“Truth in drama is forever elusive. You never quite find it but the search for it is compulsive. The search is clearly what drives the endeavour. The search is your task. More often than not you stumble upon the truth in the dark, colliding with it or just glimpsing an image or shape which seems to correspond to the truth, often without realizing that you have done so. But the real truth is that there never is any such thing as one truth to be found in dramatic art. There are many.
These truths challenge each other, recoil from each other, reflect each other, ignore each other, tease each other, are blind to each other. Sometimes you feel you have the truth of a moment in your hand, then it slips through your fingers and is lost. ” — Harold Pinter: Art, Truth & Politics The Nobel Lecture Drama comes to different people in different ways, but in Harold Pinter’s case, its homecoming was something astonishingly unique & queer. Pinter was composing poetry & had never written a play when he went through an experience. No, no midsummer night’s dream, but one of a very concrete commonplace character.
As Pinter himself recounted once in an interview that he had entered into three different rooms at three different points of time with the insiders, not really expecting his entry & had found three different reactions from the inmatesâ€”the first time, one of the two sitting persons had stood up, on the second occasion, both had stood up & in the third case, both had remained seated. Pinter said that it was this impression, which he could not express in terms of poetry & thereby composed his first three plays- The Room 1957, The Birthday Party 1957 & The Caretaker 1957, one after the other.
The striking thing about this experience is its exploration of three composite probabilities, creating a single truth. That is precisely Pinter’s journey-his perception of a singularity that is so infinitely pluralistic from within & yet impresses as a single thread. Pyrrho, a 6th century Greek philosopher had said “We are born to quest after truth; to possess it belongs to a greater power”. Harold Pinter is a seeker, an adventurous traveller, engaged in the quest for that ever-elusive "greater power". And even if he fails, he certainly does "fail better", to use the Beckettian phrase.
From the very outset, thus, his is a journey towards a truth or truths of some sort through the disparately peculiar human conducts, but importantly in a very definite and particular context — definite figures in a particular room, which go on to become in Pinter’s plays, a suffocating & claustrophobic embryo of human existence. But the interesting point is that Pinter always denies this take-off where the particular meets the universal, an aspect of art which others take as a major acknowledgement of their artistry.
Pinter’s insistence on not interpreting his characters as epitomizing universal perspectives & positions & on not decoding the situations of his plays as opening links to a timeless understanding of the problematic of life, thereby makes this search for truth, rather paradoxical. Pinter’s search is thereby a search for a specific truth in a specific human condition and whether it opens up the ‘magic casements’ to the universal, metaphysical & eternal truth, he does not know.
It is this disjunction that leads to a relentless whirlpool of conflicting truths in his plays. Pinter’s interface with the dialectical dynamics of ‘menace’ at the gateway to ‘dramatic truth’ carries a wonderful mingling of ‘tradition & individual talent’. On the one hand, he is very much to be seen as a product of his times with the horrid nightmares of the two world wars, transmuting the world into a ‘heap of broken images’ & Nietzsche declaring the god to be dead. At the same time, Pinter does not explore directly that particular world-view in abstraction.
Unlike Samuel Beckett & perhaps a little like Edward Albee, Pinter prefers a non- discursive idiom & vein with figures that are strictly particular, concrete & contextualized. Samuel Beckett, in almost all his plays, initiated the plot on a specific & contextual plane of realism & modulated them draft after draft till the last produced a form of non-mimetic abstraction. Beckett wanted to create an enormously self-reflexive pattern which could hold the ‘chaos’ of external reality. Pinter’s plays are like the very first drafts of his mentor’s play-scripts.
Pinter is not a John Osborne, not any Arnold Wesker either. Unlike the anger of Osborne and the propagandism of Wesker, Pinter chooses his own way of portraying reality. His aesthetics certainly takes a queue from the likes of Eliot, Joyce & Beckett, but he creates his own vein, nevertheless. Though he has been staunchly categorized as an ‘absurdist’, I would call him a modernist problematizer, a realist & a highly political playwright whose dramaturgy combines a Beckettian avant-garde & a Dario Fo-like zest for hardcore ‘political theatre’.
His vision certainly incorporates the bizarre human situations in a fragmented universe, but one gets the feeling that quite consciously he stays away from the Ionescoical brand of objectified absurdity. He opts for a more Beckettian form of it where absurdity becomes a personal expression that does not demand any universal acknowledgement. In a world of ill-timing, where memories start to fade out, Pinter’s theatre, much like Jean Genet’s, takes up a strictly mimetic art-form, examining both the private & the private expressions of politics.
While in his early ‘menace plays’, Pinter treats politics as a sub-text, it surfaces & manifests itself as the primary content in his later works like The Mountain Language & One For The Road . As the title of his Nobel lecture suggests, his drama is a triplet of ‘art, truth & politics’, where the three components are inseparable in a latent ‘room’. Pinter treats politics as a definite ‘power-play’ everywhere. It is there in human relationships, in religion, in human psychology, in the sexual conduct of human beings, everywhere.
In 1957, David Campton coined the term "Comedies of Menace" as the subtitle of his collection of plays-The Lunatic View. In 1958, Irving Wardle applied it to Harold Pinter"s The Birthday Party 1957. Since then, ‘comedy of menace’ has become a typical way of designating Pinter-texts in general. But, to me, ‘menace’ is not just a thematic phenomenon in Pinter’s plays but rather a procedural phenomenon. It is the perplexingly dialectic landscapes of ‘menace’ that is bound to entrance & victimize a seeker of truth.
It is not located in any specific character, neither in particular situations, but all over human predicament & yet Pinter would surely deny this generalization. In The Room 1957, we are already introduced to the prevalent image-gallery of Harold Pinter —- a smooth personal space brimming with comfort & content & yet, pregnant with the lurking forces of petrification, soon to invade it. Rose & Bert inhabit a pleasant enough room in an urban apartment, continuously referring to the shabby "other" room down there. Someone lives there but who? They do not know.
They do not even want to know very eagerly. But this all-happy dream is soon threatened by the entry of two visitors from outside- Mr. & Mrs. Sanders, looking for a room in the apartment. They have been told by the undefined figure in the "other" room below that Rose & Bert"s room is empty & thereby can be taken by them. In the melodramatic climax of the play, Rose encounters the dark tenant- a blind Negro who has supposedly come as a harbinger of Rose"s father to take her back home & had been waiting for Bert to leave the room for a while, at least.
The cruel killing of the Negro by Bert & Rose"s turning blind ironically at the end are a little hurried, however. Riely, the Negro, is the racial "other" but not unequivocally the instrument of "menace" as even he has to face the retaliative physical "menace" from Bert, while Riely"s "menace" is successful ,as well, as Rose is blinded soon after the murder. In Dumb Waiter 1957, Pinter comes back to this inverted & collateral discourse of "menace" "in" and "out" of a "room".
Gus & Ben, the two killers, awaiting their victims in a narrow room, dictated by the presence or absence of some alien upland-instructors, turn mutually "menacing" for each other, at the end. The insructors at the top communicate through a huge rambling pipe that, in course of the play, almost becomes a modern variation of the Delphic oracle. Gus & Ben are "waiters" both because they "wait" & also as they act as "waiters", sending food to the people at the dark upper-floor through a huge & complicated "liver"machine.
The two awaiting oppressors get separated at the end; one, maturing into a ‘victimizer’ & the other, reduced to just a ‘victim’. Their contra-positioning with the great dictators upstairs, thus, operates as an interaction of two truths, which are not mutually exclusive but rather inclusive & therefore menacingly open-ended. In The Birthday Party 1957, Pinter presents to us, the ineffectually casual and oblivious Stanley, living as a tenant under the care of Meg & Petey. Stanley is motiveless & stagnant, looking for his real identity & the disparately lost melodies, within the bounded four walls of that house.
But, still one feels that he has somehow managed to cling on to the immediate reality, for the time being. It is a very limited & meager truth he has somehow got hold of. But, sardonically enough, ‘the house is on the list’& Goldberg & Maccan arrive abruptly as intrusions of an inexorable destiny, a fatal universality to celebrate Stanley’s tentative birthday & eventually only to menace him with dreams of external establishment & an exposure into the vastly varying outer reality.
These dreams thus hold their counter-textual nightmares in themselves that rip Stanley, even off his language—“Uh gug… uh-gug… eeehhh-gagâ€¦Caahhâ€¦ caahh… “. Stanley’s manipulation of a roomful of truth is thereby counter pointed, challenged & teased by a world, full of elusive truths that Goldberg & Maccan represent. And resultantly, the truth of the moment really slips out & is lost foreverâ€”Stanley’s specs are broken & his drum, affected. As he is taken away by Goldberg & Maccan, Petey says-“Stan, don"t let them tell you what to do! “.
Stanley"s individual immunity system collapses under paradigmatic impositions of the world outside. The play, therefore taps a veritably political sub-text that explores the pro-establishment forces of social comodification that ruin the creative recluse of the individual. Pinter’s vision of a sadistic police-state is also signified in Goldberg & Maccan. Pinter may deny the representation, but here, it is this representation, that clarifies his vision of truth or truths, for that matter. The 1981 BBC-play Family Voices seems to be a post-script of The Birthday Party.
The play, written in a unique epistolary form, is a dialogue between Voice 1, a son who has gone away from Voices 2 & 3 who are his parents. The son now inhabits a strange apartment with quite uncanny shadows, impressing him as his "other" or rather "real" family. He decides not to come back even as the mother informs her illness & the demise of his father. Towards the end, the dead father’s voice invades as Voice-3, writing from the "glassy grave". The mother warns that she would unveil the son, working as a male-prostitute.
He is all of a sudden coming back to his family. The play ends on a note of typically Pinteresque ambivalence, with the voice of the father saying-“I have so much to say to you. But I am quite dead. What I have to say to you will never be said. ” I think we can examine the three voices as Stanley, Petey & Meg. Petey had said at the end of The Birthday Party -“Stan, don"t let them tell you what to do! ” Here Voice-1 had let them do just that. Pinter uses the radio-medium brilliantly to create an extremely elliptical texture where very little communication is possible.
Thus the Voices remain within the respective enclosures of their own experiences, with very few interceptions. "Dialogues" are often reduced to "monologues", but not even absolutely unheard "soliloquies", & perhaps it is in this "faintness" of communication, that Pinter looks for the truth of a "real language", which remains an eldorado. The Caretaker 1957 is yet another play, which justifies what Pinter wrote in 1958:- “There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false.
A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false. ” The promises of Aston & Mick, made to Davies, turn out to be an exemplification of this transfiguration of truth into falsity and vice versa. They withdraw their promises of making Davies the caretaker, at the end, only to menace him disastrously. The designation of ‘caretaker’ remains, an elusive & illusory promise only made & not realizedâ€”a kind of general truth that is only anticipated & not comprehended ultimately. But Davies’s menacing quest for that truth does not die down.
It continues as he ‘waits for the weather to break’ so that he can go to Sidcup in order to fetch papers that would prove his real identity, yet another of those unattainable universal truths. Aston keeps on trying to build a shed, on his own, in the garden premises. It is another instance of a compromise with contextually limited truth, far away from the ones in the remote horizons of the universe. A ‘menace’ of exploitation had indeed fallen upon him when he had perhaps undergone that universal voyage towards the truth of the world, as revealed through his long speech in Act ii Sc ii — “I should have been dead.
I should have diedâ€¦” The dreadful experience had turned him perennially to stringently contextual truths. And that to Pinter is perhaps the inevitable human destiny. Pinter wrote a short story called Tea Party in 1963 & when asked to write a play for the European Broadcasting Union, he made a play out of it. The play, also called Tea Party, is a sort of extension of the "menace" theme we have seen in The Birthday Party. Disson, a successful business-man starts to lose his pre-dominance over the state of matters with his marriage to Diana & the appointment of his new secretary Wendy–hardly causes for his decline of power.
His blurring eyesight is not a self-sufficient objective phenomenon, but rather an index to his existential crisis–a growing inability to interpret experience. In the climactic tea party, held to celebrate his marriage-anniversary, Disson"s alienation is masterfully sub-textualised by Pinter without a single dialogue on his part or any other external comment. His failing eyes, his "point of view" just keeps on staring at the various groups flocked together, doing various things, which, he is not a part of!
It is this hurled non-involvement that makes him "menaced" at the end. ‘Menace’ becomes a set of truths, one may ignore, but certainly cannot deny. In the typical Ionescoical mode of role-reversals and invertions in power-equations, Pinter comes up with another gripping discourse of "menace" in A Slight Ache 1958, where it is all splendidly pleasant in the lovely nursery until & unless the mysterious match-seller appears at the gate to stay there for months without selling a single match-box to anyone!
The match-seller, throughout the play, does not have a single dialogue, but acts as the dominant tool to de-centralize the patriarch Edward in the garden-house as he is brought in & interrogated by the husband & the wife. The match-seller is incorporated within the course of things with the father-like veneration & attention that he gets from the womanFlora in the house & the play ends with the obvious hurly-burly of the domestic power-equation as the match-seller goes in with the woman, leaving the husband rather non-plussed with the sodden match-tray lying by his side.
Does this imply a permanence of "menace" or the husband does stand in with a chance of a comeback, loitering, lingering, lurking, alluring & eventually menacing the original match-seller as the second of his kind? The same pattern of a "marginal" force dislodging the centre & thus reducing it to an illusion of self-importance, recurs in The Basement 1967, where this de-centralizing "menace" acquires a more distinctly sexual character. Throughout the play, Pinter dabbles with the antithesis between the "interior" & the "exterior".
Stott, the long-parted friend of the owner Law of the basement-room, comes in, all of a sudden, with his conspicuous friend Jane. The two hatch a plot against Law to throw him out with the woman playing the typical role of erotic manipulator. Law, thus, at the end of the play, stands only at the "exterior", trying to enter into the ever-deluding "interior" of existence. But interestingly enough, Pinter curves out a very different treatment of this "menace" theme in Victoria Station 1982.
The play is about a routed controller having only driver-274 to do a job that of going to Victoria Station to fetch someone from there. They never see each other in course of the action. Driver-274 does not know the way to Victoria station & has a passenger in the "dark park" beside. Yet he insists that he is the only person who can be entrusted. Others have all deserted the controller. The play concludes with the controller, deciding to go and meet the driver in the car below his office, forgetting all about the reception-assignment in Victoria station.
Pinter resolves the plot uniquely, with a break of the hierarchy. Here the "controller", initially seeming to be a punitive instructor, is led to a dark & painful self-examination. And at the end, it is the controller who seems to be oblivious & "menaced", not tragically like Stanley, but with a peculiar comicality. Is it indicative of a role-reversal between the ‘controller’ & the "driver"? But the ambiguity remains in the possibility of the controller, coming down only to persecute & punish the driver.
In all these plays, Pinter is working out his power-dialectic which revolves around a conflict between central & marginal forces. In his world, centre & margin keep replacing each other. This mutual substitution, however, does not end unilaterally as there is always a chance of the dislodged centre bouncing back. Pinter believes in the old proverb-‘Power corrupts & absolute power corrupts absolutely’. In its dynamism, Pinter’s political paradigm always averts chances of absolutism. His truth is not static, but an ever-moving series of images that keep turning inside out.
In Hothouse written in 1958, but performed for the first time in 1980, the truth of the sane world is turned inside out as the madhouse proves to be truer, while in The Night School 1960, the "unreal" truth of a woman Sally, who goes to a night-school to study various languages, penetrates into the real truth of a woman who works in a night-club. In The Dwarfs 1960, the process that leads to a clear explication of that universal cognition turns out to be a process of self-affectation with the infective dwarfs menacing the operator himself as Len says-“The point is who are you?
Not why or how, not even what…. You are the sum of so many of reflections. How many reflections? Whose reflections? Is that you consist of? ” 1961 sees the production of A Night Out, a play that deals with the so very subjectivised "truth" of a mother-son relationship in Mrs Stokes & Albert. Pinter"s journey towards that all-desired "existential liberation" is essayed through Albert, his frustrated hero, living with a set of "dead" people.
His father & grandmother are literally dead while Mrs Stokes is metaphorically dead in a nagging persistence of obsession & disbelief, about Albert. Though, Pinter"s protagonist, for a change, is out in the night & away from the terrifying constriction of spaceless rooms, the space still keeps on crippling as he becomes part of another room of a party-celebration & gets charged with false allegations of a sexual assault. He has to return to his mother"s room, only to get out again, & again only to enter into yet another room, this time that of a seeming prostitute.
But the icons turn all the more blurred as the prostitute"s words reinforce the image of a struggling mother, rearing her daughter with great pain. As she turns out to be just an extension of Mrs Stokes"s monotonously meandered syntax, Albert feels the "menace" & starts exercising a violent power-equation with her. When he comes back to his mother at the end of the play, not much seems to have changed. Mrs. Stokes"s dead words keep flowing, may be with a restoration of faith in Albert, but still emanating the same maddenig silence from him.
The mother & the whore prove to be the same, the inside & the outside, same again. The play leaves Albert on the threshold of an exit-door that is reduced to a sad entrance into another pitiably shortening human-space. Albert"s "night out", thereby, is well within an endless series of interlocked rooms, each bigger & yet smaller than the other! In The Lover 1962, the iconic social differences between the married wife & the ‘elegant’ whore, between the socially accepted husband & the widely denied external lover, all turn blurred.
They all become the same again to mock at traditionally accepted universal truths as they subvert radically at the face of a linguistic & textual identicality. Pinter"s most stage-successful play The Homecoming 1967, for which he also won The Drama Critcs" Circle Award on Broadway, is a part of an evident movement in Pinter that of trying to make his plays much more directly truthful & responsive, socially. Max is a dyspeptic old father with three sons & a dead wife & as Teddy returns home with his wife Ruth, he is like an outsider who creates a discord in the synchronized stagnancy of the Max-household.
Ruth becomes a mystically plausible figure of sexual extensity- a mother to the sons, a wife to Max, coming back years after death, as it were. Teddy goes back to the American university, where he teaches Philosophy, with Ruth staying back as a strumpet, as a veritable source of income for the financially enfeebled family. Pinter de-ionizes the "mother" & the "strumpet", in an outburst of an "id" that disowns any restraint of any kind of "super-ego".
In this very bold exploration of the truth or the truths of sexual drives which break their patriarchal pre-suppositions, Pinter, however obliquely, does place the theme of "menace" from its early psychological & philosophical realm to an overcharged social context as the woman takes over–Ruth replacing Max in the all-coveted centre-chair of the patriarchal monarch, with all the three male figures subdued under her dominance. Pinter shows his faculty as a deceptive poet in plays like, Landscape 1968, Silence 1969 or Night 1969.
Pinter, in these plays goes into the Freudian psyche only to explore a widely multi-linear & thereby curiously ambivalent world of human memory. He renders an essentially de-constructive discourse of time, not seeing time objectively, but capturing an acute sense of its lethal passage, from within the human mind. Like Hamm & Clov in Samuel Beckett"s famous play Endgame 1958, or Vladimir & Estragon in Beckett"s Waiting for Godot , Pinter"s characters are lost in the "vertical time" of Zeno. They are caught in the in-between waste land that separates Past from Future.
They can neither get back to their past, nor can they escalate to their future, being incapable of any mobility whatsoever. The time, within one individual never becomes the time within another. It is this ever-changing "montages" of time, different in different persons that takes Pinter on the border-line of that quest for "dramatic truth", only to discover its misleading multiplicity, as Jean Genet was to call it ‘truth’, just a ‘word’ exclusively, nothing else perhaps ! Pinter once wrote a little poem on the cricketer Len Hutton:-“I saw Len Hutton in his prime/Another time/Another time.
In these so-called "memory plays", we do get a good deal of that "prime", but the "prime" is ironised at the same time because it belongs to "another time"- one other time & not the time, which grows in & on us perpetually. Landscape reads perfectly like a Freudian dream & Pinter uses some of the dream symbols prescribed by Freud such as ‘dresses’ for ‘nudity’ etc. The play is about the relationship between the middle-aged couple, Beth & Duff as the two sit in the kitchen of a large country house. They talk about their interaction, which has now become a thing of the past. Why is Beth so withdrawn?
Is it just because of Duff"s adulteries of youth? Alternatively Beth may have herself been the lover of their employer in that country-house– Mr. Stykes, who is dead now. The play, offers us with the discord between two minds in the present because of a third & that too in & of the past! It is an index of a peculiarly undefined & enigmatic conjugal relationship, created & uncreated at the same time. And the void is, as always, crafted by time & its agent–the dumb forgetfulness of death. Silence is a play where the playwright really seems to be dead! The play revolves around Ellen, a young girl & two middle aged men– Rumsey & Bates.
The stage is divided into three principal areas with one chair in each & the three begin by talking to themselves. But soon their self-talks turn into interactions. After espousing distinctly separate vistas of memory, they try to conjoin them in a triangular experience. But the experience is never de-fragmented & leads to its anarchic climax where the three stories are confused. They are confused because of the very intention to integrate them in a single whole. Dialogues turn into monologues and it all recedes into the darkest of silences. In this silence there is no need to communicate & yet there is one.
Perhaps only to judge the silence in its true self, words are needed, a "linguistic other" is needed. But those words only exist to rehabilitate the eternal silence at the core of human existence. Beckett had said in Molloy, “To restore silence is the voice of objects. ” A true Beckettian at heart, Harold Pinter throughout his drama seems to be a man on a mission to restore that eternal human silence. Ellen"s lines stay back with us—“…. Is it me? Am I silent or speaking? How can I know? Can I know such things? No-one has ever told me. I need to be told things….. I must find a person to tell me these things. In Night, for once, unlike his usual particularity, Pinter, quite consciously creates a universal figure of the two sexes in the "man" & the "woman" who talk about their past loves, their selves undergoing radical changes in course of the temporal flux. It is again all about a discordant evocation of two pasts, logically meant to be one, but is not so in reality. In A Kind of Alaska 1982, which is inspired by Oliver Sacks"s Awakenings 1973, Pinter represents the 1916-1917 epidemic named Encephalitis Lethargica resulting in delirium, mania, trances, coma, sleep, insomnia etc.
The subject again gives Pinter a scope to examine the sub-merged world of the human unconscious & explore the veracity of human memory. Deborah, waking up after twenty-nine long years is confronted with Pauline, supposedly her sister & Pauline"s husband Hornby. She hardly remembers her past & all the recollections, leading to her identity are imposingly proposed by Hornby & the proposals involve a great deal of self-importance as well as a patriarchally oriented erotic overtone. Deborah can only know from "others", her own "truth", that of time past, which carries her "self" in it.
Pinter again journeys towards a lost & dislocated "truth" of Deborah"s existence. Unfortunately, whatever revived is strongly manipulated by the power-dynamics, mastered by Pauline & Hornby. Deborah can only stare at the fragments of an impositional fabric of "truth", where she is not left with the choice to verify them-“You say I have been asleep. You say I am now awake. You say I have not awoken from the dead. You say I was not dreaming then & I am not dreaming now. You say I have always been alive & am alive now. You say I am a woman. ” The oft-used Pinteresque motif of a birthday-celebration crops up.
Deborah submits to the narratives of Hornby & Pauline, apparently being content with the way her "self" has been depicted by the two & seems to find her niche at the end-"I think I have the matter in proportion. Pause Thank you. " Pinter"s end-note here seems to be one of an uncharacteristically unique reconciliation. But who knows, this all-good note of deterministic acceptance may carry a sinister under-taste of self-mockery; a self-mockery where the seeming conformity towards the "projected truth" is distinctly denied! With Old Times 1971, the lyrical cris-crosses of memory start to peep in.
The play carries through a complex dilemma between the subjective & the objective. Is Anna really present outside the window or is she merely a fantastic emanation of Deeley & Kate as they talk about her supposed arrival? This is a play that starts to deal with the ambiguity of memory & all its preserved sense-impressions. This motif reaches a kind of fruition in the trampish figure of Spooner in No Man"s Land 1975 as on a drunken night, he enters the house of Hirst, much like Davies in The Caretaker. But what follows makes very clear, the drift in Pinter"s perceptive responses.
No Man"s Land takes us back into a past of awe & glory, a past that differs individually- Spooner & Hirst keep on disagreeing as the vastly different pasts coalesce into a future, or just a "walking shadow" of it as it turns out to be a cul-de-sac, a no-man"s land between the verbal & the non-verbal, between life & death. It is a lifeless existence & yet devoid of death like Hamm"s or Clov"s in Beckett"s Endgame 1957, but certainly lacking the note of Beckettian dejection or rather supplementing it with a subversively witty realization & acceptance of the condition.
Largely inspired by James Joyce"s only play Exiles, Betrayal begins with the couple, Emma & Robert, on the brink of separation & recedes from time present 1977 to time past 1968 through to its end. A serious statement on the urban sexual manners, the play captures a wonderfully open web of human relationships. Robert & jerry are best of friends. Jerry has been the best man in Robert"s marriage & he has had a steady affair with Robert"s wife Emma from that time & that too very much in the sanction of Robert, as the final scene mystically recollects.
There is a hint of the homo-erotic in the relationship between Robert & Jerry & Jerry"s relationship with Emma is seen by Robert as a means to take their friendship to its peculiar fruition , thereby trying to keep Jerry at hand, always. Robert, however, has had affairs with other women as well, for which the marriage is currently on the rocks. Jerry has his own family, while his references to the children of Emma & Robert still contain a curious psycho-sexual innuendo. Pinter mocks at the title, as it were, by naturalizing all sorts of traditionally perceived deviations from the societal norm of relationships.
It hardly turns out to be a betrayal as his characters go far beyond the yardstick of a collective social morality. The family voices re-unite more powerfully in Moonlight 1993 where Pinter sketches a strange malady of the mind as we see a gripping vision of a fractured family, awaiting the death of its ruling patriarch Andy, with the two sons caring a fig for the demise. It is a death like many other deaths, like all other deaths! Here ends it all & what survives is the dimmed "moonlight", like the sound of the footsteps in Beckett"s Footfalls 1976.
The play culminates in the hazy world of a personal memory, which seems to be potent enough to become yet another future for yet another time as Bridget keeps on waiting —“I stood there in the moonlight and waited for the moon to go down. ” Party Time, performed in 1991 for the first time deserves a mention separately. The play is another great evidence of the diverse strands of Pinter"s genius. It is a sarcastic rehash of Restoration Comedy of Manners, chiefly recalling Congreve"s crisp & smart wit & repartee & Wycherley"s cynical vision of humanity.
A gala party is taking place within a metropolitan elite club, with the outer world in utter dismay. The party, therefore, belongs to a particularly self-centred aloofness to an annihilated mankind in a banal world-order. While Beckett in Endgame showed a similarly destroyed & soulless exterior of the world, his "interior" was also "supped full of horrors’. But, Pinter, in this play, draws the "interior" in an antithetical image of enjoyment & carousal, though the images of the void outside intermittently invade into the private space of the "party", only to connect it with the gutted infinitude outside.
At the end of the play, as the party comes to a close & the people disperse, Jimmy, a young man, absent thus-far, comes out of the light to stand at the doorway. Jimmy"s speech indicates a trying desperation for a poignantly real communication- a socially provoking & critically concrete "meaning", which is deferred all the while. Jimy seems to be lost in a silent darkness. It fills his mouth & he can only "suck" it, in a maze of incomprehensible "impressions" that do not lead to self-sufficient "ideas".
So, for a change, Pinter turns the perspective inside out by shifting it from his recurrently used image of the "room" to the "other rooms outside". Jimmy becomes a representative voice of that ‘other’. But, his "truth" remains "menaced" nevertheless, despite an articulation or perhaps just because of the articulation itself! Once after seeing an initial production of The Birthday Party, in the theatre, a woman wrote to Pinter:-“Dear Sir, I would be obliged if you would kindly explain to me the meaning of your play The Birthday Party.
These are the points which I do not understand: 1. Who are the two men? 2. Where did Stanley come from? 3. Were they all supposed to be normal? You will appreciate that without the answers to my questions I cannot fully understand your play. ” Pinter"s reply was: – “Dear Madam, I would be obliged if you would kindly explain to me the meaning of your letter. These are the points which I do not understand:
1. Who are you? 2. Where do you come from? 3. Are you supposed to be normal? You will appreciate that without the answers to my questions I cannot fully understand your letter. Pinter, in rephrasing the question in the context of an answer, again probably implied the inversiveness of truth & also the problem and yet the compulsion of taking his characters Stanley, Goldberg, Maccan as photographic truths of a perceptible outer reality. Pinter, quite deliberately, breaks away from the Ibsenite mould of dramatic dialogue, where the characters always speak about great issues, socio-political & economic matters. Pinter keeps his dialogues rather naturalistic. Whether it is Dumb Waiter or The Birthday Party, for that matter, his characters hardly discuss such grave & important matters.
Food seems to be a recurrent talking point with Pinter’s characters. In The Birthday Party , the conjugal relationship between Meg & Petey has been portrayed & critiqued at the same time almost exclusively by the means of such references to food- prepared & served. Pinter’s characters fumble; remain silent, sometimes even incomplete, in terms of sense. His language, thronged with those ‘silences’, ‘pauses’& three dots â€¦ moves accordingly, stilted & impeded in search of the truth of the language. All through the Pinter-canon, we find excommunication & equivocation.
Language is political but more diplomatic are his pauses & silences. Language is not just a medium for Pinter. He uses it as a theme, not with the mythical effect of Samuel Beckett, but in the domain of his own familiarized contextualism. Pinter’s projected human being is a “poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more. ” Margaret Atwood links Pinter’s use of silence with the figure of Abraham in Kierkegaard’s essays & establishes it as the primary text in what is called Pinteresque today.
Atwood says “Abraham is ordered by God to cut his only son’s throat. In the face of this cruel and unnatural request, Abraham does not protest. Neither does he agree. He is silent. But it is a huge surprise with a haunting echo. One of these echoes is Pinter — the silences of Pinter. Reverberating silences. Pinteresque. ” In One For The Road 1984, Pinter depicted an evidently political scenario representative of an absolutist state with Nicholas, interrogating Victor, who is the defeated captive.
We come across an exclusively verbal side of "menace" in its political topicality. It is not that the questions asked by Nicholas to Victor are not answered because of the pressure over Victor. Those questions are causally & linguistically unanswerable e. g. Nicholas asks Gila Victor"s wife repeatedly, why she had met Victor at a place for the first time? The play may not stand out as an artwork of complete appeal, but it certainly depicts the dramatist’s inherent skepticism about language, a minimalist inclination as even Beckett had imbibed from Fritz Mauthner.
In his 1988-play, The Mountain Language, Pinter again works out a linguistic equation, interlaced with political connotations of dictatorial power & authority. He talks about a mountain dialect, being forbidden to the mountain woman who comes to see his son, imprisoned in a jail in the capital. We see how language becomes a tool of colonial oppression. Pinter concludes with a brilliant twist, implying a vast dynamic of linguistic politics, within which, even an allowance to speak the ‘mountain language’, at the end, comes as a pre-destined protocol, imposed by the ‘big brothers’ of the system.
But, then again, if one starts to categorize him, Pinter shows again in Ashes to Ashes , how non-topical and non-immediate he can be, in a fundamentally political play about the Nazi horrors in the 2nd World War. He uses the echoes of Rebeca"s words in her final speech to evoke a substitution of the man Devlin she was talking to thus-far. The brilliant use of this device becomes more relevant because the man is also a sort of echo from Rebeca"s past, turning out to be that vaguely defined lover & strangulator whom Rebeca"s words had been referring to from the beginning.
The child is taken away from her to be killed mercilessly & she also disowns the fact that she ever had a child! Is this abnormal maternal response a satire, an authentic shock-reaction or "menace" or a way to put an end, put an end to childbirth, put an end to Beckett"s vision of the "accursed progenitor" altogether. We see a "menace" in the outer-world in Ashes to Ashes ,but again unlike the chiefly objectified Rhinoceritis in Eugene Ionesco"s Rhinoceros 1958, the "menace" in Pinter is conveyed through very lyrical nuances e. g. he comparison between a godless universe & a Brazil-England encounter without a single soul in the stadium.
In this supposed relegation of god to a mere spectatorial presence, lies the "menace" of things falling apart. Pinter’s "dramaticules", to use the Beckettian term, namely Precisely 1983 & The New World Order 1991 are also replete with polemical overtones of victimization. Pinter observed, in course of his Nobel lecture: – “When we look into a mirror we think the image that confronts us is accurate. But move a millimeter and the image changes. We are actually looking at a never-ending range of reflections.
But sometimes a writer has to smash the mirror- for it is on the other side of that mirror that the truth stares at us. ” Pinter certainly shows us no single accurate reflection of truth but an abruptly modulating vista of relative and disorganized truths. But does he succeed in breaking the mirror itself, which is supposed to put an end to all reflected images & focus the real object, the ultimate truth itself? Even if he does so, the truth would only stare at the audacity of the seeker; it would not be any appreciative glance. And the ‘stare’ would perhaps negate the attainment.
So can we really say that the ‘menacing’ cross-passage comes to its destination with the smashing of the mirror? Or does the breaking of the mirror symbolize the end of the worldâ€”the Judgment Day. And it all ushers into a new world of ‘Nohow On’, to use the phrase of Samuel Beckett. Our task is cut out. As Pinter says, ‘The search is your task. ‘ Is it not becoming a universal symbolization? Pinter would disagree. So let us keep our fingers crossed as Pinter’s narrative quips in a tone of marvelous aesthetic egotism in The Homecoming 1967 — “You wouldn’t understand my works.
You wouldn’t have the faintest idea of what they were about. ” I do not know if the "faintest idea" is gathered from this one; one about Pinter. If not, it is certainly for the better & most importantly to his own liking. Let us read Pinter all over again, enjoy the man all over again, without caring for "idea" or "ideation" for that matter. After all as he says that he does not write for anything external, but only for himself. Let us read him only for ourselves likewise.
Pinter, at this point of time, is suffering from severe throat-cancer & one does not know, how soon the time of the final "betrayal" would come. He may not live on, but he will certainly "die on"to use Beckett"s phrase again in our worlds of memory which he hardly believes in its linear simplistic topography. Let us end this discussion with one of Pinter"s own poems— a poem, which I feel, would certainly stimulate him till his last breath in the quest for a menacing truth :- I know the place It is true Everything we do Corrects the space Between death and me And you. ——–Harold Pinter——–