The 39 Steps: sub-text

The 39 Steps: sub-text

Understanding Sub-text in “The 39 Steps”

  • Sub-text refers to the underlying, implied messages in a character’s dialogue or actions, which are often left up to interpretation by the audience and other characters.
  • In “The 39 Steps”, the sub-text is crucial to understanding the motivations, secrets, and complexities of the characters.
  • It’s important to consider sub-text when analysing any character’s motivations or reactions to events. This will allow for a deeper and richer understanding of the play overall.

Sub-text in Character Actions and Interactions

  • Richard Hannay’s consistent use of dry humour, for instance, serves as a sub-text suggesting his attempts to remain calm and collected despite the life-threatening circumstances he’s involved in.
  • Pamela’s initial mistrust of Hannay, despite evidence proving his innocence, sub-textually implies her adherence to law and order, but also perhaps an unconscious bias against his non-aristocratic bearing.

Sub-text as ForeShadowing

  • Sub-text also provides the audience with clues ahead of the main character. For instance, the seemingly innocent actions of Annabella have a sinister undercurrent that foretells her true role as a spy.

Sub-text in Scene Context

  • The scene where Hannay is stuck in the political rally sub-textually lampoons the empty rhetoric of politicians. Hannay gives an inspirational speech without knowing the party’s policies, highlighting the superficiality of political discourse.
  • The hectic pacing and slapstick humour often disguise the sub-text of the play, creating a conflict between the light-hearted presentation and the deadly seriousness of the espionage plot.

Sub-text in Dialogue

  • Conversations in the play frequently carry sub-textual hint of paranoia and suspicion, reflecting the anxious pre-World War II era when the play is set.

Ironic Sub-text in “The 39 Steps”

  • Several scenes are crafted with ironic sub-text to underline the gap between appearance and reality, a common theme in spy thrillers. For example, the villainous Professor Jordan appears as a harmless, affable host when Hannay first encounters him.

Motifs as Sub-textual Symbols

  • Finally, the recurring motif of ‘steps’ in different contexts in the play serves as a sub-textually powerful symbol for progress, pursuit, and escape.