Family Voices Essay - Critical Essays

Critical Context

Family Voices has been seen by many as a summation of many of the themes explored throughout Harold Pinter’s career. Indeed, L. A. C. Dobrez argues that the play reviews every phase of Pinter’s development, “like a symphonic climax.” Family Voices recalls Pinter’s first play, The Room (pr. 1957, pb. 1960), in which the leading character lives away from her family and is torn by longings for it while clearly fleeing it. The Room even has a character called Riley. Family Voices also contains echoes of another early “room play,” The Birthday Party (pr. 1958, pb. 1959), in which the young man Stanley is cuddled by his landlady, has his parents turned away at the door, and is subjected to the verbal terrorism of Goldberg and McCann.

Also reprised in Family Voices is the Oedipal situation of the radio play A Night Out (pr. 1960), the most representative of Pinter’s realist plays. Similarly, there is the aggressive family environment of The Homecoming (pr., pb. 1965), the work of what Dobrez terms Pinter’s “hard-edge phase.” In The Homecoming, the central character is a woman who escapes a former sterile home life for a presumably more sexually and emotionally fulfilling role in a home with three men (her husband’s father and two brothers). As with The Room, Pinter seems to have reversed the sexes in Family Voices, making his central character a young man who escapes his possessive mother and gruff, absentee father to find a more sexually and emotionally fulfilling role in a home with three women. Finally, in its poetic tones Family Voices resembles Pinter’s memory plays, from the radio play Landscape (pr., pb. 1968) to Old Times (pr., pb. 1971).

Pinter has carved his own place in contemporary drama through his original blend of Theater of the Absurd with unnerving psychological realism, expressed in a language rich in poetic texture. He has found a dramatically interesting way of joining the existential and the empirical. The very title Family Voices suggests the universality of Pinter’s subject matter, and the play raises essential questions regarding dependence and independence, love and estrangement, and individual and family identity. Pinter’s plays continued to raise thought-provoking questions in the late twentieth century, among them Moonlight (pr., pb. 1993), Ashes to Ashes (pb. 1996), and The Dwarfs and Nine Revue Sketches (pb. 1999).