Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2043
Numerous critics have said that much of the action of The Caretaker is dominated by the characters' struggle for power over one another. As Michael Billington remarked in his book The Life and Work of Harold Pinter, "Power is the theme: dominate or be dominated.’’ Pinter shows, Billington continued, "that life is a series of negotiations for advantage in which everything comes into play.’’ Indeed, in The Caretaker, this often seems to be the case. Davies tries to play Aston and Mick against each other as he struggles to establish a foothold in the room. Mick maintains power over Davies by physical as well as verbal assaults. And at the end of the play, Aston exerts his power by forcing Davies to leave; the struggle for power is a dominant theme in the play.
To suggest, however, as Billington and others have, that all of the characters are primarily motivated by power is an oversimplification of Pinter's play. It is true that such an assessment seems to apply to Davies. If he is to stay in the room and have Aston or Mick see to his needs and desires, he needs to gain control over them, even if he has to do so by making himself sometimes appear, not powerful, but needy. In essence, Davies cares for no one but himself and will do whatever he thinks will allow him to stay in the room. Mick, defending his territory against an intruder, attempts to control Davies primarily by physical and verbal violence. He has no real regard for the tramp. On the other hand, Mick does have at least some feeling, even if only a sense of obligation, for his brother and is, in fact, taking care of at least some of Aston's needs by allowing him to stay in the room. Although he expresses anger at his brother when he breaks the Buddha against the stove, although he tells Davies that Aston's trouble is that he does not want to work, Mick does defend Aston against Davies's cruel remarks—and he allows Aston to stay in the room. The desire for power motivates him but it is not his only motivation. Nonetheless, it does seem fair to consider the desire for power as a primary motivation for both Davies and Mick.
While Davies and Mick are dominated by their own drives for power, to suggest quite the same of Aston is to simplify his character as well as the play as a whole. Aston's attempts to care for Davies and to talk to him seem motivated, at least in part, by kindness and concern for the tramp. On the other hand, it is hard to see Aston as motivated entirely by altruism. Indeed, one could argue that Aston is kind to Davies because he wants to control him, because he wants to meet his own needs and thus is as motivated by power as are Davies and Mick. In truth, neither interpretation of Aston's character captures the whole man. Aston does make an effort to meet his own needs but not in a cynical search for power. What Aston truly desires throughout most of the play is real contact with another human being. It is only when his efforts at connection fail that Aston exerts simple power over Davies.
In Act I, after the opening scene in which Mick looks about the dismal room, then leaves, Aston comes onstage followed by Davies. Upon entering the room, Davies begins to speak of the encounter that led Aston to bring him home. Davies was involved in some sort of scuffle at the restaurant where he was working, and Aston saw a man "have a go’’ at Davies. In relating this incident, Davies complains a great deal about his treatment at the restaurant, claiming that he was not being treated according to his station, that he was told to do work he considered beneath him.
In spite of his concern with his place in the world, however, it is clear from Davies's clothes that he is a tramp and, whether such a viewpoint is moral or not, most so-called "respectable'' people...
(The entire section contains 4358 words.)
Unlock This Study Guide Now
Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this The Caretaker study guide. You'll get access to all of the The Caretaker content, as well as access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.
- Critical Essays
- Teaching Guide