What's the role of gender in Pinter's Silence?

Expert Answers

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

Harold Pinter's Silence is a play about three lives that touch briefly. It explores the nature of man-woman relationships. The characters re-live the memories of an interconnected past and go back and forth in time to analyze their failed relationships.

Rumsey spurns Ellen and believes that he is content to be alone. A dejected Ellen retreats into her private world and is unable to reciprocate Bates' love. Her indifference makes Bates angry and resentful. The audience does not see any substantive communication between the characters, as they are lost in introspection and melancholia. In their reminiscences of hills, walks, and evenings spent together, neither man understands how he missed out on love, hope, and happiness. The characters use an ideal past as a consolation for an unhappy present. There is an enormous gulf of silence between what they desire and what they actually say.

Their love lives fail to converge and leave the audience with no hope of a possible development in their relationships.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Ellen is a strong woman who refuses to be confined in the traditional gender role as the male's object of desire. Although she is the object of desire of the two men in the play, she refuses to be defined by them and she is not passive.The two men cling to her, not the other way round. She makes the decisions regarding the man she wants to stay with and the one she wants to leave. She also refuses to be identified as "emotional" or "sentimental" or any other stereotyped view associated with women. Critics have noticed how Francis Cuka, the actress who played Ellen in the 1969 Royal Shakespeare Production, kept a flat voice for much of the performance. This acting trait denoted a woman who is almost indifferent to her own and other people's unhappiness. It is important to note that the apparent absence of gender conflict or struggle for power in the play does not make the characters, Ellen included, any happier. As Penelope Prentice argues in The Pinter Ethic (second link below), the play dramatizes the assumption that the lack of conflict may be as destructive as its presence.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial