(Drama for Students)

Pinter illustrates the play’s major theme, meaninglessness, in his adroit construction of the play. In the absurd prison world, nothing makes sense. The prisoners, referred to as ‘‘s——houses’’ and ‘‘enemies of the state’’ are being held for unnamed crimes. The narrative suggests that they have been imprisoned because they are ‘‘mountain people’’ who speak an outlawed language. When the officials discover that Charley, Sara’s husband, is not a mountain person, they decide he has been put into the ‘‘wrong batch’’ but do not question his guilt.

The play presents an existentialist vision of the condition and existence of men and women as it deconstructs the traditional view that humans are rational beings existing in an intelligible universe. The characters repeatedly question the prison rules, trying to determine a logical structure to the system but are continually thwarted because there is no logic behind a world that contains neither truth nor value. As they face this meaninglessness, they experience isolation and anguish.

Pinter illustrates this sense of meaninglessness in his presentation of the breakdown between language and meaning. Sara continually tries to communicate with the prison officials in order to convince them to treat her and the others humanely and to allow her to reunite with her husband, but her dialogue with them continually degenerates into pointless babble. For example, when she tries to get someone to tend to the elderly woman whose hand has been torn by a dog bite,...

(The entire section is 646 words.)