Analysis of Harold Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter
Dramatist: Pinter (b.1930)
Critically analyze the drama ‘The Dumb Waiter’.
The drama ‘The Dumb Waiter’ is written by Harold Pinter in 1957. He has written plays for the commercial stage, radio, television as well as film scripts produced by some of the best directors of his time. In the same year, he wrote the one act the Room and The Birthday Party.
This drama ‘The Dumb Waiter’ belongs to the theatre of absurd. Theatre of the absurd is the 20th century theatre which holds the belief that it is itself in absurd and meaninglessness. Meaninglessness can be represented in the dramatic elements like setting, plot, characters and dialogue.
Setting: Setting refers to the time and space in which the play takes place. In the traditional drama setting sets the mood temperament and environment. Mostly identifiable settings are chosen for the drama but this drama, does not accord with traditional notion of the setting. Ben and Gus are limited to a tiny basement room. All of their activities are limited there. The limitation of the setting in the basement room shows the limitation of the human life itself. Like Ben and Gus, we all are limited in the narrow space. The scene of flushing toilet, reading newspaper, putting on shoes in the room, a serving hatch and having Gyaratte packet are the things which are included in this drama. These things in the setting are unarranged or muddled. From this type of muddled condition, we can claim that this is the drama of the absurdist. The drama begins with the room, goes continuous and ends within the room. From this point of view comparing to our life, it also begins, continues and ends in the circle of space as shown in the drama.
Plot: The plot refers to the order of the events that happen in a play. Plot is “The imitation of the action as well as the arrangement of the incident” for Aristotle. In the traditional drama, plot is made up of recognizable beginning, middle and end. One event is closely linked with the other. But this drama challenges the traditional notion of the plot too. The events are jumbled together. One event has no connection with another event. There are different events like receiving of the newspaper story, arrival of car, receiving and sending the messages, waiting for a girl, discussion of a figurative language and reminiscence of the mother and so on. All those events are not connected with each other and they are narrated frequently and repeatedly. And the plotlessness of the drama reminds us about the plotlessness of the human life. Life is without plot, coherence, sequence, and routine. Things happen randomly there as in the drama an envelope has been put there but having nothing. That means as an empty envelop.
Dialogue: In the traditional drama dialogue is a means for communication. But in this drama, dialogue itself has blocked the communication. The dialogue is laconic and repetitious. For example, Ben asks ‘light the kettle’ to the Gus but Gus does not understand. It is obviously understood that one wants other to do something else. But instead of performing anything they discuss about the nature of this sentence and about who uses and who does not use this cannot be language or dialogue. This formal communication does not move ahead rather it belongs to the question itself. In the Drama the dialogue for example,
BEN – Stand behind the door.
GUS – Stand Behind the door.
BEN – If there is a known on the door you don’t answer it.
GUS – He won’t see you the door I don’t answer it.
BEN – He won’t see me.
Character: “The person presented in a dramatic or narrative work, who are interpreted by the reader as being endowed with particular moral, intellectual and emotional qualities that are expressed in what they say-the dialogue-and by what they do-the action” Abram (1993). In the conventional play characters are life like and they are easily identifiable. At least in the traditional drama we can identify the relationship between the characters. Sometimes we get an impression that Ben and Gus are the two friends who are sharing the same room. But other time they raise the question of senior and junior which destroys our earlier impression. We do not know who is there in upstairs, nor do we know anything about the relationship between the one upstairs and them downstairs.
This absurd drama symbolically represents the nature of the human existence. In the life we all are free to make choices but once we choose life becomes repetitions and that repetitions produces boredom and it is in the state of the boredom there lies in the human existence. Ben and Gus are free in their life and in this free life they want to choose a job. Like the Dumb Waiter they want to follow the orders in this sense they themselves are the Dumb waiter. We all of us are the Dumb waiter.