The Cocktail Party

The Cocktail Party Summary and Analysis of Part 2


Edward insists that Peter was granted a "timely escape" in Celia's dwindling interest. Peter asks what he should do, and Edward tells him to wait and go back to California. Peter is distraught and desperately wants to know if he shared anything real with Celia, when the phone rings and Edward answers.

After Edward hangs up, Peter asks, "...what is the reality/Of experience between two unreal people?" Peter asks Edward to meet with Celia, since he's older, and get some information. Edward agrees, as Alex enters to tell Peter that his dinner is ready. When Peter and Alex leave, Edward picks up the telephone and dials a number, but no one answers.

Scene 2. The same room. Edward is sitting alone, when Celia calls on him. She suggests that she and the others know that Lavinia has left him, that he made it quite obvious, but that now their affair will be easier. She wonders if perhaps he will get a divorce, since he now has grounds for one, but Edward tells her that Lavinia is coming back. The telephone rings and it is Alex asking about dinner. When he hangs up, Edward tells Celia that Alex made him dinner and insisted he eat it within 10 minutes, but that he did not eat it yet.

Celia goes to the kitchen to check the dinner. Edward inspects his card game, a game of "Patience," and the doorbell rings. Celia comes in and tells Edward to open it, as she actually has the excuse of having left her umbrella. She goes into the kitchen as Edward lets Julia in. Julia tells him that she's had an inspiration, as Celia comes back from the kitchen to tell him that the saucepan and the dinner have been ruined. Julia tells Celia that she came over to cook for Edward also.

Edward says, "The man who fell among thieves was luckier than I:/He was left at an inn." Julia puts on an apron and goes into the kitchen, as Celia and Edward are left to talk. Edward tells Celia that the Unidentified Guest is going to bring Lavinia back, and Celia notes that the Guest had "some sort of power." Celia is upset to learn that Edward asked the Guest to bring Lavinia back, as Julia enters with champagne for everyone. She tries to get them both to go out to dinner with her, but only Celia agrees.

When Julia leaves, Celia and Edward talk about the fact that he wanted Lavinia to come back, and Edward tells her that he calls the Unidentified Guest "Riley" because he sang a song about a "Riley." He then calls off his affair with Celia, which Celia is upset about. She tells him that she was happy to live in the affair, in the dream of their relationship, but that when she found out Lavinia was gone, she realized she wanted something more, which she finds humiliating. Edward insists that their affair was more than a "passing diversion" and alludes to the fact that Celia rejected Peter.

Celia denies having ever given Peter any reason to have believed she loved him. Edward tells Celia that he never loved anyone but her, but that they cannot be together, as she is younger. He speaks for a moment about the sadness of realizing he is getting old. She compares him to a beetle, and realizes that the man she saw before was only a projection of something she aspired to. The telephone rings again; it is Julia saying she left her glasses again. He goes to look for them in the kitchen and finds them next to the champagne bottle. He asks Celia to drink with him one last time, and she says they ought to toast to "the Guardians," something she says that Edward talked about.

Scene 3. Late afternoon the next day. The Unidentified Guest comes in and tells Edward that he will change his mind about his decision to have Lavinia back, but it will be too late. "I have half a mind to change my mind now/To show you that I am free to change it," Edward replies, but the Guest insists that Edward was free the previous day, but he refused it. The Guest tells Edward that it is a serious matter to bring someone "back from the dead," which Edward thinks is an exaggerated way to put what is happening. The Guest says that people "die" to each other every time they leave one another, becoming just a memory.

The Guest tells Edward that it is certainly awkward for someone to meet someone whom one has not seen for a long time. "When you see your wife, you must ask no questions/And give no explanations. I have said the same to her./Don't strangle each other with knotted memories." He then tells Edward not to mention him to Lavinia and that he must now receive his visitors. Before the Guest leaves, Edward asks him who he is, and he tells him that he is "a stranger."

The bell rings, immediately after the Guest leaves, and it is Celia, asking if Lavinia has arrived yet. She tells him that Lavinia asked her to come over, via a telegram from Lavinia to Julia. They sit, and Celia laughs at Edward for looking so nervous and for what a "ludicrous situation" they find themselves in. She tells him that she's learned a lot in the last 24 hours, and is finding him very funny. Edward tells her he is completely in the dark, but they are interrupted by the arrival of Peter, who tells him that Lavinia telegrammed Alex and invited him over.

Peter tells them that he's going to California to embark on a new job. Celia tells him she will miss him, and that she is going away too. Suddenly, Lavinia enters, surprised to see Peter and Celia, and unaware of any telegram. She sits down and wants to talk, imagining that Peter and Celia are headed to America together, and that Celia will be going to Hollywood. "We're not going together," Peter clarifies, and Lavinia asks Celia why she isn't going to California, since it has such a nice climate.


After receiving mysterious advice and prophetic wisdom from the Unidentified Guest, Edward passes it along to Peter soon enough. As Peter laments the sudden coldness between him and Celia, Edward insists that it was inevitable and that Peter was lucky to escape the affair early. Peter is miffed, as Edward was, by this advice, insisting that Edward does not seem to understand, but Edward maintains a presumptuous and confident reading of the situation. "My dear Peter," he says, "I have only been telling you,/What would have happened to you with Celia/In another six months' time. There it is./You can take it or leave it."

In this section some of the mysteries of the plot are revealed. We learn, at the beginning of Scene 2, that Edward is indeed having an affair—with Celia, about whom Peter just confided to Edward. While the play has seemed more dreamy, surreal, and philosophical up until now—one wonders if Lavinia or any of the guests are even real—the plot shifts into sharper focus here, a drama of forbidden romance and betrayal. Celia and Edward, seemingly acquaintances to one another in the first scene, suddenly become star-crossed lovers, and Lavinia's disappearance becomes less of a fluke than a response to a failing marriage.

Still, the play is one that does not follow strict rules of realism. Characters drift in and out of the house throughout the night, long after the cocktail party has ended. These intrusions are rather invasive, as we know that Edward only wants to be left alone. Julia comes back several times throughout the night, Alex insists on making Edward dinner, Peter comes by to talk to Edward. The play is a revolving door of intrusions and dropping by, a sharp contrast to the mysterious departure of Lavinia just earlier that day. The play follows a peculiar rhythm that seems somewhat divorced from the reality of life; it is a theatrical world in which absence and presence, privacy and publicness, bleed into one another at unexpected times.

When the Unexpected Guest calls on Edward the following day, it becomes quite clear that he is some kind of supernatural being, rather than simply a stranger. He has an unusual ability to foretell Edward's future actions, and looks at life with the strange, detached clarity of someone who is "not of this world." Furthermore, he suggests to Edward that, not only is Lavinia returning to him from being away, she is returning to life from the dead. He tells Edward, "...we die to each other daily./What we know of other people/Is only our memory of the moments/During which we knew them." In this moment, T.S. Eliot seems to suggest that the surreality or fantastical elements of the plots are of a philosophical nature. The play theatricalizes philosophical conundrums and ideas, which pushes it outside the realm of the "real" or literal.

The arrival of Lavinia is anticlimactic and almost chillingly casual. As she sits down in her old home, she has no idea about the telegrams she allegedly sent to Alex and Julia, and begins to ask Peter and Celia about their plans for the future in a curious, but rather blasé way. All of the dramatic substance of the previous scenes—the drama of Lavinia's absence, the affairs—is diffused by Lavinia's subtle return. It is disorienting precisely because it is so ordinary; did she actually leave? Was she ever gone? Was she dead? One wonders if anything that has happened even matters; such is the absurdist and surreal quality of Eliot's script.