March 1, 2021

Different Faces of Violence in Selected Plays of Harold Pinter                               

Indigenous Art & Culture

Soma Mondal, Assistant Professor, Department of English, Gobardanga Hindu College

Different Faces of Violence in Selected Plays of Harold Pinter

In the Preface to his play Lear Edward Bond says,

I write about violence as naturally as Jane Austen wrote about manners. Violence shapes and obsesses our society, and if we do not stop being violent, we have no future. People who do not want writers to write about violence want to stop them writing about us and our time. It would be immoral not to write about violence (iv).

Violence has become a part of our life due to various social factors. Violence is of different types: social, political, domestic, sexual, psychological and physical. It is difficult to categorize them clearly as often they overlap. In Pinter’s plays, there is ‘use and abuse of power, the fight for living space, cruelty, terror’ (Esslin, 32). It is hardly possible for us to overlook the political and social side of the playwright. In general violence connotes an intense manifestation of strength, usually involving some severe physical effects. The cruelty associated with it must be analysed on different levels. As Bond says,

We respond aggressively when we are constantly deprived of our physical and emotional needs, or when we are threatened with this; and if we are constantly deprived and threatened in this way – as human beings now are – we live in a constant state of aggression (iv).

Bond has a perception for this violence which is not only social but also ideological. His Marxist learning makes violence an integral part of class society.

     Harold Pinter had never written a preface to his plays as Bond has. He had never overtly stated that his main concern is violence in his contemporary society. In fact, his dramatic strategy is to exclude his personal political stance from his playwriting. The most interesting thing about him is that in his personal life Pinter was a political activist, since he declared himself as an objector in the Second World War and continued to participate in various kinds of political campaign against all kinds of tyranny in the world.

     Harold Pinter’s career may be divided into two phases. His first phase is more indirectly political and contains the elements of relationships – power-games and unnamed menace along with the hint of a populace suffering from some undefined oppression, even with recognisable western socio-political construction, or in running away from their respective pasts; which contain some form of trauma or the other; his second phase is overtly political.

     Pinter never dealt with big political issues; he easily could have dealt with the kind of anti-semitism of which his family was a victim. But he kept separate his personal political convictions and his dramatic world. Though he witnessed the violence to which the Jewish people were subjected, he never used it as a theme of his plays. What he did was to show the kind of violence that is embedded in the texture of domestic relations, or the inter-personal relations among various kinds of people. He presented the violence that is there, often unseen, in the most common situations, and in some uncommon ones. There is of course physical violence – The Room, The Birthday Party, The Dumb Waiter, The Caretaker, A Slight Ache – the violence, which is often witnessed in our daily life.

     In The Room, we can see Bert assaults the Negro brutally and on the other hand Rose also suffers. From the very first moments of the play Pinter stress Rose’s fears by her constant insistence on the cosiness and warmth of the room, against the dampness of the basement.

      The Dumb Waiter also portrays the menace of a room. We are from the very beginning made aware of the fact that whoever enters by the door will have to die. The two people in the room are hired assassins. In A Slight Ache, thethreat comes from the outside and pierces ordinary routines and rituals. Power continually shifts between Edward and the intruder. Edward grows weaker and the match seller stronger.

     Violence is also a weapon of political power which can be seen in the plays like – The Mountain Language, One for the Road and Party Time. One for the Road deals not with the horrors of nuclear war, but with the abuse of human rights and focuses upon power and powerlessness. It is Pinter’s response to the widespread use of torture in Turkey to suppress the opposition to the regime on the part of writers, artists, intellectuals, racial minorities and peace campaigners. Party Time shows how affluent elites, in order to maintain their positions, squash dissent. A powerful government official, Garvin while throwing a party suppressed an outside violent protest. The play moves around chaos, political turmoil, soldiers and brutality.

     But most important treatment of violence is found in the day-to-day interaction between people – a violence that is not physical, but verbal, a violence that is hidden in the game of dominance and resistance. In fact, this invisible violence can be called Pinteresque violence.

     Pinter does not take any ethical stand on the question of violence. His main concern is to show life as it is. In his political plays the victor and the victim can be identified, though the name of the country and the historical time are not clearly stated. But in his other plays the question of identification remains a problem. He does not treat violence from an ideological viewpoint or psychological and sociological view point. There is no attempt to explain in rational terms the cause and effect of violence.

     The thesis is an attempt to study the ways in which the different faces of violence – visible and invisible, political and personal – are revealed in the selected plays such as, The Room, The Birthday Party, The Dumb Waiter, The Caretaker, The Homecoming, A Slight Ache, The Mountain Language, One for the Road and Party Time.


Primary sources:

Pinter, Harold. The Birthday Party and Other Plays. London: Methuen, 1960.

______. The Caretaker. London: Methuen, 1960.

______. A Slight Ache and Other Plays. London: Methuen, 1961.

______. The Homecoming. London: Methuen, 1965, 1970ed.

______.  Plays Four. London: Faber and Faber, 1993, 2005ed.

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Websites: plays/ plays_ homecoming7. shtml [24/1/1997] [12/5/2011] [22/10/2010] [22/11/2010] violence.html [22/11/2010]