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Absurd Global Trepidation and Alienation
|by Dr. Anshu Pandey|
A Critical Study of Harold Pinter's The Dumb Waiter
My aim through this article is to propagate that Harold Pinter has shown alienation of the human being from the self and the others. Disaffection is somewhat caused by lack of communication, and as a result, the isolated self is tricked in his own condition. So, Pinter's characters tend to be inert agents in life, which is in fact another option. Pinter extends Beckett’s absurdist ideas and adopts the Absurd Drama to emphasize his social concerns as he is also a social critic. The targets of his criticism are covetousness, loss of values and broken human relationships. The playwright challenges the audience for a reform on these exacting points. Pinter’s characters also suffer from the uncertainty of existence. In fact, this concern is closely related to the strange identity of the individual.
The point that this paper is to explore is that although Pinter has taken on many qualities of the Absurdist Theatre, he has made much pioneering attempts in his creative work. As an absurdist, he adopted many absurdist elements in his plays. Absurdist drama was somewhat coined by Pinter. Theatre of the Absurd refers to particular plays written by European and American playwrights of the post-Second World War period. They shared the view of many existential theorists that life is worthless, communication impossible, society mechanical and ruthless. These playwrights needed new forms of expression, new sites, new dramatic arrangements and new stage imagery, and thus Theatre of the Absurd was born.
The assessment of the absurdist tradition will be made from three specific perspectives: absurdist theme, deflation and wide use of symbolism. Loneliness, lack of communication and infertility are almost universal themes in contemporary literature and the Absurdist Theatre. Pinter was influenced by Samuel Beckett and Eugene Ionesco. Pinter’s plays generally take place in a single and prison-like room which symbolizes the world of its inhabitants. Pinter absorbs himself into all the three themes in almost all his important plays. In many compliments, Pinter's plays explore the depths of the human psyche. The absurdist playwrights purpose to normal usage of language for its uselessness in expressing the spirit of human experience. Thus language in the absurdist plays seems to be jumbled, vague, and full of formulas.
In this type of drama, everything eventually becomes unreliable, even the language. Language, as a means of communication, becomes a medium of conventionalized, labelled meaningless exchange. Words fail to express the essence of character's experiences, not being able to penetrate beyond its outside. The Theatre of the Absurd shows language as a very untrustworthy and deficient tool of communication. Pinter’s plays can be seen as structures of an unverifiable and, therefore, dream-like world between fantasy and nightmare. Harold Pinter educates a close vision of the traumas and the problems of middle-class man. And he has caught the slight thread of psychological disturbance of human beings, especially Harold Pinter lies in the exploration of the inner world of human psyche and sensibility. Pinter's inspection of linguistic peculiarity is extremely sharp and his dialogue must be considered to be one of the most sensible representatives of the authentic language of the modern time. Pinter’s plays expose our state of loneliness, nothingness, meaninglessness and isolation. His work is heavily influenced by Samuel Beckett, who used silence-filled pauses for revolutionary theatrical effect.
Pinter’s play The Dumb Waiter has a special position. It is more an extension of than a disappearance from early plays of menace. The Dumb Waiter is an One Act play cantering around two characters Ben and Gus whose purpose is slowly revealed throughout the play. There is a lot of dark area, so the audience has an experience of being involved with the two men. Ben and Gus are waiting for their victim to come and this is all they can do. They are probably forbidden from leaving the room, nobody seems to be willing to give them further instructions, and nobody cares about them. They are alone and isolated. And this isolation is the first element of absurdity and, at the same time, the basic presumption for menace. Josephson accounts them as:
The play is of the failure in human communication and the efforts to convert the situation through conversation, confrontation, and even surrender. To Pinter, everyone has a private world belonging to no one else but himself, which is the core of one's experience. Harold Pinter said that:
Each character repeats what the other says and asks quite silly questions or makes needless explanations about the things in this basement. Ben watches as Gus takes a trampled matchbox out of his shoe. After sometimes they exchange a glance, Gus puts it in his pocket. They exchange another look, and Gus puts the box in his pocket before he leaves for the bathroom. Peace is infused in the room. Their eyes meet twice but that doesn’t lead to communications breaking the state of silence. Silence is the way they protect themselves.
Pinter believes that the human being is alienated and that it is a main constituent of the human situation. He follows Sartre’s ideas in this matter. According to Sartre, man is deserted to himself to form his life and to appreciate his choices.
Man can find no relief from his desertion for each and every human being is in the same condition. Sartre messages:
So man is fated to be alone throughout his life, and there is no declaration in this stalemate. Isolation has been used or explained in a variety of and sometimes differing ways. Dramatist Beckett depicts these personal and social elements in an absurdist view within his plays. Pinter pursues Beckett’s footsteps while dramatizing the alienation of his characters. He also attaches social aspects of this state. According to Josephson man is:
In Pinter’s plays, the characters also experience this kind of isolation. He approves of the fact that despite the technical developments and perfections in the life standards of the modern man, disaffection saturates the life of the human being in personal and social aspects. Albert Camus examines man’s absurd situation in the universe in his The Myth of Sisyphus:
In Pinter' plays the picture of the room is closely linked to the idea of menace. Esslin states that for Pinter the outside world is frightening, and, therefore, menacing for the person:
The icon of a door giving a sense of danger is often employed by Pinter. The aspect of mystery contributes to this sense as the matches are pushed into the room under the door with no one being outside. The unexpected appearance of the dumb waiter is strange in the dejected and deserted house:
The use of names for indistinguishable off-stage characters in this play has the threatening effect in the play. The unseen Wilson is in authority in The Dumb Waiter:
Even when he occurs to talk, it happens through the speaking tube which is not audible by Gus; only Ben can hear him as the superior member in the organization. Pinter utilizes simple language, and his idea is not only to display the paralysis of language but also to demonstrate the absurdity of life. Language in his plays is incoherent, uncertain and different to the actors’ genuine aims. In Mountain Language, the obliteration of language is equally a means of domineering people mentally. Armstrong also draws a parallel between Kafka’s view of language and that of Pinter in Mountain Language:
Their characters are inevitably involved in a power struggle so as to protect their identity and probability of living. Prentice says:
Pinter’s characters not only resist against the menacing outside forces but also cash a fight within their deeper selves. The theme of menace is closely related to the themes of isolation, penury and insensitiveness in his plays. Pinter is also concerned with the psychological menace that originates from a failure of relationships. Pinter’s characters desire for love and regard, which has become the basis for power struggles among them. Pinter’s work is the peril in the problems of individuality. His characters practice a menace based on a dilemma of identity as they often fail to protect their sense of self, which is gradually defined by outside powers. Consequently, in Pinter’s world, ambiguity is the most threatening source of menace:
In The Dumb Waiter, the grossly sensed terror concludes with an implication of the murder of the questioning character, Gus. Stack Language presents the death of oral communication which also brings the obvious end of mountain people who are finally provided astonished, just like being dead. The characters of Pinter’s works make use of some protection devices to deal with menace. The individual suffers profoundly in the hands of the threatening system. In Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter Gus and Ben are responsibility bound to kill a number of people in the guidance of the organization Gus’s need for an nearby is obvious at the very start of the play when he keeps asking questions continually, which disturbs Ben:
Although Gus is always complaining about their situation, Ben remains satisfied. The partners differ in their sense of satisfaction with their occupation:
Ben is always prepared to complete the task given by a submissive agent whereas Gus gets unwell of it most of the time. Gus’s searching never ceases, mainly when he realizes that the organization begins to care less and less for them. He is not happy about the place:
And this difference between them negatively influences their relationship which is, as it has been mentioned, another element of danger in The Dumb Waiter. Gus is always asking questions. This would be, on the one hand, natural because he is learning from his senior partner. On the other hand, Gus does not ask in order to learn to do his job better. There is a loud clattering sound in the wall. Ben and Gus grab their revolvers and are going to face the threat from outside. Ben decides to ignore his companion’s quarries, or pretends not to understand his meaning in the questions:
Gus’s quarries become more and more irritating for Ben. These questions in fact indication at Gus’s mistrust of the organization. He tries to pry deeper into the mysterious system:
Everything happening is beyond his understanding, and makes him painful with his situation. That is why he asks so many questions to ease himself of this sense of trepidation. Gus’s sense of menacing increases when Ben’s final commands deviate from the earlier ones:
His last question predicts the final scene where Ben shoots him. Penetrating the system, their relationship, his own situation, the task itself all through the plan does not save Gus from becoming a wounded of menace. His language usually consists of silences and pauses in the dialogs in which his characters aim to avoid the fear of facing outsider or a danger:
The threat is already in the room. Gus in The Dumb Waiter does not know who he is hypothetical to kill as a hired gunman; but it turns out that he is the victim, and his partner, who is already in the room, is his killer. In The Dumb Waiter, Gus is the victim of the menacing world which is full of questions. On the one hand, it is never said Gus is killed. On the other hand, Ben follows orders precisely. He does not doubt. Although Pinter’s characters have social groups, they are still lonely beings like Beckett’s characters. They are alienated from themselves and from the society as well. While some of them are derelict characters who have no home, some others are alienated despite having a family. Pinter uses Absurd drama to reflect his social concerns. He believes that his plays should mirror the society with all of its follies and shake the minds of his audience. In his works, these themes are used to depict the universal concerns of the human kind. Pinter adds his social concerns to these universal problems.
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