about is set free in a lush, green suburban park. The flip from civilized man to frantic beast is a classic Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde scenario. Bond directs us to look to his play as a comment on a whole society where violence is a litmus test for dysfunction.
One manner of interpreting Bond’s assertion that an attack on human values is a show of human value, is to look at the violence of the play. One can do this at the level of the individual attack but also at the macro-level of the society in which the attack occurs. In Civilization and Its Discontents, one finds an apposite explanation for the events of Saved. Freud asserts that one vital component of culture is “the ways in which social relations, the relations of one man to another, are regulated, all that has to do with him as a neighbour, a source of help, a sexual object to others, a member of a family or of a state” (17). In the context of Saved, we witness how these conventional regulations fail to apply. Bond depicts dysregulation: neighbour attacks neighbour when no one is looking, Len fails to provide help to a child in need, Mary and Harry fail to properly raise Pam, and Pam serves as a sexual object for multiple men. While only the attack on the baby constitutes a crime, the other instances of non-abidance to the understood rules of civilized behaviour are failings of culture. Freud directs his readers to the core reason culture fails to operate ideally; he writes as follows:
“The liberty of the individual is not a benefit of culture. It was greatest before any culture, though indeed it had little value at that time, because the individual was hardly in a position to defend it. Liberty has undergone restrictions through the evolution of civilization, and justice demands that these restrictions shall apply to all. The desire for freedom that makes itself felt in a human community may be a revolt against some existing injustice and so may prove favourable to a further development of civilization and remain compatible with it. But it may also have its origin in the primitive roots of the personality, still unfettered by civilizing influences, and so become a source of antagonism to culture. Thus the cry for freedom is directed either against particular forms or demands of culture or else against culture itself”.(Freud 17)
Bond depicts Fred as a man who indulges his primitive side, just like Pete when he also participates in a child’s death in the incident with the bus (Bond 28). These violent acts can be seen, without contradiction, as displaying the primitive side of man while also acting as a war cry against the injustice of how the lower classes are treated. Motivation for man’s disaffection can be seen in the fact that all the jobs described in the play, from Harry’s night-work to Fred hiring out boats, are menial, unsatisfying jobs. The lives of the characters do not have potential to flourish via education or prosperity. Poverty also plays a key role in people’s lives with Mary and Harry taking in a lodger to help pay their basic, household bills. Unsettling as it sounds, Fred and his friends may be alternately seen as villains or heroes who destabilize society, depending on how you view their motivation for violence. Thus, civilization is destabilised from two distinct and quite opposing forces, the villain and the hero. Just like Bond, Freud draws our attention away from the act of violence but then focuses on discovering the root cause and potential effects of the violence.
Freud considers “The irresistibility of perverted impulses” (9) under which we may categorize the child murder depicted in Saved. In explanation, Freud writes that the “indulgence of a wild, untamed craving is incomparably more intense than is the satisfying of a curbed desire” (9). This helps to explain the increasing depravity of the acts performed on the child before it is killed. The men begin by pulling the baby’s hair, then they pull off its underwear, they spit on it, punch it, urinate on the baby, and finally stone it to death. One may return here to the topic of the bystander effect since Sanderson explains how, “Groups may also facilitate bad behavior because they create what is called “deindividuation”—the loss of sense of oneself as an individual” (17). Fred initially resists abusing the baby, setting him apart from the others which leads to their discomfort, prompting Barry to involve Fred by suggesting “Why don’t you clout it?” (Bond 67). Sanderson also explains what occurs during the phenomenon known as “gradual escalation” (30), writing that, “Another reason we often go along when we are being urged to do something that we know to be wrong is because the situation gets more extreme little by little. Sometimes each small step will feel wrong, but relatively minor” (30). This gradual escalation is evident in the play, beginning with Pete’s suggestion to “Pull their ‘air” (Bond 65) which goes through a series of transformations until a stone is produced and Pete suggests “Less see yer chuck that” (69). Bond combines an understanding of Freud’s idea of perverted impulses and Sanderson’s explanation of deindividuation in just a few short lines from the play:
“Colin. No one around …
Pete. They don’t know it’s us …
Barry. Might as well enjoy ourselves”.(Bond 69)
Only Len stands aloof from this violence, and this is his distinction. Violence may be used to change society for the better or simply as a pointless release of anger, but it normally solidifies identities like hero or villain. One often defines Len by what he is not rather than what he is, and this is continually frustrating to an audience. Violence is apparently the key to understanding Saved yet the lead character is incapable of aggression.
Turning the other cheek.
Len’s passivity is a point of interest and it makes him unusual in the cast of characters in Saved. Bond’s note which prefaces the play explores Len’s distinctiveness:
“The gesture of turning the other cheek is often a way of refusing to look facts in the face. This is not true of Len. He lives with people at their most hopeless (that is the point of the final scene) and does not turn away from them. I cannot imagine an optimism more tenacious or honest than this.”
The Bible is the source of the phrase ‘turn the other cheek,’ specifically Jesus’s words during the Sermon on the Mount. Bond employs the phrase in a strange manner because it is robbed of its original meaning. Yes, Len looks steadfastly at the hopeless lives around him without flinching, but he also turns the other cheek on many occasions in the classic sense of not retaliating to provocation or insult. One may cite several key examples, starting with Fred’s sexual innuendo to Pam when she is on a day out with Len who laughs off Fred’s comments, saying, “Yer’ll be in the splash in a minute” (Bond 27). Later, the group of men spout sexual innuendos about Mary and Len, thinking that she is his new girlfriend, to which Len responds, “put a sock in it” (33) contrasting with Mary’s assessment of the men as a “lot of roughs” (33). However, the best example comes when Harry explains to Len how killing can be seen in a positive light – “Yer never killed yer man. Yer missed that. Gives yer a sense a perspective. I was one a the lucky ones” (118). Since Harry has just been talking about Fred, ‘yer man’ refers to Fred and Len’s missed opportunity of killing him. Why would Harry believe that Fred deserved death at the hands of Len? The most convincing answer is that the child was Len’s. However, Len simply dismisses Fred as a tragic individual, saying, “’E’s like a kid. ‘E’ll finished up like some ol’ lag, or an’ ol’ soak. Bound to. An’ soon. Yer’ll see.” (116). This is a true example of turning the other cheek since Len believes fate, maybe even God, will deal with Fred, however, it certainly will not be Len.
One might also interpret Bond’s quote as meaning that Len does not look away from the ugliness of his community whilst he nonetheless continues to turn the other cheek meaning that he shuns violence and does not seek retribution of any kind. If this gives Len a heroic disposition is debatable since it does not match the traditional image of a hero.
The topic of religion comes up in Bond’s authorial note and in the play itself. In the note, Bond writes that:
“Almost all morality taught to children is grounded in religion. This in itself bewilders them -religion has nothing to do with their parents’ personal lives, or our economic, industrial and political life, and is contrary to the science and reason they are taught at other times.”
It is this quote that signals Len ‘turning the other cheek’ as a religious question. The dichotomy between what is expected of people and what happens in real life is a concern of Bond’s since the writes that “Morals cannot be slapped on as a social lubricant. They must share a common basis with social organisation and be consistent with accepted knowledge.” In Saved, we see no evidence of moral behaviour with the lone exception of Len who is constantly trying to help. He aids people who have abused and hurt him and therefore lives a life true to bible teachings even though he professes no faith. Len is the good guy with a value system that appears Christian but is, in fact, just humanistic and empathic.
Religion is derided for much of the play and even though the characters are aware of religious teachings and churches within the community, there is no sign of religious influences having had an effect on the community. Examples of how religion is devalued come from various sections of the play’s storyline. The most obvious is Fred’s humorous tale of being visited by a zealous cleric and Fred shows his appreciation by urinating in the man’s tea. Fred’s description of how this cleric – “Wants t’ chat me up” (Bond 100) shows disrespect because of the allusion to seduction. On another occasion, Mike refers to the local church club as “Best place out for ‘n easy pick up” (61). Once again, religious ideals are mocked through a reference to sexual opportunities. On a more serious note, two children are killed in the story which goes directly against the 6th commandment of ‘thou shalt not kill.’ Fred and Pete subsequently tell blatant lies about their parts in the deaths of the children concerned exposing their total disrespect for life. Bond underlines the disconnect between community and church which shows the latter as irrelevant in modern society.
Freud’s view of religion is similarly derogatory since he writes that “The whole thing is so patently infantile, so incongruous with reality, that to one whose attitude to humanity is friendly it is painful to think that the great majority of mortals will never be able to rise above this view of life” (7). Yet, Freud finds key links between religion, civilization, and violence which help us to better understand Saved. He explains that “Civilization is built up on renunciation of instinctual gratifications, the degree to which the existence of civilization presupposes the non-gratification (suppression, repression, or something else?) of powerful instinctual urgencies” (18). The two instinctual urges that are shown prominently in Saved are the propensities for man to be violent and to desire sex. For instance, when Mary talks to Len about getting a new girlfriend, and by extension, having sex, she says “It’s in every man. It ‘as t’ come out” (Bond 89). Violence may be viewed similarly to Mary’s comments on sex because as Freud informs us, “men are not gentle, friendly creatures wishing for love, who simply defend themselves if they are attacked, but that a powerful measure of desire for aggression has to be reckoned as part of their instinctual endowment” (24). We learn how this links back to religion when Freud explains that “one of the so-called ideal standards of civilized society. It runs: “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (23) but he spots a flaw in this moral advice, and says, “Why should we do this? What good is it to us? Above all, how can we do such a thing? How could it possibly be done?” (23). Even though Freud gives an atheistic view, his insights into how religion holds man in the bonds of conformity leads one to interpret Len as just such an ‘ideal,’ a man who really does try to love his neighbour and turn the other cheek too but such actions disadvantage him!
Len as the Hero.
Freud and Bond hold opposing positions regarding moral teachings. Neither of them allots much value to religion but their divergent attitudes towards moralistic teachings are thought provoking. Bond says that Len does not turn the other cheek but instead stares into a dark abyss of hopelessness without flinching. Yet, Len does indeed turn the other cheek on many and some important occasions as already explored. If Len is a living example of turning the other cheek, then this is relevant to his position as the hero of the play. Len holds the peace with Pam, Harry, and even with Fred, because he never acts out his anger. Bond presents Len as an agent of change, of progression, and this matches the biblical instruction to leave grievances in the past and move forward (turn the other cheek). However, Len’s personality type is also indicative of the invisible yoke that Freud sees on all men’s shoulders, imposed upon them by civilization’s rules. Freud writes that:
“The existence of this tendency to aggression which we can detect in ourselves and rightly presume to be present in others is the factor that disturbs our relations with our neighbours and makes it necessary for culture to institute its high demands. Civilized society is perpetually menaced with disintegration through this primary hostility of men towards one another”.(Freud 25)
Freud goes on to write about how culture uses various tools to hold man’s natural aggression under control, and he singles out the “ideal command to love one’s neighbour as oneself, which is really justified by the fact that nothing is so completely at variance with original human nature as this” (25). In this light, Len is the glue holding together the working-class society in which he lives since he is the model citizen who does not utilize violence to settle grievances but offers instead help and support. He is assuredly a man to turn the other cheek and this attitude is supportive of civilized ideals like peace and harmony. Freud is signalling a cautionary note about such control since it goes against human nature. This leaves one with a dilemma because if Bond’s interpretation of working-class lives is that they are disadvantaged then surely the answer is not Len’s acquiescence but rather a rebellion. This ties back to the discussion on the bystander effect and how the moral rebel counterbalances the bystander. We may not classify Len as a rebel since we have no evidence to support such a characterization. Even Len’s potential for violence, which Freud posits exists within all men, is also unproven. He may be exceptionally docile, and the threshold required for him to retaliate may be unusually high, for example, only in self-defence.
The crux of Freud’s argument focuses on the emergence of human conscience, and this is pivotal to understanding Bond’s play. People like Pam and Fred show no qualms when transgressing the rules of society and they, just like Len, are products of working-class backgrounds. In contrast, Len suffers the invisible chains of conscience that bind his hands and make violence impossible. Freud discusses how such an individual is formed.
“What means does civilization make use of to hold in check the aggressiveness that opposes it, to make it harmless, perhaps to get rid of it? … The aggressiveness is introjected, internalized; in fact, it is sent back where it came from, i. e., directed against the ego. It is there taken over by a part of the ego that distinguishes itself from the rest as a super-ego, and now, in the form of conscience, exercises the same propensity to harsh aggressiveness against the ego that the ego would have liked to enjoy against others”.(Freud 30)
Is this truly what happens with Len? Every time he finds himself in a situation that could lead to aggressiveness, he simply subdues or represses this impulse. Interestingly, he may not even be aware of how this mechanism of the super-ego keeps his actions so restricted. Freud explains that “it is very likely that the sense of guilt produced by culture is not perceived as such and remains to a great extent unconscious, or comes to expression as a sort of uneasiness or discontent for which other motivations are sought. The different religions, at any rate, have never overlooked the part played by the sense of guilt in civilization” (35).
Len is a hero if one values the stability of society over the freedom of the individual. It is true that one can admire his fortitude, but his is a complex characterization. The gift of restraint guided by conscience lacks the flair and daring that one expects from a hero.
Len’s fascination with violence.
As discussed, Freud and Bond explore man’s aggressiveness to man in their works. Bond places much attention on violence and he focuses on the breakdown of civilization’s rules, and this notably happens in a working-class area of London. The problem remains that Len is difficult to classify since he is an anomaly. Castillo offers a clever and convincing interpretation that Len “appears in Saved split into his passive (Len) and active (Fred) poles” (4). Unfortunately, this reading does not treat Len as a whole, single character. A way of discerning the independent psychology of Len is to look at his attitude towards violence. Bond explores the perspective of the passive man, namely Len, when surrounded by different generations of more masculine and aggressive men like Fred and Harry who have both murdered another person. I include the word masculine since Len questions these same men on their sexual performances and thereby connects aggression with sex. Len is exposed as prurient but also a man unusually interested in the feeling attached to acts of violence. Why does Bond present a good man who is entranced by violent acts? The answer leads us back to Freud and the allure of the forbidden. When Len meets Fred after the latter has been released from prison, Len’s chief question is as follows.
“What was it like? …
Wass it feel like? …
When yer was killin’ it …
Wass it feel like when yer killed it?”.(Bond 103)
In this scene, Fred’s discomfort is palpable and despite his bravado for his friends, he is clearly unsettled when recalling the gruesome killing. Fred even attempts to share the blame, saying, “I were’n the only one” (104). Len’s interest and his continual references to the child as ‘it’ impel us to reconsider his character. He acted as a bystander during the attack but rather than imagine himself later as the moral rebel who intervened, he fanaticizes instead on how the killer felt in the moment. Is this Bond’s way of communicating that violence equals masculinity, at least for those who do not participate themselves? Take for example what Harry says of his training in the army – “Makes a man a yer” (77). Later, Len questions Harry about his wartime experiences, “What was it like? … kill anyone?” (117-118). Harry explains that killing “Gives yer a sense a perspective. I was one a the lucky ones” (118). This idea of perspective reminds one of the Author’s Note on the significance of a single killing versus the atrocity of a whole war. Bond’s point is that an individual instance of violence may be shocking but ultimately not worthy of the attention it attracts. The greater evil is the rot in society for which there is no easy solution. For Bond, the next generation need to understand that “teaching understanding not faith” is the solution. And with all that, Len is still enraptured to his day-dream of violence created second-hand from other men’s experiences. This ironically does not reveal Len as weaker but actually strong as it shows that he, like all men, is just as capable of violence but holds this urge in check.
According to Freud, one of the key principles that holds civilization from falling apart is the moral imperative to love thy neighbour. In the following, extensive quote, he explains the situation.
“The command to love our neighbours as ourselves is the strongest defence there is against human aggressiveness and it is a superlative example of the unpsychological attitude of the cultural super-ego. The command is impossible to fulfil; such an enormous inflation of love can only lower its value and not remedy the evil. Civilization pays no heed to all this; it merely prates that the harder it is to obey the more laudable the obedience. The fact remains that anyone who follows such preaching in the present state of civilization only puts himself at a disadvantage beside all those who set it at naught”.(Freud 39)
Surely Freud’s assessment allows us to classify Len not as a hero, villain, or bystander but finally as a loser. What is a man’s power if he is mercilessly bound to impossible standards set by society? ‘Love thy neighbour’ and ‘turn the other cheek’ are sayings most easily attributable to the Bible but modern man is neutered by their observation rather than empowered. What is it about Len that will allow us to view him as much more than just a bystander to life and subsequently find what Bond recognises in the character? The answer comes from the most important of all groups – the next generation. This is the generation that Pam’s baby represents and therefore a generation that faces destruction. Sanderson’s explanation of “moral courage in action” (229) allows one to reassess Len because as she writes, “people learn how to behave by watching others in their environment, including their parents, teachers, and other role models. Watching people we look up to show moral courage can inspire us to do the same” (229). Len’s courage is not visible during the park incident but surfaces instead in his daily persistence to make things better, – “I’m tryin’ t’ ‘elp! ‘Oo else’ll ‘elp?” (86). Sanderson explains how “moral rebels … have relatively little concern about fitting in with the crowd and are not afraid to speak up in support of their beliefs and values” (217). However, moral rebels will always be in the minority whereas Len represents the ordinary man. Len leads by example, mainly the example of persistence. Is this the ultimate working-class hero? The playwright explains that he “cannot imagine an optimism more tenacious or honest than [Len’s].” In conclusion, it is optimism and the eternally open hand of friendship, rather than the closed fist of violence, which Len extends that makes him symbolic of a better future. He is a soft-spoken hero whose ordinariness is the key to his power to change society.
Bond, Edward. Saved. Methuen Publishing Ltd, 2000.
Castillo, Debra A. “Dehumanized or Inhuman: Doubles in Edward Bond.” South Central Review, Vol. 3, No. 2 (Summer, 1986), pp. 78-89.
Costa, Maddy. “Edward Bond’s Saved: We didn’t set out to shock.” The Guardian, 9 Oct 2011.
Freud, Sigmund, and James Strachey. Civilization and Its Discontents. 1962.
Gordon, Giles. “Edward Bond: An Interview by Giles Gordon.” The Transatlantic Review, No. 22 (Autumn 1966), pp. 7-15.
Sanderson, Catherine. The Bystander Effect. William Collins, 2020.