Harold Pinter Harold Pinter Drama Analysis

Start Your Free Trial

Download Harold Pinter Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Harold Pinter Drama Analysis

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Harold Pinter is sometimes associated with the generation of British playwrights who emerged in the 1950’s and are known as the Angry Young Men . His first plays, with their dingy, working-class settings and surface naturalism, seemed to link Pinter with this group, but only the surface of his plays is naturalistic; most of a Pinter play takes place beneath the surface. His closest affinities are with a more centrally important movement, the Theater of the Absurd . As a young man, before he started writing plays, the works of Franz Kafka and Samuel Beckett made a great impression on Pinter. Like Kafka, Pinter portrays the absurdity of human existence with a loving attention to detail that creates the deceptive naturalism of his surfaces. It is particularly with the meticulously rendered, tape-recorder-accurate language of his characters that Pinter pulls the naturalistic and absurdist strands of his drama all together. The language of his characters, bumbling, repetitive, circular, is actually more realistic—more like actual human speech—than the precise and rhetorically patterned dialogue found in what is considered to be “realistic” drama. Yet that actual language of human beings, when isolated on the stage, underlines the absurdity of human aspirations and becomes both wonderfully comic and pathetic as it marks the stages of human beings’ inability to communicate what is most important to them. Pinter, however, is more than an accurate recorder of speech; he is also a poet. The language of his characters, for all of their inarticulateness, is finally profoundly communicative of the human condition. What makes Pinter one of the most important modern British dramatists is his consummate skill as a dramatist; the fact that in language and pattern he is a poet, especially a poet of contemporary language, both its spoken expression and its expressive silences; and his existential insight into human beings’ place in the universe, which connects him with the most profound writers and thinkers of his time.

The Room

Pinter’s first play, The Room, contained a number of features that were to become his hallmarks. The play is set in a single small room, the characters warm and secure within but threatened by cold and death from without. The Room is overtly symbolic, more so than Pinter’s later work, but the setting and characters are, for the most part, realistic. Rose sits in the cheap flat making endless cups of tea, wrapping a muffler around her man before she lets him go out into the cold; her husband, Bert, drives a van. Under the naturalistic veneer, however, the play has a murky, almost expressionistic atmosphere . The room is Rose’s living space on earth. If she stays within, she is warm and safe. Outside, it is so cold it is “murder,” she says. She opens the door, and there, waiting to come in, is the new generation, a young couple named Mr. and Mrs. Sands (the sands of time? Mr. Sands’s name is Tod, which in German means “death”). They are looking for an apartment and have heard that Rose’s apartment is empty. “This room is occupied,” she insists, obviously upset at this premonition of her departure. A man has been staying in the basement. She imagines it to be wet and cold there, a place where no one would stand much of a chance. The man wants to see her. Again the door opens, to reveal a terrifying intruder from the outside. He comes in. He is a black man—the color of death—and he is blind, tapping in with his stick, blind as death is when claiming its victims from the ranks of the good or the bad. “Your father wants you to come home,” he tells her. Rose’s husband comes in at this moment, shrieks “Lice!” and immediately attacks the man, tipping him out of his chair and kicking him in the head until he is motionless. On the naturalistic level of the play, the action seems motivated by racist hatred, perhaps, but at the symbolic level, Bert seems to have recognized death and...

(The entire section is 5,252 words.)