The Caretaker

Plot summary

Act I

A night in winter

[Scene 1]

Aston has invited Davies, a homeless man, into his flat after rescuing him from a bar fight (7–9). Davies comments on the flat and criticises the fact that it is cluttered and badly kept. Aston attempts to find a pair of shoes for Davies but Davies rejects all the offers. Once he turns down a pair that doesn't fit well enough and another that has the wrong colour laces. Early on, Davies reveals to Aston that his real name is not "Bernard Jenkins", his "assumed name", but really "Mac Davies" (19–20, 25). He claims that his papers validating this fact are in Sidcup and that he must and will return there to retrieve them just as soon as he has a good pair of shoes. Aston and Davies discuss where he will sleep and the problem of the "bucket" attached to the ceiling to catch dripping rain water from the leaky roof (20–21) and Davies "gets into bed" while "ASTON sits, poking his [electrical] plug (21).

[Scene 2]
The LIGHTS FADE OUT. Darkness.

LIGHTS UP. Morning. (21) As Aston dresses for the day, Davies awakes with a start, and Aston informs Davies that he was kept up all night by Davies muttering in his sleep. Davies denies that he made any noise and blames the racket on the neighbours, revealing his fear of foreigners: "I tell you what, maybe it were them Blacks" (23). Aston informs Davies that he is going out but invites him to stay if he likes, indicating that he trusts him (23–24), something unexpected by Davies; for, as soon as Aston does leave the room (27), Davies begins rummaging through Aston's "stuff" (27–28) but he is interrupted when Mick, Aston’s brother, unexpectedly arrives, "moves upstage, silently," "slides across the room" and then suddenly "seizes Davies' "arm and forces it up his back," in response to which "DAVIES screams," and they engage in a minutely choreographed struggle, which Mick wins (28–29), ending Act One with the "Curtain" line, "What's the game?" (29).

Act II

[Scene 1]
A few seconds later

Mick demands to know Davies' name, which the latter gives as "Jenkins" (30), interrogates him about how well he slept the night before (30), wonders whether or not Davies is actually "a foreigner"—to which Davies retorts that he "was" indeed (in Mick's phrase) "Born and bred in the British Isles" (33)—going on to accuse Davies of being "an old robber […] an old skate" who is "stinking the place out" (35), and spinning a verbal web full of banking jargon designed to confuse Davies, while stating, hyperbolically, that his brother Aston is "a number one decorator" (36), either an outright lie or self-deceptive wishful thinking on his part. Just as Mick reaches the climactic line of his diatribe geared to put the old tramp off balance—"Who do you bank with?" (36), Aston enters with a "bag" ostensibly for Davies, and the brothers debate how to fix the leaking roof and Davies interrupts to inject the more practical question: "What do you do . . . when that bucket's full?" (37) and Aston simply says, "Empty it" (37). The three battle over the "bag" that Aston has brought Davies, one of the most comic and often-cited Beckettian routines in the play (38–39). After Mick leaves, and Davies recognises him to be "a real joker, that lad" (40), they discuss Mick's work in "the building trade" and Davies ultimately discloses that the bag they have fought over and that he was so determined to hold on to "ain't my bag" at all (41). Aston offers Davies the job of Caretaker, (42–43), leading to Davies' various assorted animadversions about the dangers that he faces for "going under an assumed name" and possibly being found out by anyone who might "ring the bell called Caretaker" (44).

[Scene 2]


THEN UP TO DIM LIGHT THROUGH THE WINDOW. A door bangs. Sound of a key in the door of the room.

DAVIES enters, closes the door, and tries the light switch, on, off, on, off.

It appears to Davies that "the damn light's gone now," but, it becomes clear that Mick has sneaked back into the room in the dark and removed the bulb; he starts up "the electrolux" and scares Davies almost witless before claiming "I was just doing some spring cleaning" and returning the bulb to its socket (45). After a discussion with Davies about the place being his "responsibility" and his ambitions to fix it up, Mick also offers Davies the job of "caretaker" (46–50), but pushes his luck with Mick when he observes negative things about Aston, like the idea that he "doesn't like work" or is "a bit of a funny bloke" for "Not liking work" (Davies' camouflage of what he really is referring to), leading Mick to observe that Davies is "getting hypocritical" and "too glib" (50), and they turn to the absurd details of "a small financial agreement" relating to Davies' possibly doing "a bit of caretaking" or "looking after the place" for Mick (51), and then back to the inevitable call for "references" and the perpetually necessary trip to Sidcup to get Davies' identity "papers" (51–52).

[Scene 3]

Davies wakes up and complains to Aston about how badly he slept. He blames various aspects of the flat's set up. Aston suggests adjustments but Davies proves to be callous and inflexible. Aston tells the story of how he was checked into a mental hospital and given electric shock therapy, but when he tried to escape from the hospital he was shocked while standing, leaving him with permanent brain damage; he ends by saying, "I've often thought of going back and trying to find the man who did that to me. But I want to do something first. I want to build that shed out in the garden" (54–57). Critics regard Aston's monologue, the longest of the play, as the "climax" of the plot.[3] In dramaturgical terms, what follows is part of the plot's "falling action".


[Scene 1]
Two weeks later [… ]Afternoon.

Davies and Mick discuss the flat. Mick relates "(ruminatively)" in great detail what he would do to redecorate it (60). When asked who "would live there," Mick's response "My brother and me" leads Davies to complain about Aston's inability to be social and just about every other aspect of Aston's behaviour (61–63). Though initially invited to be a "caretaker," first by Aston and then by Mick, he begins to ingratiate himself with Mick, who acts as if he were an unwitting accomplice in Davies' eventual conspiracy to take over and fix up the flat without Aston's involvement (64) an outright betrayal of the brother who actually took him in and attempted to find his "belongings"; but just then Aston enters and gives Davies yet another pair of shoes which he grudgingly accepts, speaking of "going down to Sidcup" in order "to get" his "papers" again (65–66).

[Scene 2]
That night

Davies brings up his plan when talking to Aston, whom he insults by throwing back in his face the details of his treatment in the mental institution (66–67), leading Aston, in a vast understatement, to respond: "I . . . I think it's about time you found somewhere else. I don't think we're hitting it off" (68). When finally threatened by Davies pointing a knife at him, Aston tells Davies to leave: "Get your stuff" (69). Davies, outraged, claims that Mick will take his side and kick Aston out instead and leaves in a fury, concluding (mistakenly): "Now I know who I can trust" (69).

[Scene 3]

Davies reenters with Mick explaining the fight that occurred earlier and complaining still more bitterly about Mick's brother, Aston (70–71). Eventually, Mick takes Aston's side, beginning with the observation "You get a bit out of your depth sometimes, don't you?" (71). Mick forces Davies to disclose that his "real name" is Davies and his "assumed name" is "Jenkins" and, after Davies calls Aston "nutty", Mick appears to take offence at what he terms Davies' "impertinent thing to say," concludes, "I'm compelled to pay you off for your caretaking work. Here's half a dollar," and stresses his need to turn back to his own "business" affairs (74). When Aston comes back into the apartment, the brothers face each other," "They look at each other. Both are smiling, faintly" (75). Using the excuse of having returned for his "pipe" (given to him earlier through the generosity of Aston), Davies turns to beg Aston to let him stay (75–77). But Aston rebuffs each of Davies' rationalisations of his past complaints (75–76). The play ends with a "Long silence" as Aston, who "remains still, his back to him [Davies], at the window, apparently unrelenting as he gazes at his garden and makes no response at all to Davies' futile plea, which is sprinkled with many dots (". . .") of elliptical hesitations (77–78).

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