The Caretaker By Pinter: A Play Can Be Confrontati Essay

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The Caretaker By Pinter: A Play Can Be Confrontational, Challenging An

The Caretaker by Pinter: A Play Can Be Confrontational, Challenging and
Disturbing to the Values and Assumptions of An Audience. Discuss With close
Reference

The Caretaker, written by the British playwright Harold Pinter in the late
1950's and early 1960's disrupts the audiences perceptions of existence and
their understandings of it. The play deconstructs perceived notions and
conceptions of reality, and disturbs the audiences perception of their own
identity and place within a world which is primarily concerned with the search
and need for identity. Pinter was clearly influenced by the fashionable
philosophic review of human condition that was prominent in the 1950's and
1960's - existentialism. The play attacks the notion that there are no absolute
truths or realities. Pinter is therefore concerned with what exists as unknown
and intangible to humanity. His theatre interrogates the truth of nature and
realities of language and demonstrates that much of what the audience regards as
fact is fiction as he explores the uncertainty of human existence.

When an audience of the 1960's went to the theatre, it can generally be assumed
that they had preconceived ideas about what they expected and what they are
going to gain from the theatrical experience. The traditional attitudes towards
theatre and the conventions of realist drama are disrupted by Pinter. This
confronts the assumptions and values of the audience, an experience which would
be disconcerting and frightening to many.

Pinter divorces and exposes society's codes, institutions and human relations.
Throughout the play the audience is rarely comfortable. This disruption is
established from the outset of the play when Mick, a character who at this stage
of the play the audience knows nothing about, sits on the bed and stares at the
audience in silence for ‘30 seconds'. Traditionally in realist drama such as
Henrik Ibsen's Hedda Gabler characters use simple exposition through language
and non-verbal elements to ‘let the audience in' and enlighten them on what is
happening on the stage and the results and reasons for and behind actions.
Pinter disrupts this tradition and this in itself would have been a disturbing
phenomena to the conservative audiences of post-war Britain. Mick's arrival on
stage generates unease within the audience and the tension would only increase
as Pinter provides the audience with no explanation for him being there. Mick
leaves the stage in a state of maintained silence, hence the first images
presented in the play confront many of the assumptions of a traditional
theatrical experience.

Mick is alone in the room, sitting on the bed. He wears a leather jacket… He
slowly looks about the room, looking at each object in turn. He looks up at the
ceiling, and stares at the bucket… Silence for thirty seconds. Mick turns his
head. He stands, moves silently to the door, goes out, and closes the door
quietly.

It is not until the Act two that this character becomes known to the audience as
Mick. This deferral of information is quite confrontational as it opposes
accepted and naturalised preconceptions of power and right. Mick's position on
the bed and his costuming - wearing a leather jacket places him in the
traditionally accepted position of power. However this idea is problematised
when Mick leaves the room and Aston enters with the key, thus demonstrating the
illusory and ambiguous nature of power. Mick not re-entering until later in the
play confronts traditional notion that as he was introduced first, he is in a
position of power. The opening scene defamiliarises the Audience with
traditional notions of power and establishes a precedent for the remainder of
the play.

Pinter does not adhere to the accepted use of dramatic conventions. There is no
traditional relation of character histories within the opening scenes and lack
of revelation is maintained throughout the play as relatively little is exposed
about the characters backgrounds. This makes events within the room conditional
phenomena, which are dependent on the individuals involved and what the audience
is able to interpret.

Pinter denies meaning in traditional places of discovery and appears to provide
it by means and in situations that are not socially acceptable or considered as
being the norm. An example of this is the obvious exposition in Aston's long
monologue about his time within a mental institution. The discussion of such
topics with practically a complete stranger and in social conversation
definitely oversteps the mark of social acceptability. The discussion of such
topics is very ‘in your face' and would be very disturbing and confrontational
to the original audience and modern audiences.

Pinter is able to create realisation of the inadequacies of the rules that
govern polite behaviour. This monologue disrupts the traditional notions of ‘
good' and ‘evil', and in effect reverses these roles. Within this speech, Aston
presents a doctor in negative images, and this figure who is traditionally seen
as the wielder of power, status and security is presented as an repressive agent
of an oppressive institution who uses physical and brutal means to deal with ‘
patients'. The affirmed ideas of hospitals being a place of safety and refuge,
and doctors as ‘good' is also deconstructed by Pinter. Aston's monologue serves
to shock the audience as he talks about something that the conservative society
was not open with, oversteps the mark of acceptability. Hence the audience would
have been confronted with ideas that were previously ignored or ‘swept under the
carpet', ideas that to many would be quite disturbing;

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