The Caretaker

The Caretaker Summary and Analysis of Act II

Scene I

Mick is seated and Davies is half crouched on the floor. Mick begins questioning Davies, asking him his name and then telling him he reminds him of his uncle’s brother. Davies is disconcerted, especially when Mick asks him how he liked his room. Davies says it is not his room and he has never seen him before. Mick rambles on about how Davies looks like a man he once knew. He stops and asks Davies if he slept here last night and Davies replies yes.

Mick continues to ask Davies about his sleep and Davies finds it strange. Finally, Mick asks if Davies is a foreigner and Davies says no, that he was born and bred in the British Isles. Mick jumps from one question to another, almost scattered. He grabs Davies’ trousers from him, and Davies grows annoyed.

Davies explains how he came to be there, but Mick says he is a “born fibber” (26). He tells Davies that the bed is his mother’s bed, and Davies replies that his mother was not there last night. Mick does not like this jesting, and Davies says he is respectful and meant nothing by it. Mick tells Davies he thinks he is “an old rogue” (26) and a scoundrel. He continues, speaking for a long time about how Davies is a robber and a barbarian and he could call the police if he needed to. Then he changes tack, saying that if Davies wants to purchase the room he has a brother who can fix it up. If Davies wants it in the long term then an insurance firm can handle it for him. He talks at length about rental terms, finances, and other preliminaries.

The door opens and Aston comes in. Mick drops Davies’s trousers and the latter puts them on. Aston takes off his coat and lights a cigarette and silence reigns. A drip falls in the bucket. Aston and Mick talk about the roof and the leak. Davies asks them what they do when the bucket is full, and Aston says they empty it.

Aston gives Davies his bag, but Mick snatches it and says he has seen that bag before. Davies is upset, telling Mick to return it to him. Mick slips it behind the gas stove and Davies lunges for it. Mick tells him “don’t overstep the mark, son” (29) and Davies curses him. Mick and Davies scuffle over the bag. Finally, Mick leaves.

Aston says he did not have much luck with the jig saw. Still annoyed, Davies asks who Mick is. Aston says he is his brother, and that he is doing work on the house for him. Davies asks if Mick owns the house, but Aston does not respond directly, musing to himself about the projects to do.

While Aston is talking, Davies realizes it is not his bag. Aston explains his bag was missing so he picked this one up instead. Davies inspects the contents.

After a few moments, Aston tells Davies he can be the caretaker of the place if he would like. Slowly, Davies says he does not know anything about being a caretaker. Davies is hesitant, asking about what it entails and not committing to anything. Aston tells him a little bit about it, and then gives him a blue coat and says he could wear that. Davies seems pleased by the coat, but less so when Aston says that he could answer the door if anyone came. Davies is concerned about the Scottish man who is after him, or anyone else who might show up and realize he is not who he says he is. After all, he is going about with an assumed name.

Scene II

Davies enters, annoyed that the light does not seem to be working. He mumbles and grumbles, looking for his matchbox after he drops it. He hears heavy breathing and the electrolux vacuum cleaner begins to hum. Davies pulls out the knife and prepares to attack the hidden figure. Mick reveals himself, casually talking about he is doing some spring cleaning. Davies is still disconcerted and remains crouched.

Mick says he is just trying to clean up to make things comfortable for Davies, the guest. He muses about lowering the rent, and then asks Davies if he is a violent man. The latter replies that he is not unless someone messes with him: a joke is okay, but people should not start anything with him. This impresses Mick, and he says so. Davies relaxes slowly, but is nervous when Mick reaches into his pocket. Only a sandwich is procured, and Mick tells Davies he is interested in him because he is a friend of his brother's.

Davies is not sure about that term of 'friend', and when Mick says he is sorry to hear his brother is not friendly, Davies says, "I just can't exactly...make him out" (36). Mick states that his brother's problem is that he does not like work, and is shy of it. It does no good for Aston to be idle, and he is supposed to be doing a job for Mick and is a slow worker. Davies concurs and says he is a "funny bloke" (37).

Mick is bothered by this word and starts to get agitated. He tells Davies not to get too hypocritical or too glib. After a moment, he suddenly asks Davies if he wants to be the caretaker of the place because he looks like a capable sort of fellow. The way Davies took the knife out impressed Mick, and he asks Davies if he was in the services. Davies says he was. He then asks Mick who is really the landlord, and Mick says he is.

Finally, Davies says he will agree to be the caretaker. Mick is pleased and says the only thing he needs is references to "satisfy [his] solicitor" (39). Davies says he was planning to go down to Sidcup and can get the references as soon as the weather breaks. Davies asks Mick if he has any shoes.

Scene III

It is morning. Aston is awake, buttoning his trousers. He wakes up Davies, who is irritated at being bothered. Aston says it is a good day for Davies to go down to Sidcup, and Davies had instructed him to wake him. Both men say they did not sleep well, and Davies complains about the draught coming in from the window. There is too much air, he states emphatically. Both men argue about the window and sleeping situation.

Eventually Aston says he will walk down Goldhawk Road to check out a saw bench. Davies looks out the window and asks about a pile of wood outside. Aston says it is for the shed he is going to build. While he prepares to leave, Davies says he cannot go anywhere because of the shoes. He gets back into bed.

The light in the room dims and Aston is seen clearly. He begins to speak. He reminisces about a cafe he used to go to long ago. There he talked a lot and people listened. This was also what it was like in the factory where he worked. He used to speak of things, but the problem was that he used to have hallucinations that made everything quiet and clear. A lie began to circulate about him and people started to treat him differently. One day he was taken away to a hospital and started asking him many questions. He did not want to be there, but the doctor told him he had "some complaint" (42), some "thing." They planned to do something to his brain, and his mother gave them permission. That night he tried to escape from the facility but was caught. A week later they performed the procedure. Pincers were put on his head and the wires were connected to a machine. The night they came he had tried to fight them off, but was ultimately unsuccessful. Once he came home, he felt like he walked strangely and his thoughts were slow. He had to look ahead, not side to side, and had terrible headaches. He believed he should have been dead.

He feels better now, but does not like to talk to people or go to the cafe. He thinks about trying to find the man who did that to him; but, he says, "I want to do something first. I want to build that shed out in the garden" (44).


In this act the audience obtains more information about Aston, and has their first sustained contact with Mick. Aston's background, as he relates it, is truly depressing and regrettable. His behavior –speaking slowly, seeming to have difficulty carrying out projects, his isolation –now makes more sense. Once a strong and independent man, albeit one prone to hallucinations, he is now a shell of his former self, victimized by electroshock treatment because he talked too much about his visions. His desire to build his shed is as ultimately futile as Davies' claims that he will go down to Sidcup to procure his papers; it is a classic example of wishful thinking, and something that the audience knows will never happen. Aston's introverted behavior, scholar Bill Naismith explains, "is consistent with that someone who has lost faith with family (who conspired with medical authorities) and society (who betrayed him in the first place), but is beginning to make some kind of recovery." He is able to be exceptionally kind to Davies (up to a point), which makes him an even more sympathetic character, as it would be understandable if he manifested a rage against humankind. Aston manages to hold onto his dignity even when Davies threatens it unequivocally in Act III.

Aston's main relationship is with Mick, although this act reveals that they are not exactly voluble in their conversing. This brief scene where they discuss the roof is the longest interaction they have in the play, which reinforces Pinter's theme of the flawed nature of communication and the difficulties in maintaining human relationships in an absurd and volatile universe.

As for Mick, he soon appears to be an even more enigmatic character than Aston or Davies. Clearly possessing a keen intellect, Mick is also sly, manipulative, and humorous. He enjoys toying with Davies and puts his plan into place to turn Aston against the interloper, which eventually achieves its desired result. Mick is quite erratic, moving back and forth quickly from taunting Davies to affirming him; he is able to make Davies think that he is on his side, all the while looking out for Aston alone. He seems to be the most productive member of society, but feels the tension between those desires that he refers to as " all directions. I don't stand still. I'm moving about, all the time. I'm moving...all the time" (58), and his love for his brother and his need to look after him.

One of the most significant elements of the play is Pinter's use of "real," authentic modes of language. His characters do not understand each other very well. Especially as they are less-educated, they do not possess meta-knowledge that lets them speak to each other in a way that conveys their true feelings or an accurate sense of what is going on. Instead, Naismith notes, "what appears to be an absurd sequence of non sequiturs can be, in reality, a psychologically accurate depiction of mental processes...everything follows from what has gone before." Language is also revealed to be useless in procuring legitimate information; characters do not answer questions directly, or talk in circles without saying what they want to say. The confusion surrounding language is utilized by the smartest character, Mick, as a weapon against Davies. Overall, for a play that is so reliant upon language, as in the frequent monologues and lack of action, it intends to fundamentally undermine it.

Pinter also undermines the idea of a unified identity. In the first act, Davies' suspect sense of self was obvious in regards to his misplaced papers. In the second act, not only does Aston confess how his mind and thus his sense of identity was violated by the electroshock treatment, but Mick glibly and deftly toys with Davies' sense of identity even more, comparing him to numerous other people, like "my uncle's brother" (23), Sid, and "a bloke I once knew in Shoreditch" (24). Davies' shaky identity is further fractured through Mick's comparisons. Sid is, as notable literary critic Harold Bloom writes, "a kind of Chagallian wandering Jew" and interesting because, as in the odd turn of phrase, he is Mick and Aston's "uncle's brother", which might be a way of designating him as their father. Bloom even sees in Davies a strange sort of father figure to the brothers, but this would reinforce the notion that ties between human beings are tenuous at best –their father is absent, and their mother allowed Aston to be subjected to the "pincers."