Mountain Language

by Harold Pinter

Start Free Trial


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Act I: Prison Wall The play opens with a line of women standing up against a prison wall. An elderly woman cradles her hand while a young woman stands with her arm around her. A sergeant and an officer enter. The sergeant points to the young woman and asks her her name. The young woman replies that they have given their names. The two repeat this dialogue until the officer tells the sergeant to ‘‘stop this s——.’’

The officer then turns to the young woman and asks her if she has any complaints. The young woman responds that the older woman has been bitten. When the officer asks the elderly woman who bit her, she slowly raises her hand but remains silent. The young woman tells him that a Doberman pinscher bit her. Again he asks the elderly woman who bit her hand, as if he had never heard the young woman’s reply. The elderly woman stares at him and remains silent. The younger woman, redefining her response, tells him ‘‘a big dog.’’ When the officer asks the dog’s name, he is met with silence, which agitates him to the point that he insists ‘‘every dog has a name’’ given by its parents. He informs them that before dogs bite, they state their name. He then tells the young woman that if the dog bit the elderly woman without stating his name, he will have the dog shot. When he is met again with silence, he barks, ‘‘silence and attention.’’

The officer then calls the sergeant over and asks him to take any complaints. When the sergeant again asks for complaints, the young woman tells him that they have been standing all day in the snow, while the guards have taunted them with the dogs, one of which bit the woman. The officer again asks the name of the dog. The young woman looks at him and answers, ‘‘I don’t know his name.’’

The sergeant then abruptly changes the subject, informing the women, ‘‘your husbands, your sons, your fathers, these men you have been waiting to see, are s——houses’’ and ‘‘enemies of the State.’’ The officer steps forward and identifies the women as ‘‘mountain people’’ and tells them that since their language is forbidden, it should be considered ‘‘dead.’’ They are only allowed to speak ‘‘the language of the capital.’’ He warns that they will be ‘‘badly punished’’ if they try to speak the mountain language. He reiterates that this is the law and that their language is dead, and ends by asking whether there are any questions. When the young woman responds that she does not speak mountain language, the sergeant puts his hand on her ‘‘bottom’’ and asks, ‘‘What language do you speak with your a——?’’ When the officer warns the sergeant to remember that the women have committed no crime, the sergeant asks, ‘‘but you’re not saying they’re without sin?’’ The officer admits that was not his point, and the sergeant concludes the young woman is full of sin, that ‘‘she bounces with it.’’

The young woman then identifies herself by name and tells them she has come to see her husband, which she claims is her right. When she presents her papers, the officer notes that she and her husband do not come from the mountains, and realizes that he has been put ‘‘in the wrong batch.’’ The sergeant concludes, ‘‘she looks like a f—— intellectual to me.’’

Act II: Visitor’s Room The scene opens with the elderly woman sitting next to a prisoner. When she speaks to him in a rural accent, the guard jabs...

(This entire section contains 1103 words.)

See This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this study guide. You'll also get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

her with a stick, insisting that the language is forbidden. The prisoner tries to explain to the guard that the woman doesn’t know the language of the capital but is met with silence. When the elderly woman tells the prisoner that she has apples, the guard again jabs her and shouts that her language is forbidden. The prisoner admits that the woman does not know what the guard is saying. The guard refuses to accept responsibility and concludes, ‘‘you’re all a pile of s——.’’ When the prisoner does not respond to the guard’s questions, the guard calls the sergeant and reports, ‘‘I’ve got a joker in here.’’

The action freezes and, in a voiceover, the audience hears a conversation between the elderly woman and the prisoner, who identifies himself as her son. He voices concern for her bitten hand. She tries to encourage him, telling him that everyone is looking forward to his homecoming. The sergeant then appears, asking ‘‘what joker’’ and the scene abruptly ends.

Act III: Voice in the Darkness The scene opens in a corridor where a guard and the sergeant are holding up a hooded man. When the sergeant sees the young woman there, he demands to know who let her in. The guard answers that she is the hooded man’s wife. The sergeant first asks whether this is a reception for ‘‘Lady Duck Muck’’ then apologizes to her, saying that there must have been ‘‘a bit of a breakdown in administration,’’ and so she was sent through the wrong door. He then asks if there is anything he can do for her.

The characters freeze again. In a voiceover conversation, the hooded man and his wife, the young woman, speak lovingly about their lives together and imagine they are on a lake holding each other. When the action starts again, the hooded man collapses, and his wife screams, calling him by name. He is then dragged off. The sergeant reiterates that she has come through the wrong door and informs her that if she has any questions, she can ask the ‘‘bloke’’ who comes in ‘‘every Tuesday week, except when it rains.’’ She asks whether ‘‘everything [will] be all right’’ if she has sex with this man, and the sergeant replies ‘‘sure. No problem.’’ The scene ends after she thanks the sergeant.

Act IV: Visitor’s Room This act returns to the visitor’s room where the prisoner sits next to his mother, trembling with blood on his face. The guard informs them ‘‘they’ve changed the rules.’’ Until ‘‘further notice,’’ they can speak in their own language. When the prisoner translates this to his mother, she does not respond, as if she no longer understands her own language. The prisoner’s trembling grows until he falls to his knees, shaking violently. The sergeant appears, sees him and says, ‘‘you go out of your way to give them a helping hand and they f—— it up.’’