Harold Pinter Pinter, Harold (Vol. 6)

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Pinter, Harold (Vol. 6)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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Pinter, Harold 1930–

Pinter, one of England's most important dramatists, has also written screenplays, revue sketches, poems, and criticism. The limitations of human perception are explored in all of Pinter's plays; but Pinter, the dispassionate observer, does not allow the possibility that investigation of human limitations might render his people less inscrutable, either to themselves or others. Life, for Pinter, is of no consequence; hence, political and social commitments are meaningless. Pinter's characters, safe and mindless in the womb-like rooms that he creates for them, ignore or fear all aspects of the world which always threatens to intrude. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.)

[In The Homecoming, three] men are trying, by means of language, to surmount barriers and find common ground. Their language itself, because of its imperfections—and their lack of expertise—reveals the fears, needs, and inadequacies they struggle to conceal. All three co-operate to cover up things which are embarrassing not merely to one but to all. They attempt to close the abyss—silence is the great enemy—generally understanding too much rather than too little. Their talk shows … not so much a failure as an evasion of communication. In silence, the questions they avoid are deafening, and silence in this world becomes a catalyst of action, even action itself. Talk seems an expedient, a means of evasion. In silence and in the dark is the nonentity against which they all precariously struggle.

The fight against nonentity, or simply non-being, is something that echoes over and over through the Pinter plays…. In the case of the tramp of The Caretaker, who has left all his papers at Sidcup, the theme is worked out against the background of the other two men, who have a slightly stronger grip on identity. Aston achieves this by clinging tightly to the very little he has left, and Mick by refusing to let anything come between him and his "I'll-make-this-place-into-a-penthouse" delusions of grandeur. (pp. 73-4)

Kenneth Tynan, reviewing the play, wrote "one laughs in recognition; but one's laughter is tinged with snobbism." This seems to indicate an enviable certainty of being out of reach. It would be comforting if this picture of humanity had nothing to do with the world we know, but it seems to concern not an isolated group of institutionalized eccentrics, but Man in general. If my laughter was tinged with anything, it was embarrassment, and occasionally horror, a feeling of having been caught out, and exposed to a chill wind. (p. 74)

Does no one recognize in himself the hapless turning from attitude to attitude in order to entrench a position, or see, in the desperate claims to knowing what goes on, his own baffled attempts to lay claim to at least a partial understanding of what life is all about? Does no one share the feeling that "if only the weather would break," if only everyone and everything would stand still for a tick of time (in fact if only things were different) then one might have a chance? Does no one see in Aston's sad monologue, his own reduction by the shocks of living; does no one feel appalled at the difficulties of disinterested kindness in a world that lives not by charity but by politics?

We have all left our references and papers somewhere. We mostly feel we have "cards of identity" somewhere even more inaccessible than Sidcup. Sidcup seems to derive from the same myth-making impulse as the Garden of Eden, where we mislaid our innocence and our nobility, but if the weather would break, we might dash back and get them…. One sees in the play the frenzied attempt to feel important, and to be "in" on things. We must know the right responses whether to jig-saws, fret-saws, "Blacks," work-shy people, the latest "ism" or the newest West End play. We must know what "they" are saying, even if we choose to disagree. "Oh, they're handy," says the tramp, and we recognize the awful futility of it all. The terrible...

(The entire section is 18,008 words.)