The Caretaker Themes
Truth, Lies, and Fantasy
In The Caretaker none of the characters can be trusted to speak the truth. All are, to some extent, deceptive, twisting reality in order to manipulate one another and to delude themselves. The character who is the most deceptive is probably Davies. From the beginning, it is clear that he is a liar, first attempting to win Aston's respect by pretending to a past that rings false. ‘‘I've had dinner with the best,'' he says. He also calls everything he says into question when he admits to having used a false name; the audience cannot even be sure that his true name is Davies. Davies's talk of the future is also filled with lies and fantasy and serves two purposes—to manipulate Aston and Mick and to bolster his own self esteem. He speaks of getting even with the man whom he says attacked him:"One night I' ll get him. When I find myself in that direction.''
Davies also tells Aston and Mick that he will go to Sidcup to get his papers. He talks throughout the play of his supposed plans to go to Sidcup, plans he will act on if he acquires shoes, if the weather gets better, plans that the audience soon realizes will never materialize. By his insistence that he is not merely a tramp, that he has a grand past and will support himself in the future, Davies manipulates Aston into continuing to let him stay in the room.
Mick and Aston are not obvious liars like Davies, but the truth of what they say is also questionable. When Mick, after hurling the Buddha against the stove, says, "I got plenty of other things I can worry about... I've got my own business to build up,’’ it is unclear whether he is speaking the truth or trying to persuade himself and Davies of his own importance. When he discusses his grandiose plans for turning the house into a vision from a home and garden magazine, he is either playing with Davies or deluding himself with plans for a future that will never arrive.
Aston's honesty is also questionable. Pinter himself has said that a common mistake among audiences watching The Caretaker is to assume that Aston is telling the truth about his experiences in the mental hospital. But even if Aston is truthful about that experience, he deludes himself with his talk of building a shed. Like Davies's trip to Sidcup and Mick's decorating plans, Aston's shed is a fantasy that will never materialize.
All of the characters in the play not only deceive one another but also delude themselves. Instead of revealing the truth, communication in the play obscures reality. In the world of The Caretaker truth itself becomes an illusion.
Ideally, the family is a source of strength and support for its members, but in The Caretaker, family members are disconnected and even hostile. The brothers Mick and Aston say little of their parents; in fact, the audience does not even know if their mother and father are alive. The little they do say, however, reveals relationships that are strained at best. At one point, Mick speaks to Davies of his ‘‘uncle's brother,’’ who may simply be another uncle, but who is more likely Mick and Aston's father.
If this is, in fact, the case, Mick is so disconnected from his father that he cannot use the familial term "father" to identify him. ‘‘I called him Sid,’’ he tells Davies, and in fact, Mick himself seems unsure of what his relationship with this man is: ‘‘I've often thought that maybe ... my uncle was his brother and he was my uncle.'' Although Mick's speech is obviously intended to have a comic effect, it does indicate that there is no real relationship between Mick and the man who may be his father.
Aston's mention of his mother is brief but revealing. While in the mental hospital, he says, he believed he was safe from electroshock therapy because he was a minor and his mother would have to give permission for such treatment. Although he wrote and asked her not to give permission, she signed the papers anyway, allowing the doctors to give Aston electroshock...
(The entire section is 1,310 words.)