Rebellion and conformity

Youthful rebellion

Phil is an extremely rebellious character and refuses to follow the orders of his superiors. He is enraged when Mr. Curry suggests he should have got permission to attend the Art School:

quote
You must be joking! Whose permission do I need?...The little...! Did you hear it?? His permission?? His bloody...?

Throughout the play Phil and Spanky rebel against their situation using the only power they have - the ability to use humour. They openly mock Jack Hogg, a symbol of conformity, and poke fun at Alan's middle class background. They even make jokes about Curry and his military service to his face, using their quicker wit to turn around anything he says:

Curry
There were men in my platoon fighting the Japanese with dysentery.
Spanky
How did they fire it - from chip baskets?

Both boys regularly put on voices, mocking the privileged classes through parody

The idea of youthful rebellion is also evident in the references to James Dean (his poster hangs on the wall in the slab room and Lucille is shocked when Alan has not seen his movies), and in Lucille’s desire to go to the dance with Phil.

Conformity

Mr. Curry is a disciplined and conformist character, who bows down to authority and craves regulation. He is an ex-military man and regularly brags about his time in combat. He does not approve of the Slab Boys' rebellious attitude. He compares them to his own generation, who went through national service, and doubts the Slab Boys are made of the same stuff:

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A couple of years in the forces would smarten your ideas up a bit

Conflict between rebellious characters and those who conform drives the play forward and there is no real winner. Although Phil loses his job through his inability to follow orders, we are left unclear as to whether or not his nonconformist attitude will win out in the end.

Jack Hogg serves as an example of where conformity can get you, having worked hard in the slab room to gain a desk in the design room. Spanky appears to have adopted a similar attitude. Having been told he must remain in the slab room for at least another eighteen months before being considered for promotion, he chooses to do so rather than follow Phil’s advice and tell them where to stick it.