All them Greeks had it, Poles, Greeks, Blacks, the lot of them, all them aliens had it...And they had me working there...
From the very first, Davies appears quite fixated on race. He refers often to other racial groups, all in denigrating ways. He is suspicious of their position in society, clearly nervous that they are supplanting him or giving themselves airs that they are better than him. His racial prejudice is tied up with his perception that he is a victim, always unfairly shunted aside. It is also part of his defense mechanism, for if he can blame others for his lowly status, then he never has to question himself as to why he cannot hold a job or why he is so unpleasant. Pinter's decision to make Davies a veritable racist is not just in terms of character, but also a manifestation of historical and social realities of the time in which the play was written. Lower-class whites in 1950s Britain were fearful of foreigners usurping their already precarious position in society, and Pinter captures that fear in Davies.
You see? They prove who I am! I can't move without them papers! They tell you who I am!
Davies' papers contain his identity, and are thus a potent symbol in the play. He says he wants to go get them and talks often about his plans to do so, but always has an excuse why he never does. Without them he does not have an identity, but since he never pursues them, it is likely that he is afraid of what he might find if he tries to actually procure them. Identity in this play is elusive, fractured, under assault. Davies has two names and no identifying papers, while Aston's identity came under attack by doctors and is now fragmented. The characters are introduced by Pinter without explanation, background, or history. They offer little information about themselves. Overall, they seem adrift, unmoored to time and place and not fully formed.
You could be...caretaker here, if you liked.
Aston's simple suggestion is indicative of his sweetness and compassion. He helped a man out whom he did not know, and brought him to safety and shelter. He offered him food and a place to sleep, and then went even further by offering him this job. This suggestion is one of the turning points in the play, for it means that Davies will not just be an overnight guest but a possible fixture in the room. This idea is not at all palatable to Mick, who can only handle a situation with just himself and his brother, certainly not a trio featuring a loudmouthed and "erratic" tramp with no work ethic. While the play is representative of the Theater of the Absurd, and thus has very little in terms of traditional plot, the offering of the caretaker position and the resultant tensions are as much of a plot as there will be.
I was going down today, but I'm...I'm waiting for the weather to break.
This is one of Davies' most oft-repeated refrains: that he was going or is going to get his papers, but has to abide by the weather. Of course, by his own estimation the papers have been there for fifteen years, but it does not stop him from pretending he will go someday. Aston's shed project is in line with this; he is always saying he is going to build it but never does, and seems unlikely to ever do so. Similarly, it does not seem likely that Mick's many projects will come to fruition. Pinter's characters' inability to get anything done is a reflection of the theme of the meaningless of life, for actions never result in anything, wishing and hoping are useless, and there is no grand narrative that explains why life is the way it is. The characters drift along, barely tied to each other and society. Pinter's play encapsulates the contemporary ideas of absurdism and existentialism.
You've got...this thing. That's your complaint. And we've decided, he said, that in your interests there's only one course we can take. He said...he said, we're going to do something to your brain.
Aston's long monologue is disturbing, saddening, and enraging. He narrates a story of a young man who, while certainly not a "normal" person (due to his hallucinations), is not a threat or a problem. He is deemed unfit for society because he makes others uncomfortable with his "difference," and with the consent of his mother, is put into a mental facility and eventually given shock treatment against his will. This renders his thoughts and movements slow: he is now quiescent, docile, meek. He loses his individuality and autonomy, and is the sweet but slow Aston the audience sees at the time of the play's setting. The quote above also shows how language is essentially meaningless; it can be manipulated, made vague or molded in whatever fashion the authority wishes it to be, and result in something far different than the words would seem to express. The terrible treatment Aston receives is incommensurate with the anodyne words in the quote.
I mean, we don't have any conversation, you see? You can't live in the same room with someone who...who don't have any conversation with you.
Davies has a lot to complain about in terms of Aston, and while much of it is quotidian and not all that interesting, this particular complaint/quote is significant because it points to a larger theme in the text: the difficulty of real, authentic communication. None of the three characters engage in verbal communication that results in communality or understanding. Instead, there are unanswered, dangling questions; ambiguous or half-answers; angry outbursts about being ignored (Davies); simple smiles or one-word responses (Aston and Mick); and a general sense that no one is ever on the same page with the others in terms of their needs or motivations. Pinter's point is that communication is difficult in the modern world; language is an ineffective and flawed way of connecting with other human beings. It is too malleable, too governed by authorities and too limited in its capacity to deliver truth.
You've been stinking the place out.
This quote might seem rather inconsequential, but it gets at the root of Davies' insecurities. As an itinerant tramp, Davies DOES stink. Initially Aston and Mick are too polite to say anything, and Davies maintains his belief (how much he believes it is up for interpretation) that he is clean and well-mannered. He tells a story about his ex-wife's uncleanliness, but this story rings a little false, especially after Aston and Mick tell him honestly that he does not smell good. Davies' insistence that he is clean is another one of his delusions -lies he tells himself to make up for his insecurities, which he complements with assertions that he is better than everyone else. The collapse of Aston and Mick's ability to maintain this lie signifies that the equanimity in the house -if there ever was any -is now broken. Davies has exhausted the kindness of Aston and is no longer welcome. He will continue to stink, but somewhere else.
Well, you say you're an interior decorator, you'd better be a good one.
One of Mick's characteristics is that he is good at discombobulating people -in this case, Davies. From the second he confronts Davies, he is an ever-shifting fount of stories, questions, and statements levied at Davies. The audience sees that he is manipulating Davies and working to both keep him on his toes but also secure his trust. This statement of Mick's is offputting even for the audience; there is a second of wondering if the ever-boastful Davies may have claimed this. However, it is simply Mick, flummoxing Davies and saying something that will eventually lead Davies to criticize Aston and thus officially lose Mick's endorsement of his presence.
Anyone would think this house was all I got to worry about. I got plenty of other things I can worry about...I'm moving about, all the time. I'm moving...all the time. I've got to think about the future.
While Aston and Davies offer a little more information about themselves, or at least are a bit easier to read, Mick is enigmatic. He offers few pieces of information about himself; Pinter's words for him are reserved mostly for putting Davies off his guard. However, in tidbits of Mick's speech the audience can discern that he is the most engaged with society of the three characters and has the most plans and ambitions for his life. He seems committed to making the room habitable and accomplishing other goals, as well as taking care of his brother, but finds those all of those goals mutually incompatible. He even breaks the Buddha in legitimate anger, showing that he feels overwhelmed by the discrepancy between his dreams and his reality.
You make too much noise.
This famous last line of the play is the death knell for Davies' hopes that he has a respite from his itinerant life. It is the conclusion of Mick's manipulations and an assertion of Aston's will. Davies has proved so obnoxious, so cruel, so selfish, and so ungrateful that even Aston, a man of incredible patience and compassion, can no longer stomach his presence. The audience may have expected Aston to attack Davies in a violent and physical fashion after the latter mocks and threatens him about his treatment, but Aston's soft, firm responses to Davies's wheedling and pleading are all the more devastating. The last moments of the play are stunningly tense and painful to watch, for as much as Davies deserves to go, it is a sad, peripatetic life he returns to. There is little choice for Aston, but it becomes clear by the end that there is little resolution, closure, or anything else resembling the traditional structure of the drama. No one seems more enlightened or better off; life still seems tough and meaningless.
The Caretaker Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Caretaker is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
The older brother of Mick, Aston appears shy, reserved, and slow. He speaks haltingly and has trouble finishing projects. He reveals that when younger he was subject hallucinations, and then, against his will, was put into a mental facility...