Harold Pinter

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Can you provide an example of dialogue peculiarity in Harold Pinter's The Birthday Party?

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Harold Pinter uses silence, stream of consciousness, empty repetition and confusion in his dialogues. He does this to mirror the unreliability of language and truth. This goes for truth in general. He would say that what is true for someone may be false for another. This also illustrates how conversational language can be confusing. In everyday language, there are pauses, incomplete sentences and unfinished thoughts. Pinter tries to capture this not only to be realistic but also to show how language can psychologically represent ideas and feelings.

For example, in The Birthday Party, repetition is a work when Meg serves Petey corn flakes:

Meg. Are they nice?

Petey. Very nice.

Meg. I thought they’d be nice.

They carry on friendly conversation but it is empty. There is no need to repeatedly confirm that the corn flakes are nice. They’re just corn flakes. This reflects the emptiness of their lives and their relationship. “Nice” is repeated in each line. There is no substance to this. It is empty speech like answering “How are you” with an obligatory and automatic “Good, how are you?” The speech is just ritual repetition. Neither of them cares about the corn flakes. Meg particularly seems to always speak absent-mindedly.

McCann uses repetition to symbolize his own problem with what he and Goldberg must do with Stanley:

Let’s finish and go. Let’s get it over and go. Get the thing done. Let’s finish the bloody thing. Let’s get the thing done and go!

There is also the scene where Goldberg and McCann harangue Stanley with an endless series of advice, most of which are clichés. “You’ll be a success.” “You’ll be a mensch.” They are mocking Stanley, psychologically playing with his mind. Just as Meg and Petey did not care about the corn flakes, McCann and Goldberg do not intend to help Stanley “get better.” Meg and Petey were in denial. But McCann and Goldberg are engaged in psychological mind games.

Stanley appears to be stuck in the boarding house. It is comforting but somewhat of a prison. This paradox is paralleled by Goldberg and McCann’s intentions. We can’t ever really say for sure if they intend to hurt or help Stanley. Are they hit-men or avant-garde therapists? Pinter shows how language can prevent rather than facilitate meaning.

On the other hand, the rising intensity and increasing confusion might symbolize Stanley's rising anxiety. Conversely, when the dialogue is simple and slow, Stanley is calm. If this is the case, then Pinter is showing how language is unreliable in the words themselves but can occasionally communicate through intensity and emotion.

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