The Caretaker By Pinter A Play Can

The Caretaker By Pinter: A Play Can Be Confrontational, Challenging And
Disturbing To The Values And Assumptions Of An Audience. Discuss With Close
Reference Essay, Research Paper

The Caretaker by Pinter: A Play Can Be Confrontational, Challenging and

Disturbing to the Values and Assumptions of An Audience. Discuss With close


The Caretaker, written by the British playwright Harold Pinter in the late

1950’s and early 1960’s disrupts the audiences perceptions of existence and

their understandings of it. The play deconstructs perceived notions and

conceptions of reality, and disturbs the audiences perception of their own

identity and place within a world which is primarily concerned with the search

and need for identity. Pinter was clearly influenced by the fashionable

philosophic review of human condition that was prominent in the 1950’s and

1960’s ? existentialism. The play attacks the notion that there are no absolute

truths or realities. Pinter is therefore concerned with what exists as unknown

and intangible to humanity. His theatre interrogates the truth of nature and

realities of language and demonstrates that much of what the audience regards as

fact is fiction as he explores the uncertainty of human existence.

When an audience of the 1960’s went to the theatre, it can generally be assumed

that they had preconceived ideas about what they expected and what they are

going to gain from the theatrical experience. The traditional attitudes towards

theatre and the conventions of realist drama are disrupted by Pinter. This

confronts the assumptions and values of the audience, an experience which would

be disconcerting and frightening to many.

Pinter divorces and exposes society’s codes, institutions and human relations.

Throughout the play the audience is rarely comfortable. This disruption is

established from the outset of the play when Mick, a character who at this stage

of the play the audience knows nothing about, sits on the bed and stares at the

audience in silence for ?30 seconds’. Traditionally in realist drama such as

Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler characters use simple exposition through language

and non-verbal elements to ?let the audience in’ and enlighten them on what is

happening on the stage and the results and reasons for and behind actions.

Pinter disrupts this tradition and this in itself would have been a disturbing

phenomena to the conservative audiences of post-war Britain. Mick’s arrival on

stage generates unease within the audience and the tension would only increase

as Pinter provides the audience with no explanation for him being there. Mick

leaves the stage in a state of maintained silence, hence the first images

presented in the play confront many of the assumptions of a traditional

theatrical experience.

Mick is alone in the room, sitting on the bed. He wears a leather jacket? He

slowly looks about the room, looking at each object in turn. He looks up at the

ceiling, and stares at the bucket? Silence for thirty seconds. Mick turns his

head. He stands, moves silently to the door, goes out, and closes the door


It is not until the Act two that this character becomes known to the audience as

Mick. This deferral of information is quite confrontational as it opposes

accepted and naturalised preconceptions of power and right. Mick’s position on

the bed and his costuming – wearing a leather jacket places him in the

traditionally accepted position of power. However this idea is problematised

when Mick leaves the room and Aston enters with the key, thus demonstrating the

illusory and ambiguous nature of power. Mick not re-entering until later in the

play confronts traditional notion that as he was introduced first, he is in a

position of power. The opening scene defamiliarises the Audience with

traditional notions of power and establishes a precedent for the remainder of

the play.

Pinter does not adhere to the accepted use of dramatic conventions. There is no

traditional relation of character histories within the opening scenes and lack

of revelation is maintained throughout the play as relatively little is exposed

about the characters backgrounds. This makes events within the room conditional

phenomena, which are dependent on the individuals involved and what the audience

is able to interpret.

Pinter denies meaning in traditional places of discovery and appears to provide

it by means and in situations that are not socially acceptable or considered as

being the norm. An example of this is the obvious exposition in Aston’s long

monologue about his time within a mental institution. The discussion of such

topics with practically a complete stranger and in social conversation

definitely oversteps the mark of social acceptability. The discussion of such

topics is very ?in your face’ and would be very disturbing and confrontational

to the original audience and modern audiences.

Pinter is able to create realisation of the inadequacies of the rules that

govern polite behaviour. This monologue disrupts the traditional notions of ?

good’ and ?evil’, and in effect reverses these roles. Within this speech, Aston

presents a doctor in negative images, and this figure who is traditionally seen

as the wielder of power, status and security is presented as an repressive agent

of an oppressive institution who uses physical and brutal means to deal with ?

patients’. The affirmed ideas of hospitals being a place of safety and refuge,

and doctors as ?good’ is also deconstructed by Pinter. Aston’s monologue serves

to shock the audience as he talks about something that the conservative society

was not open with, oversteps the mark of acceptability. Hence the audience would

have been confronted with ideas that were previously ignored or ?swept under the

carpet’, ideas that to many would be quite disturbing;

ASTON: Then one day they took me to a hospital, right outside London. They? got

me there. I didn’t want to go. Anyway? I tried to get out quite a few time. But?

it wasn’t very easy. They asked me questions, in there. Got me in and asked me

all sorts of questions. Well, I told them? when they wanted to know? what my

thoughts were. Hmmnn. Then one day? this man? doctor, I suppose? the head one?

he was quite a man of? distinction.

Aston’s monologue also disrupts the audiences concept of civil rights. In a

democratic nation it is generally expected that what people are thinking is

their right. However this passage suggests that this notion is not true as Aston

was forced to reveal his thoughts. This is a very disturbing idea, as it

demonstrates that powerful institutions are able to force individuals into

submission and minimise their individuality. Especially after World War Two the

presentation of such ideas would be particularly disturbing as after this war

the rights of a individual were strongly valued to a greater extent to ever


The Caretaker discusses the illusory nature of security and challenges the

audiences traditional notions of safety and the home as a place of refuge.

Davies refusal to be caretaker because he could be ?buggered as easy as that’ if

he opened the door is clearly juxtaposed with the scene were Davies is pursued

by an electrolux controlled by Mick. The original Audiences of the late 1950’s

and 1960’s would have been only too well aware of the terror and fear that was

generated by the knock at the door, because of the possibility of bearing bad

news as a result of World War Two. Hence this idea of the home as not being a

secure refuge may have been very disturbing to the audiences of this time, and

this coupled with the idea that the apparently mundane holds elements of power

and hazard would have threatened many audiences values and assumptions;

ASTON: You see, what we could do, we could? I could fit a bell at the bottom,

outside the front door, with “Caretaker” on it. And you could answer any queries.

DAVIES: Oh, I don’t know about that.

ASTON: Why not?

DAVIES: Well, I mean, you don’t know who might come up them front steps, do you?

I got to be a bit careful?

A few minutes later

Suddenly the electrolux starts to hum. A figure moves with it, guiding it. The

nozzle moves along the floor after DAVIES, who skips, dives away from it and

falls, breathlessly

Before Pinter and other existential playwrights, language was used primarily to

provide the audience with a means of understanding, by which they were able to

come away with some knowledge and insight at the end of the play. Within The

Caretaker, language is not used in this way, instead its use is extended to

being a weapon and a form of interrogation, not only of characters within the

play but also to interrogate the values of the largely conservative post-war

Britain. It exposes the use of our language to construct fictions about our

lives and for the purpose of self-deception. The play produces a loss of faith

in language to unproblematically represent realities in the world and a loss of

faith in humanity to know what reality is.

The constant silences and pauses within characters conversation makes clear the

sub-text of all human interaction. Pinter himself said that ?one way of looking

at speech is to say it is a constant stratagem to cover silence’ this view and

the presentation of this view within the play would be very disturbing to an

audience, as it disrupts the traditional notions that language, the basis of all

human interaction is one-layered and can be defined, classified and understood.

The speech patterns of characters within The Caretaker helps to present the

existential viewpoint of problems of identity and classification. Davies’

frequent rhetorical questions pose the key existential questions of the

uncertainty of existence. The character of Mick does not subscribe to society’s

conventional codes. His verbal gymnastics and the punctuation of verbal

interrogation with polite social conversation decontextualises ordinary

conversation. After attacking Davies, Mick says;

MICK: You sleep here last night?


MICK: Sleep Well?


MICK: I’m awfully glad. It’s awfully nice to meet you.

Pinter uses language as a shield, to mask truths and present perceived realities

and to evade or disclose revelation. Traditionally language was not used in such

ways and the deviation from the traditional and conservative by Pinter creates

the need within the audience to reassess and reposition themselves in terms of

the language that they use and the meanings it does or can possibly generate.

Action is frequently deferred within the play, and at the end of The Caretaker

there is no resolution or revelation and instead the audience is left with

limited insight and knowledge. Instead existence has been problematised, leaving

many of the audience disturbed and unsure of their own identity and the

structure of society. This deferral of action is primarily indicated by Davies

and Aston. The prime example of this is in Davies constant references to his

planned trip to Sidcup and in Aston’s references to the shed that he is planning

to build. Through the representation of these possible future activities, it

appears that it gives purpose to their current actions and to some extent a

reason for living. It allows these characters to suggest that they are in fact

worthwhile human beings with a purpose and a ?life’. Pinter suggests through

this deferral of actions that people’s lives hold no worthwhile meaning and

ultimately there is nothing gained at the point of death.

The Caretaker is a subversive play that demythologises many of an audiences

assumptions and values. Pinter makes the audience experience paranoia and

feelings of menace and by disrupting conventions of social behaviour and

ignoring traditional dramatic ?realist’ protocol, Pinter confronts and

challenges the values and assumptions of an audience. He successfully

deconstructs notions of power and security, and problematises the conservative

belief that there are in fact absolute truths and realities.


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