The play opens with a cocktail party in full swing. We see a small group of upper-class Londoners gathered at Edward's apartment, sipping cocktails and swapping stories. It is an archetypal image of a British social event, and seems to reference a popular dramatic style that Eliot is seeking to reference and lightly satirize, the "British drawing-room comedy."
The Unidentified Guest
While the stage directions do not give us much information about the details of his appearance, the reader/audience member is aware of one character who does not speak much and who does not seem to fit in as easily with the group assembled. He is the Unidentified Guest, a man whose detachment from the party gives him an almost supernatural quality.
While we do not see it onstage, Alex describes Celia's death to the other characters—a crucifixion on an anthill on a fictional colonial island. It is a grisly description, meant to strike fear into the hearts of the audience members, to suggest that the indigenous population is made up of so-called "heathens."
At the top of Act 2, we see the Unidentified Guest again, but now we know his identity. He is Sir Henry Harcourt-Reilly, a therapist who has been charged with helping the various characters work through their psychological and existential problems.
The Cocktail Party Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Cocktail Party is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.