The characters in the play are profoundly isolated from one another. They orbit their own personal universes and cannot quite maintain deep, meaningful relationships with others. Communication is fractured or impossible; they misunderstand each other and remain in their private, personal worlds. Furthermore, they are not engaged with society; they are isolated from the world outside, finding it hostile or confusing. The room in the play acts as a shelter or a womb; within here they expect to be safe, which explains why, to Mick and Aston, Davies must leave, and why Davies finds it so terrifying that he cannot stay.
Race and National Origin
Pinter's characters live in a time and place when race and national origin matter: after WWII and the end of the imperial age, borders became porous, and citizens of Southeast Asia, India, and Africa made their way to European countries to settle. The result was, unsurprisingly, suspicion and prejudice. Race and national origin were of central importance in order to determine who deserved what from society and the government. Davies manifests the contemporary obsession with the hierarchy of race, denigrating "Poles, Greeks, Blacks, the lot of them, all them aliens," (6) while asserting his own rights. Aston and Mick are not racist like Davies, but still query him about his birthplace and, in Mick's case, tell stories about people's identifying factors like where they live and travel to. Overall, the play evinces the unease of racial tensions in 1950s London.
Communication is not something that comes easily to the three characters. They find it hard to truly listen, or to answer direct questions. They speak slowly or not at all, or, in Davies' case, are full of sound and fury but have nothing meaningful or objectively truthful to say. Their communication styles are influenced by their social class and their treatment by society; Aston is slow and thoughtful as a result of his treatment, Davies is loud and boastful to cover up his lack of a place in the world. Mick uses language to his advantage -to manipulate Davies -but finds it hard to articulate the pressures he feels. They are isolated and oppressed, and are unable to use language to communicate fully with each other.
The Caretaker takes place in a world characterized by absurdity. Life has no meaning or meta-narrative; it is fragmented, chaotic, confusing, and hostile. The individual cannot rely on others, or society, or God, or even themselves to find meaning or value. The characters are isolated, lonely, and oppressed by forces outside their control. Desires they possess or choices they make seem to be wholly unconnected to the outcome. They seem adrift from history, both collective and personal. All that Mick and Aston can hope for is for things to remain more or less the same, and all Davies can hope for is another small respite from the gnawing emptiness of his life.
The issues of race and national origin seem much more prevalent than social class in the text, but that is only because they are discussed so openly. Social class on the other hand is a much subtler theme, and one that the audience/reader must consider in order to understand the revolutionary impact of Pinter's play (the lower classes were not often fodder for high drama) and the motivations of the characters. All three of them are oppressed by dint of their class, which means that they are privy to external authorities and controls that strip their autonomy from them. They are trying to eke out a living, and, in Davies' case, are completely untethered from the mechanisms of society that would allow him to fend for himself. He has no job, no papers, and has let his personality ossify into one characterized by martyrdom, prejudice, and misplaced self-regard. Aston's lower-class status made him a victim of medical authorities, and Mick cannot get ahead in his plans to better his life. Overall, the characters exemplify the beliefs, values, and behaviors of those deemed by society to be worthy of little regard.
Family relationships are significant in the play, but are depicted in a myriad of ways. Family can sometimes be detrimental, and representative of the larger absurdity and meaningless of life -Aston's mother allows her son to be given the electroshock treatment, and Davies' family is absent (whether or not it was he who rejected his wife or he is leaving part of the story out, he is still completely alone). Family can also be a burden, as Mick understands because he has to put up with his brother's slowness and ineptitude. However, the largely silent relationship between Mick and Aston is the closest the play comes to offering meaning and purpose. Mick and Aston care for each other; Mick sees them living in the house together, and is (mostly) indulgent of Aston's behavior. He resents Davies but does not want to hurt or annoy his brother, so he uses subtler means to oust the tramp. By the end of the play the slight smile exchanged between the brothers indicates that they fully understand and appreciate each other; it is a small gesture but one pregnant with meaning.
Mick, Aston, and Davies are certainly memorable characters, but they do not possess fully-fledged identities. In fact, Pinter suggests that modern life so beats down a person that they are unable to maintain a sense of self. Aston was rendered pliable and meek due to electroshock treatment, and Davies has two names and goes without his identifying papers. He does not remember where he was born, and seems almost afraid to pursue answers to these questions, as if he were afraid to find out he really has no identity. Mick tries desperately to live out his ambitions, but is pulled in different directions by the claims on his attention. The characters are defined more in terms of their relationships to different objects rather than their actual characteristics or motivations: Davies is obsessed with shoes and his knife, Aston has his Buddha and the broken plug, and the brothers closely heed the bucket. Pinter reveals very little of their history or anything else about them, which is intended to call attention to their lack of fixed, unified identities.
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.