Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 494

A Kind of Alaska is a modern, ironic version of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale. While the fairy tale explores sexual awakening—the transition from girlhood to womanhood that allows for resolution in terms of a Prince Charming who awakens Sleeping Beauty—Harold Pinter comments wryly on such a resolution. He does so by focusing on Deborah’s disorientation as she awakes from a sleep of twenty-nine years and by denying her a resolution through her Prince Charming, Dr. Hornby.

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Not only does Pinter call attention to the dilemma Deborah faces as she attempts to adjust to what seems like suddenly acquired womanhood, but he also extends the theme from awakening to one’s condition as a woman to being awake to the human condition. As Deborah questions her Prince Charming, Hornby, she seems to be questioning the patriarchy, and her questions provide a critique of society. Indeed, she makes the audience wonder to what extent either Hornby or Pauline is “awake.” Hence, on a literal or realistic level, Deborah is the disoriented victim of a sleeping sickness, while on a symbolic, archetypal level, Deborah’s disorientation suggests the fragmentation of the modern predicament.

Deborah’s disorientation indicates both a condition of lostness and fragmentation and a possible progress toward a fundamental reorientation toward rebirth, a true awakening. Pinter focuses this idea in terms of Deborah’s upcoming birthday, often referred to in the play in such a way as to suggest Deborah’s struggle with rebirth. Her description of a womblike condition in her “sleep” state, where all is silent except for the dripping of a tap, and the use of water imagery to suggest rebirth—when Deborah says she plans “to run into the sea and fall into the waves . . . to rummage about in all the water”—contribute to this sense of the play’s action as a struggle with rebirth.

Pinter conveys Hornby’s and Pauline’s...

(The entire section contains 494 words.)

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