Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 490

The kitchen, as the dialogue makes clear, is a metaphor for the workplace (offices and factories are specifically mentioned) and indeed for society itself—for a society corrupted or even driven mad by greed. The interplay of character, dialogue, and work routine in The Kitchen is very complex, but it is...

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The kitchen, as the dialogue makes clear, is a metaphor for the workplace (offices and factories are specifically mentioned) and indeed for society itself—for a society corrupted or even driven mad by greed. The interplay of character, dialogue, and work routine in The Kitchen is very complex, but it is possible to pick out three major ways in which people’s lives are shown to be affected—in their social relationships, their personal relationships, and their creative or spiritual needs.

The racism under the surface breaks out at every crisis point and is clearly shown to result from the kitchen’s work tensions. People fight against one another instead of cooperating. They brand one another “dirty German” or “filthy Cypriot,” although Peter points out that they are all brothers under the skin.

Small incidents, such as the ugly moment when Peter refuses to let Kevin use his chopping board, illustrate the selfishness operating at the peak of the work tension and are contrasted with the very relaxed and cooperative atmosphere in the calmer periods, especially in the interlude between the midday and evening mealtimes.

Love between man and woman also falls victim to the kitchen. The unsatisfactory and ultimately tragic affair between Peter and Monique is echoed by frequent and bitter references by Paul to his broken marriage and by the doomed sexuality of many of the waitresses. Paul’s domestic bitterness spills over into his political attitudes when, in a key speech of political naïveté, he expresses the desire that everyone support everyone else in a spirit of mutual solidarity; he cannot understand why one of his neighbors, in particular, has not responded to this appeal.

Most of the kitchen staff display embryonic creative talents. Dmitri can construct radios; Hans sings and plays the guitar; Michael the pastry-cook has a way with motorcycles; Peter has his own song. It is in the interlude, when Peter urges his colleagues to state their dreams, that the frustrated yearnings of the kitchen staff (that is, of the working class) are most clearly expressed. Peter finds their stated ambitions—for girls, money, and sleep—less than inspiring. His own frenzied admission, “I can’t dream in a kitchen,” is the play’s sharpest point of protest.

Clearly, Arnold Wesker sees the kitchen—the workplace—as the corrupting force, and not the individuals, whatever their relationship to it. The kitchen, Peter points out, would still be there if all the staff disappeared, and he fantasizes about what it would be like if he woke up one day and found it gone.

Marango, the somber, work-obsessed employer, is not depicted as a deliberately cruel man. For him, life is about eating, sleeping, and money. His repeated “What is there more?” at the end of the play represents Wesker’s condemnation of the dehumanizing effect of a system that not only cannot offer creative fulfillment but cannot even recognize that such a thing exists.

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Characters