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English 2307E - Lecture 22.docx

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English 2307E
Krista Lysack

English 2307E Tuesday April 8 Lecture 22 Pinter (con’t), Exam Review Some final thoughts on Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter • It is a mix between an absurdist literature and existentialism o While they both believe the universe is random and meaningless, absurdism suggests that you might laugh at this prospect (laugh in the face of existential despair) o Absurdist literature parodies middle class, conventional etiquette (pokes fun at it)  eg. the conversation about the tea kettle (an English practice that becomes endlessly questioned and made fun of) • The play doesn’t depend on activity or the cause and effect that we usually see in a play o In an absurdist world, nothing has an intention or ultimate meaning • While The Dumb Waiter has comic relief, it is disturbing at the same time o There are periods of silence • The dumb-waiter: an arbitrary device (2826) o The dumb-waiter doesn’t perform the way we would expect it to o It comes out of nowhere, there is no preparation for it o In an absurdist world, we can’t expect any intentions or revelations o The dumb-waiter refuses to have any meaningful action – it just appears, and misbehaves (it brings down food orders for no apparent reason) o The men wonder if someone is playing games with them (it is troubling and disturbing, but still funny) o The good orders become more and more exotic (would have been very unusual at that time) o The men respond with panic and start sending up everything they have  They don’t tend to have self-reflexive qualities • Ben and Gus have quick dialogue, a robotic conversation (2833) o It reminds them of how they have been responding to the demands of the dumb-waiter (if you get a command, you respond without asking why) o They don’t seem to be really connecting o Gus seems to be posing larger questions (“Don’t you ever get fed up? Doesn’t this all seem too much?”) but they aren’t answered • The play closes exactly where you would expect it to (without a moment of revelation), in a suspended moment before the violence o We understand what is about to take place (a victim has been assigned) o Ben and Gus live in their own world (very existential) and are the only people we know exist o Gus is the victim, and Ben is going to deliver the hit • The dumb-waiter is an elusive symbol (it doesn’t refer to anything beyond itself) o It is a symbol of the nature of communication in the play (always incomplete, one-sided) o Gus and Ben never really hear each other  When they do have a conversation, it is as if they are just repeating each other o The dumb-waiter has a speaker tube to send up and hear orders, where both people can’t speak at the same time o Prufrock also has an overwhelming question that he isn’t able to communicate • Readings of the play: o Communication o Unquestioning obedience  A criticism of not questioning the Wilsons of the world and becoming dehumanized as a result  Pinter wrote with the knowledge that the play was only a generation since the rise of fascism and totalitarianism  People obey without questioning  This reading looks at history, which seems to be missing from the play (we are in a sealed room, removed from history) – although this doesn’t mean we can’t look at it from that lens o Class in-fighting  In 1960 in Britain, social class boundaries had begun to erode, but had not disappeared  Ben and Gus are working class (we see this through their job, their unfamiliarity with exotic foods)  Though they are the same class, Ben often admonishes Gus (tells him to be more presentable), Ben has a slightly better accent (a slightly higher rank)  Ben also has some shame over his class (tied to language in the food orders) • Ben pretends he knows what the food is, argues that “light the kettle” is more proper • He seems to have some class-loathing (is a working class person who wishes that he wasn’t) • He is willing to take on the job that Wilson assigns to him and make Gus the victim  As much as the play is a critique of the upper class (Wilson), it is
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