Summer of the 17th Doll

The characters in The Summer of the Seventeenth Doll by Ray Lawler, all hold different views on the importance and desirability of marriage and change in the 1950s, and these views influence their actions and decisions. Olive and Roo had a de facto relationship; While de facto relationships were not unheard of in the 1950s, they were far less common and accepted than they are now. Where as Nancy, however not a main talking character in the play her views are still shared,   joined the statues quo; Where women were expected to marry and fulfill the role of housekeeper and mother. This idea of settling down and getting married was also shared with the character of Pearl.  

In Olive, the reader sees a woman desperately trying to hang on to the past. Remaining stagnant, Olive is like a small child who clings to her kewpie dolls for security and comfort. All her energy and time is spent on trying to make the lay-off season work after Nancy had left. The lay-off arrangements have all the advantages of marriage - sex, companionship, mutual care and affection - and none of the disadvantages - possible boredom, and the dulling effect of day-to-day routine. Olive obviously considers that her ‘five months of heaven’ (page 13) is much better than a traditional marriage. She prefers the excitement of anticipating Roo’s return each year, unlike the wives whose husbands are ‘the sort we see go rolling home to their wives every night.’ (page 14). Olive is constantly in denial that things are failing and even at the end refuses to conform to a traditional marriage and instead walks away from Roo as she is unable to achieve her idealised and romanticised dream. She represents the part of society that was unwilling to grow up and change, as the nation itself starts to age.

Pearl’s views on marriage and relationships with men contrast strongly with Olive’s. Pearl’s attitude, which may have been more closely aligned with audiences in the 1950s, now seems narrow, judgmental and...