Harold Pinter

Start Free Trial

What are those pauses in Harold Pinter's The Birthday Party indicating? What do the silence and pauses mean in this play?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The silence and pauses represent the silence and pauses that occur in natural, everyday speech. It is also there to make the audience uncomfortable; to actually give them the feeling the characters are experiencing. This technique is also to convey the notions of alienation, Absurdity and the illusive nature of meaning in real life. Pinter frequently tried to present speech as it naturally sounded, complete with pauses, trailing off and unfinished thoughts. If life and meaning are like speech, then life and meaning are also disjointed and often confusing. Pinter was trying to produce this effect through the speaking in the play. This is also a departure from more traditional plays where we get explanation from other characters, or sometimes even a narrator or chorus. In reality, we don’t have a narrator or a chorus, so Pinter was giving a hyperbolic drama of that perspective.

The general philosophical implication, among many postmodern theorists and dramatists, is that language is unreliable, meaning is slippery and truth is not absolute. The postmodern movement also was characteristic of presenting questions rather than some big idea or truth. Jean Francois Lyotard’s The Postmodern Condition is one the seminary texts on postmodernism. In it, he claims that postmodernism rages against metanarratives, which means that the postmodernist distrusts all systems of thought. This can be seen as a bleak outlook on all existence or a liberating perspective in that it breaks down ‘obvious illusions’ such as the ‘fourth wall’ in the theatre. Pinter was engaging the audience, somewhat more indirectly than other dramatists who were trying to break the fourth wall. The silence and pauses also broke the spell on the audience and made them aware that, “hey, we’re watching a play. What are we supposed to be thinking here. Why are they stopping? What’s the point?” This strategy of making the audience active participants began with some of the modernist poets such as Bertolt Brecht and Samuel Beckett.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team