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Thomas Yu
Prof. Schoolfield
English 1315.001
20 September 2013
Jennets Speech: Characterization of Jennet and her Father
In the play The Lady's Not for Burning by Christopher Fry, the purpose of Jennet's speech
about her father is to illustrate her belief that, despite her father's scientific talent, his life was
ruined by his devotion to science and his overambitious desires; thus, Jennet explains her desire
to avoid her father's mistakes. This desire gives her a competing view of reality with that of her
father, providing characterization of Jennet. Fry achieves this characterization throughout this
passage with certain linguistic devices.
In the first section of Jennet's speech, she explains how her father was led astray in his
scientific endeavors. In the first line, Jennet states that her father drowned "in the pursuit of
alchemy," indicating that her father was an alchemist, a scientist who sought to transform base
metals into gold. Jennet's father, as an alchemist, would naturally be an optimist who believed in
change for the better, as shown in Jennet's statement that her father refused to "accept [Thomas's]
dictum 'It is what it is.'" This statement is referring to Thomas's claim that the wretchedness
within people can never be changed, an idea with which Jennet's father would disagree. However,
Jennet believes that her father was disillusioned, as indicated when she refers to him as "poor
father." She states, "In the end he walked in Science like the densest night." In this simile, Jennet
is saying that Science, something usually considering to be enlightening, was actually
comparable to a dense night because it caused her father to lose sight of the true nature of reality.
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In Jennet's eyes, he died disenchanted because he was never able to achieve his goals, which
Jennet believes is a result of her father being led astray by Science.
In the second section, Jennet describes her father's natural aptitude for science. She
begins, "And yet he was greatly gifted." The word "yet" indicates a turn; she switches from
speaking about the negative aspects of her father to speaking about the positive. She continues by
listing several metaphors that compare the normal development of a child with mathematical
terms, using exaggeration to emphasize her father's giftedness. She states that "when he was born
he gave an algebraic cry," that he "measured that cubic content of that ivory cone his mother's
breast" and that he "multiplied his appetite by five." These metaphors indicate that Jennet's father
was had a natural flair for math and science since birth, and he was surrounded by mathematical
ideas as a child. Jennet then explains that her father "matured by a progression, gained
experience by correlation, expanded into marriage by contraction, and by certain physical
dynamics formulated me." Once again, she uses scientific terms to describe her father's
development, this time recounting her father's growth into adulthood. This sentence has a sense
of parallelism, as each item in the list has the same general structure. However, the last item
breaks the pattern, indicating its significance: it refers to the birth of Jennet herself and how she
was born into an environment heavily influenced by math and science.
After that, Jennet continues describing her father's life, but her tone takes a grimmer and
more ominous turn. She states that her father "went still deeper into the calculating twilight
under the twinkling of five-pointed figures." She describes the night and stars with mathematical
terms, using imagery of darkness to imply that her father sunk deeper into the gloom of science.
She explains that her father continued his search for scientific knowledge until "Truth became
for him the sum of sums and Death the long division." These two metaphors describe the state in
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which Jennet's father found himself before his death. Truth is referred to as a "sum of sums"
because of its infinite nature; no matter how long a scientist looks, there will never be an end to
the amount of new knowledge that can be found. Death and "long division" both have a sense of
finality; in the same way that long division completes its purpose after being used once, Death
puts an end to a person's life completely. In this section, Jennet is saying that her father was
completely absorbed in science and math throughout his whole life, so much so that he
eventually got lost in it and died in the midst of his fruitless struggle.
In the last section of her speech, Jennet describes the consequences of her father's
obsession with science. She refers to him as "my poor father" and exclaims "What years and
powers he wasted." These phrases indicate that she believes her father wasted his life and his
abilities on a futile effort to explore the depths of scientific knowledge. She states that her father
"thought he could change the matter of the world from the poles to the simultaneous equator by
strange experiment and by describing numerical parabolas." Jennet is referring to her father's
belief that he could use his scientific and mathematical knowledge to improve the world, which
wouldn't be an unusual belief for an alchemist to hold. However, Jennet portrays this belief in a
negative light, implying that this idea was an unattainable and unrealistic goal. Jennet witnessed
her father's downward spiral as he became lost in the depths of science; thus, Jennet wishes to
avoid the same mistakes and does not believe in the possibility of improving the world.
Jennet's speech about her father in The Lady's Not for Burning by Christopher Fry
explains Jennet's characterization as a sober and pragmatic person with many linguistic devices.
Her speech shows that Jennet views her father as a talented scientist who wasted his life chasing
his impossible goal of using science to change the world for the better; therefore, Jennet wishes
to avoid the same mistakes and has a less optimistic worldview.