Harold Pinter Questions and Answers

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What is the significance of the character of the "blind Negro" in Harold Pinter's The Room?

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Felicita Burton eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In The Room, themes of instability and alienation permeate all aspects of the play. While Rose seems to be the protagonist and the action takes place in the room she shares with Bert, the audience is likely to wonder how much of that scenario is intended to be real. Rose’s room may be a metaphor for her mental constraints including her distancing from society. During the entire play, Rose does not leave the room. Although she knows it is on an upper floor, not the basement, she seems otherwise unsure of its location relative to others in the house. She speaks to Bert, but he does not respond to any of her concerns, including those about the world outside the room. After he leaves, other characters enter. Some of those apparently live in the same building, while others have come in from outside.

Riley, the “blind Negro,” lives on the lowest floor, the basement, which further suggests his subjugated social status. Riley tells her that her father wants her at home. It remains unclear if Riley is her father, or perhaps believes he is her father. Multiple interpretations of Rose’s going “home” are also possible. Pinter may be suggesting that Rose is also black and has been passing as white. When Bert returns and strikes Riley, Rose loses her sight. This may be metaphorical confirmation of her refusal to see the visual differences among people in society. But given the contrast of the security of the room, leaving it for home may stand for Rose’s death.

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Laura Thompson eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The character referred to as the "blind Negro" in Pinter's The Room functions both as a classical oracle and as a culmination of the play's naturalism. His presence in the basement of Rose's building and his later intrusion into her home suggests a racially charged atmosphere where black skin symbolizes darkness and danger. However, his blindness also alludes to the figure of the oracle in classical Greek tragedy, who is blind yet all-seeing, predicting the downfall of other characters. Although he is a stranger, he reveals intimate knowledge of Rose's family background. The blind man's presence in Rose's apartment is the catalyst for her husband Bert's unexpected savage violence. As Bert strikes the blind man, Rose is simultaineously struck blind.

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