George Bernard Shaw’s Heartbreak House fashions itself in the Russain tradition according to its author, but the humor aptly employs classic British understatement for its humor, and the play’s subtle sarcasm reminds me of an Oscar Wilde work.

Hesione Hushabye invites Ellie Dunn, her fiancé, and her father over for dinner to the house that Hesione’s father, Captain Shotover, built, resembling a ship. Before the dinner begins, Hesione’s sister, who had been away for years, arrives, supposedly unrecognized by her father, who might be crazy but highly intuitive. Throughout the play, the house affects all the characters in peculiar ways, revealing that all the characters are the opposite of the image they project.

The play takes place on the eve of WWI, and according to Shaw, reflects the debased society of British society that lead to war. The characters are all superficial in their way, liars, scoundrels, easily manipulated.

I believe the play informs the Lacanian symbolic space and the other. The characters mask, who they present to the world, breaks down, and the breakdown represents the breakdown of society as a whole, which leads to WWI. Zizek explains here.

We need to keep the illusion of the symbolic space, even if we all know the truth behind the illusion, in order to maintain a civil society. The play breaks down this space; the characters deny the pleasantries of knowing someone is a bad person but not pretending s/he actually is.

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