When we first see a new form of painting or listen to a new kind of mu sic, we realize that we have to make an adjustment in ourselves and our attitude if we are to get out of the experience. So it is with the plays of Harold Pinter and Samuel Beckett. Harold Pinter offers a different variation of modern human beings. Modernism involves both the conviction and practice that to be modern is to be, in many important ways, different from anyone who ever lived before. This does not mean that man has changed; human nature is same, but man’s way of looking at himself has changed in a way that is significantly new. It is this new view of man that creates the problem for the dramatist.
Pinter traces human frustration to the nature of human relationships as contingent upon independent human possibilities being joined to gether by simple, elementary human needs and hopes common to all. He portrays the human situation as it affects individual lives in all its unflattering starkness and complex terror; but he nevertheless invests the humblest and most painful of human experience with a quality of accommodating grace, almost elegiac in its compassion.
Pinter’s interest in the human problem is altogether different. He deals with the human relationships together with the failure to communicate between persons and thereby imparts a psychological depth to his portrayals of the man in a man’s society struggling to recover the loss of self in a world full of unapprehended terror and impersonal menace.
When Pinter takes up the subject of the caretaker, he works once again in terms of a private myth and he also goes a step ahead in gaining greater richness and complexity by showing the occupants of the room as real people, not only endeavoring to make their own decisions and creating their own circumstances, but also successfully driving the menace out of the room.
The Caretaker is a three act, three character play. Mick and Aston are brothers, the younger in his late twenties, the older Aston in his early thirties; the third character is the tramp Davies. “Pinter has created three highly idiosyncratic characters who yet aspire to a mythic, universalized status.”1 The play changes the picture of the man, who has been hitherto menaced, trapped, insulted and mishandled, into that of one who bravely and successfully orders the menacer out of the room. A cunning ungrateful tramp enters the household of two brothers, in the garb of a meek, poor and needy soul. Very soon he not only gains an upper hand over the heart of the introvert brother but also proves repulsive and vicious in his comments and behavior. The other cunning brother traps him with the practical trick of gaining the tramp’s confidence first, and betraying him afterwards. It is the tramp who has to leave the room letting the brothers continue their uneventful lives.
Aston, the idealist dreamer, performs the Good Samaritan act of of fering shelter to Davies only to procure for himself a good caretaker companion. Davies, on the other hand, agrees to stay in the junk clut tered, shabby room specifically because he has no hopes of getting bet ter comfort and stability anywhere else. Mick plays the shabby trick of deliberate double talk on the tramp because he does not want to share his brother with anyone else. He maintains an attitude of odd protective devotion towards him and asks: “Did you call my brother nutty? My brother, that’s a bit of that’s a bit of an impertinent thing to say, isn’t it?”2
The Caretaker is a study of the human condition, which is both tragic and funny, baffling and plausible. When Davies is left alone in the room Pinter has again succeeded in establishing out of Davies’s lack of self confidence and his nervousness about the menace of these objects, an atmosphere of threat, mystery and terror Davies the tramp is not only garrulous and mendacious but pitiable and humane as well. Through his grumbling and groaning he expresses the tragic condition of old age. When man has to fight for his stability, sometimes even go ing to the extent of using arrogance and hatred as his weapons : “Why do you invite me in here in the first place if you was going to treat me like this?” (67) It is for this reason that Davies tries to worm his way and turn the brothers against each other. By winning the heart of moody Aston he hopes to demand kind favors in the form of shoes, food and money And later on by turning to the laconic Mick, he plans to send Aston back to the mental asylum and take his place “He’s no friend of mine. You don’t know where you are with him I mean, with a bloke like you, you know where you are.” (67) Davies has neither the necessary references nor the identity to command any attention, still he flaunts his self importance, and hankers, with a cheerful bravado, after comfort, hospitality and respectability. When he keeps on referring to his trip to side up, he vainly hopes that it may build for him some sort of status and also avoid humiliation “If only the weather would break! then I’d be able to get down to side up!” (19) Davies provokes himself into surges of comedy and sorrow, only to delude the two brothers who are his last hope of sustenance. When they ultimately drive him out of their house, he pathetically asks “Where am I going to go?… Would you.. “(78)
Aston, who is a lonely, retarded person, is sometimes carried away by the hypnotic repetitions of Davies. Aston stands for the human need of companionship, Mick with his laconic pranks stands for the unnamed destructive forces of society. He acts as the caretaker of Davies only to destroy him. The way in which the characters of the two brothers com plement each other also suggests, however, that ultimately Mick and As ton like Didi and Gogo in Waiting for Godot, could be seen as different sides of the same personality. Mick could then stand for the worldly, Aston for the deeper emotional aspects of the same man.
The play offers psychological realism. It paints the eternal struggle of man to obtain peace and safety at any cost. It is a compelling study of human vulnerability in face of world’s cruelty. It is also a study of three characters whose minds are fragmented. In their distinctive ways they give the account of life which is packed with frustrations and estrange ments. The way Davies tries to win the brothers and establish his own position in the household is a study of the old age senility and physical and psychological impoverishment it entails.
Pinter proves that the sight of the tramp like Davies may repel us and we may ignore his plea of having left his references behind, but we are in no way better than he. The modern world is governed not by char ity but by politics, and man is so conditioned by his one-dimensional world that he tends to be Everyman Anonymous, which Davies is in a sense-without self reference and identity.
- Trussler Simon, The Plays of Harold Pinter (London: Victor Gollane. 1973), p. 88.
- Harold Pinter, The Caretaker (London: Methuen, 1960), p. 73.