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Power of Language

(Drama for Students)

Harold Pinter has stated unequivocally many times that "I do not write theses: I write plays.'' He says that his personal judgments are reserved for the "shape and validity'' of his work. He is concerned with expressing his vision in a way that communicates directly to the audience. Audiences in 1965 (and to a large degree even today) were used to realism with its specific biographical facts, implicit or explicit judgments on characters and situations, summary speeches, and neatly wrapped denouement. The audience may then agree or disagree with the author's view or conclusions, but at least the author's stance was clearly delineated. That is not so with Pinter, and this is profoundly disturbing to many critics and viewers. Pinter banishes the notion of the omniscient, moral author and makes no judgments about his characters or their situations. The characters are defined by their actions rather than judged by their author. This technique puts the perception—and moral judgment—of these characters squarely in the hands of the audience.

Like many plays The Homecoming presents us with a solidly realistic grounding in a particular place. There is an almost uncanny reproduction of real life in the characters' language. The story is simple: a man brings his wife of six years home to meet his family for the first time. There is a struggle for control of the family in which the new wife is first the target of domination and ultimately the victor. In this battle for supremacy, the character resort to their basest instincts for survival, casting most accoutrements of civility aside. While these people reveal themselves as vicious creatures, little information is given as to what specific events in their lives made them this way. This ambiguity in their backgrounds, especially Ruth's, adds to both the allure and repulsive nature of Pinter's characters While the play Is grounded in a specific reality, it also provides a sense of mystery that lends itself to many valid interpretations The Homecoming offers its audiences a powerful glimpse into the darkness of human nature but it also leaves character motivation and history open to interpretation.

Most of the "action" in The Homecoming is contained in the language and works on a psychological level Language for Pinter is never devoid of tactical purpose. His characters do not speak in a logical question-response manner; they constantly probe the other's assumed intentions, cover-up their own intentions, counter-strike, and intentionally evade. They are constantly using language to create a reality in which they can dominate the others. This leads to very powerful and constant action on the subtextual level. Ruth may seem to be talking about a glass of water when she says to Lenny, "Have a sip. Go on. Have a sip from my glass. Sit on my lap. Take a long cool sip.

Put your head back and open your mouth," but Lenny and the audience know that she is making an overt sexual proposal. Did Ruth have a job in her past that equipped her to deal with men on this level, or did she acquire this skill from her six years with Teddy? Another puzzle for the viewer. In another instance, Sam seems to be gently praising Jessie when he tells Max that he would "Never get a bride like you had, anyway. Nothing like your bride ... going about these days. Like Jessie." In reality he is reminding Max that Jessie was, at best, a loose woman who had an affair with Max's best friend MacGregor and Max understands the real meaning in Sam's words.

Despite then ambiguous histories, Pinter creates wonderful characters In fact, he has been "accused" by some critics of merely writing characters that actors like to play, as though that were a fault in his writing. He does write fascinating characters. Max is a gem of contradictions: sly, clever, charming, vicious, violent, and ultimately vulnerable and pitiful. Ruth is sexually seething beneath her cool, polite exterior. Lenny is all cool polish and wit over his inner fears and weaknesses....

(The entire section is 5,502 words.)