Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Drama)
The Birthday Party is about paranoia, the inability to communicate, and the search for identity and truth. Stanley has been hiding in this seedy boardinghouse for a year, afraid, knowing that someone will eventually come to punish him. Yet he does not try to run away when Goldberg and McCann appear, because he knows he cannot escape his fate. He tells Lulu that the only alternative to “here” is “nowhere.” Stanley is estranged from his father for some unstated reason, possibly something to do with his mother. Perhaps he is hiding not from criminals at all, but running from his own guilt and projecting his fears onto the visitors. The party, with both the young Lulu and the older Goldberg making sexual innuendos, pushes Stanley over the edge. Whatever his offenses might be, they seem more horrible for being unspecified. Goldberg and McCann personify the dangers always present in the contemporary world, waiting to steal one’s comfort, sanity, and even life.
The characters are helpless to defend themselves because they cannot make themselves understood to one another. The Birthday Party opens with Meg asking several times, “Is that you, Petey?” Even after he replies, “Yes, it’s me,” she asks, “What? Are you back?” That she says this while looking at her husband indicates the frequent meaninglessness of words for the characters. When Stanley calls the fried bread “succulent,” Meg responds, “You shouldn’t say...
(The entire section is 538 words.)
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As in many absurdist works, The Birthday Party is full of disjointed information that defies efforts to distinguish between reality and illusion. For example, despite the presentation of personal information on Stanley and his two persecutors, who or what they really are remains a mystery. Goldberg, in particular, provides all sorts of information about his background, but he offers only oblique clues as to why he has intruded upon Stanley's life.
What has Stanley done to deserve persecution? The facts of his past are so unclear that his claim to be a pianist may even be false. The Birthday Party influences the audience to doubt anything with certainty, which as it does in Kafka's work, intensifies the dreadful angst experienced by the protagonist. This effect is achieved through truncated dialogue, by Pinter's deliberate failure to provide conclusive or consistent information, and by his use of ambiguity and nonsense.
Alienation and Loneliness
Stanley has isolated himself from society, with only the vaguest of explanations offered as to why. What is clear is that he has ‘‘dropped out’’ of everyday life. He is the sole lodger in the Boles' boarding house. He has forgone any efforts to make himself presentable, remaining depressed and sullen, half-dressed, unkempt, and unwilling to leave the womb-like comfort of his rundown digs.
Clues suggest that he is...
(The entire section is 1751 words.)