Today we live in a world where violence, repression and fanaticism of all kinds threaten all around in the world. People constantly experience nightmares when they are jolted into the fact that the seemingly safe world has now turned into a volatile dark alley. Violence is now a fact of life even in the most liberal democracies of the world and living on this planet has never become more difficult and daunting. Such a world of latent and explicit violence, oppression, fanaticism and mass destruction forms the spiritual setting of Pinterland. Harold Pinter is one of the rare dramatists who is openly voicing against American domination, proliferation of the weapons of mass destruction and acts of premeditated mass murders. He even concluded his Nobel Lecture with a call for “unflinching, unswerving, fierce intellectual determination, as citizen, to define the real truth of our lives and our societies” as a “crucial obligation which devolves upon us all”, one which he regards as “mandatory”, for “if such a determination is not embodied in our political vision we have no hope of restoring what is so nearly lost to us – the dignity of man”.(Pinter’s Nobel Lecture). He displays a passion for social justice and an abhorrence of authoritarianism and brutality. His plays deal with power and powerlessness, resistance to authority, hypocrisy, violence, brutality and repression. This is why Pinter and his plays come into focus more now than ever. His work, “presents a particularly complex case for analysis, demonstrating the effect of violence and the victimization and oppression upon human spirit in a violent society and environment that conceives violence as an ultimate end within itself.” (as posted in the Harold Pinter community)
Considering the present state of mindless terror, boundless brutality and rigorous repressive strategies employed all around the world, we are forced to return to Pinter’s work with greater understanding of the writer’s intentions to expose contemporary violence and repression in their implicit, concealed or explicit forms. With this renewed understanding we may be able to appreciate his expertise at dramatizing the implied aspects of victimization and repression at individual, interpersonal and communal levels and at portraying unanticipated terror. If Pinter’s early plays presented “metaphors” about power and powerlessness, the later plays present “realities” of power and its abuse. The characters in all his plays are basically predators and his plays are exclusively about power struggles and about possession and power. In The Caretaker and The Room, there is a struggle for a sense of identity connected with the room. The Dumbwaiter and The Birthday Party discusses the presence of an “organization” which will not tolerate any rebel. The power struggle reaches to the extent that all that matters is the survival of the fittest even if it may be at the expense of others. In the more politically oriented plays such as One for the Road, Mountain Language and The New World Order, Pinter exposes the forces empowered to institute rape, murder and nuclear wars. Per Wastberg while delivering the presentation speech for the 2005 Nobel Prize in Literature rightly says that:
His characters are at the mercy of each other on the periphery of life… their identities, background and histories are vague, and different versions exist depending on who is remembering. They seldom listen to each other but it is precisely their mental deafness that make us listen. Not a word passes unnoticed, nor can we relax a single minute. Atmospheric pressure fluctuate as secrets unroll and shift the distribution of power. (1-2)
Language in Pinter’s play acts as a weapon as well as a substitute for violence. Language is used both for self-defense and verbal assault. In The Room, Rose’s endless monologue at the opening is meant to convey anxiety and therefore an act of self defence, and Bert’s silence expresses self-confidence. But towards the end, Rose’s near-silence express fear, while Bert’s speech about power and self-confidence is actually meant to betray his vulnerability. Speech according to Pinter is a strategy to cover up the reality of the situation, and to keep ‘thought at bay’.
Repression reigns supreme in Pinter’s plays and this make his plays inexplicable and enigmatic. Repression in its implicit and exposed forms can be seen in his plays and due this his plays are highly ambiguous. One can find psychological, social, political and personal repression at various levels. In his assessment of Pinter’s works, noted critic Martin Esslin contends that: “Behind the very private world of his plays, there also lurk what are, after all,the basic political problems; the use and abuse of power, the fight for living space, cruelty, terror. Only very superficial observers could overlook their social, their political side of the playwright. (qtd. In “Old Times” 3) Pinter says that “Political language as used by politicians”, does not express the truth as “majority of politicians, on the evidence available to us, are interested not in truth but in power and maintenance of that power”. (“Writing for Theatre”) To maintain power it is important that the public remain in ignorance, hence “what surrounds us is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed”. The U.S attacks in the name of religion are all various forms of violence and repression around us.
Each of Pinter’s plays is a variation on the theme of violence and various forms of repression. He analyses contemporary cruelties and showcases their psychological and traumatic effects. He brings to light the hidden structure and agendas of the acts of structural violence. Pinter jolts us to reality and forces us to examine our consciousness and to realize and accept the fact hidden so far – that we live in an extremely volatile, unsafe world engaged in a raw animal struggle for power. He brings to the fore things that we have known but have chosen to forget – the fact that the mad scramble for power seen from age immemorial has just come with a new garb on.
“Old Times Play Notes”.Court Theatre- The Plays. 9 May 2006. http://www.courttheatre.org/homelplays/9697/oldtimes/pnoldtimes.shtml
Online Posting in The Harold Pinter Community
Wastberg,Per. “The Nobel Prize in Literature 2005- Presentation Speech”. The Nobel Foundation Stockholm Concert Hall. 10 Dec 2005 http://nobelprize.org/literature/laureates/2005/presentationspeech.html
—-. “Writing for the Theatre”. (24-25). Various Voices: Prose, Poetry,Politics1948-2005.ed.1998. London: Faber and Faber 2005. ISBN 0571230091.