The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

This one-act drama opens with Deborah’s awakening from a long sleep. A woman in her mid-forties, she is sitting up in a white bed looking around. Her gaze falls on Dr. Hornby, who wears a dark suit and is seated at a table in one of two chairs. As Deborah tries to assess what is happening, Hornby questions her, wondering if she knows him or can hear him. Believing that he is not listening to her, Deborah refuses to identify him as anyone. She talks about her sleeplessness and notes that she can speak French. Hornby informs her that she has been asleep for a long time, is much older than when she fell asleep, and is now awake.

Deborah seems unable to digest this information. When she finally looks at Hornby, she tries to grasp what he has told her but seems disoriented. Unsure of what language she is speaking, she is still not convinced that she is being heard, and she speaks as if she were still the young person who fell asleep years ago. When Hornby informs her that he is the one who woke her, she is only more confused, since she does not know him; she continues to ask for others who were there when she fell asleep as a younger person. Unsure of her age when asked, she settles on fifteen but begins to accuse the doctor of “touching” her; when he tells her that her parents brought her here, she wonders whether it was as a sacrifice, insisting that Hornby has seduced and “ruined” her.

Continuing to try to locate herself in time and space, Deborah wants to verify her age through her sisters, Pauline and Estelle. Pauline, she says, is too witty for her own good, and Estelle is deep and sensual. Deborah also continues to speculate about where she is, conjecturing that she may be in a seaside hotel or in a white tent in the Sahara Desert. Becoming defensive with the doctor about her long sleep, Deborah finally asks how long it has been; when the doctor informs her that it has been twenty-nine years, she is further confused about whether she has been or is dead. She asks about her boyfriend Jack and wonders what crime she may have committed to put her in this prison. When told that her sister Pauline is waiting to see her, she insists that she does not want to see any sisters or brothers, suggesting that her sisters are gluttons and confiding to Hornby that she once prayed she would never see any of them again.

Deborah continues to oscillate between the past and present. Learning from the doctor that he woke her with an injection, she tries to claim him as her Prince Charming, but he...

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Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Harold Pinter begins A Kind of Alaska in a realistic fashion; the audience learns with the awakening Deborah that she has been asleep for many years. By dwelling, however, on the difficulties Deborah has in digesting this information and by exploring her disoriented leaps back and forth in time, Pinter draws the audience into an experience of disorientation that leads to a questioning of the reality that this ostensibly realistic presentation depicts. By the end of the play, the audience may be wondering which is true, Deborah’s perceptions or Hornby’s.

These leaps in time—one minute Deborah questions Hornby about being her Prince Charming, only to call the next minute for her former boyfriend Jack—tend to give a conflated impression of time, in which past and present are equally present and alive. When Deborah asks Pauline whether she is really her sister and, if so, where she got “those breasts,” Pinter continues in the tradition of absurdist playwrights, making the audience feel the strangeness of the commonplace. This kind of mixture of the tragic and comic is also an absurdist technique, and what seems entirely natural, the development of a girl into a woman, becomes somewhat monstrous, or at least extremely strange.

Absurdist techniques appear as well in terms of Hornby’s insistence that his wife is a widow because he has dedicated himself to the care and observation of Deborah. If one were to read this play as...

(The entire section is 541 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Billington, Michael. The Life and Work of Harold Pinter. London: Faber, 1996.

Dukore, Bernard F. “Alaskan Perspectives.” In Harold Pinter: You Never Heard Such Silence, edited by Alan Bold. Totowa, N.J.: Barnes and Noble, 1984.

Gordon, Lois. Harold Pinter: A Casebook. New York: Garland, 1990.

Gussow, Mel. Conversations with Pinter. London: Nick Hem, 1994.

Regal, Martin S. Harold Pinter: A Question of Timing. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995.

Sakellaridou, Elizabeth. Pinter’s Female Portraits: A Study of Female Characters in the Plays of Harold Pinter. Totowa, N.J.: Barnes and Noble, 1988.

Silverstein, Marc. Harold Pinter and the Language of Cultural Power. Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 1993.