The Caretaker

The Caretaker Essay Questions

  1. 1

    Is the play a comedy, a tragedy, or an amalgam of both?

    The play does not fit neatly into one genre of drama. It has elements of comedy and tragedy, thus operating on two levels. On the one hand, the play certainly has funny moments, and Davies is an exemplar of a comedic character, with all of his idiosyncrasies and pompous assertions and misguided notions. There is humor in his hypocrisy and self-regard. There is also a degree of physical comedy present, especially in the scuffles between Davies and Mick. However, as the play proceeds it begins to look more and more like a tragedy. Characters are isolated, lonely, oppressed, harmed by society. They cannot navigate relationships or the world outside the room. Their hopes and dreams are continually thwarted. They are trapped by forces outside their control. When the play ends, none of them have made any "progress" or achieved enlightenment; they are fixed in the same place as before with little likelihood of moving.

  2. 2

    What is the relationship like between Aston and Mick?

    While family certainly is not anything that Pinter wishes to paint as nurturing, sustaining, or pure in the modern era, the relationship between Mick and Aston is a testament to the fact that there is still a possibility for modern man to retain ties to other members of humanity. The brothers' relationship is odd, of course -they barely speak to each other and are rarely in the room together. They do not appear to discuss their mutual problem of Davies at all. Verbal communication does not work for them. However, as their bond is deeper than language, they do not need to speak; their gestures and smiles and mutual understanding surpass talking. Mick might get frustrated with his situation, but he cares for Aston and wants him to feel comfortable and make his own decisions. Aston, in turn, is clearly grateful for Mick's love and ability to stay and work in the room. It is a relationship foreign to the audience, but one that does not lack in affection.

  3. 3

    Why does Davies ultimately get kicked out of the room?

    The audience can tell many things right off the bat: Davies and Aston are VERY different from each other, and Davies is VERY annoying. It is immediately apparent that he is selfish, deluded, racist, and prone to delusions of victimization and, coterminously, superiority. However, Aston's innate kindness and compassion are able to overlook most, if not all of that. It is not until Davies crosses the line and mocks Aston's traumatic experience electroshock therapy that Aston can no longer stomach the torrent of obnoxious and idiosyncratic complaining. Davies gets to the root of what Aston despises and fears, and no doubt conjures up terrible memories of the experience. It is a low blow, and a cruel one.

  4. 4

    What is Pinter's theatrical style?

    Pinter's style of drama is so recognizable that there are even terms in the drama lexicon that pertain to him. These include "Pinterland" (the claustrophobic, enclosed spaces where the action takes place), "Pinter pause" (his reliance on what is NOT said), and "Pinteresque" (his comedy/tragedy blends with their absurdity and lack of conclusion). His language is realistic, but terse, elliptical, ambiguous. The characters seem like real people, but are just slightly off. Not much occurs in terms of plot; his plays are usually labeled as Theatre of the Absurd works in terms of their inaction, circuitous plots, amorphous characterization, and unsettling humor. There are both tragic and comic elements. Pinter's style overturns many of the dramatic conceits of the past centuries of theater, combining genres, playing with language, and forcing the audience to work harder to come to a conclusion regarding meaning or theme.

  5. 5

    How is the play an example of the Theatre of the Absurd?

    This style of drama, popular in the middle of the 20th century, posits that modern life is essentially meaningless, lacking in metanarratives, and completely absurd. People are adrift, lonely, isolated, and do not possess a unified self. They are unmoored from history, God, and society. Their actions do not result in anything tangible. The Caretaker can be viewed as mostly a work in this genre, for there is little real "meaning" to the play. The characters fit all of the above descriptions, although Mick and Aston have some ties to each other. By the end of the play, which does not adhere to traditional drama's plot or narrative style, it becomes clear that little has happened, and nothing has changed. This fact alone makes the play seem very much like an exemplar of the absurd, because the audience is used to resolution or change or the conveyance of the whole point of the piece. Pinter's denials of these tropes supports the assertion that it belongs to this school of drama.

  6. 6

    What are the realist/naturalist elements of the play?

    First, the play is set in a realistic time and place -1950s London, which is continually referred to by references to contemporary sites like Acton, the North Circular, the Great West Road, etc. The characters give voice to the beliefs and values of the day, especially as they pertain to the working class. Their oppression by authorities outside of their control rings true. The room itself is populated with objects that are appropriate to the setting and action of the play. Second, the characters speak and act in mostly realistic ways. Their dialogue is simple, even coarse for Davies. It is perfectly representative of the characters' place in society as well as their personal characteristics. They behave in ways that mostly make sense; as Bernard Dukore writes, "They seem to be 'real' people, for their speech, their concerns, their behavioral patterns, and their rhythms of life have the ring of truth to them."

  7. 7

    What style of language does Pinter use in the play?

    The actual dialogue Pinter creates is very realistic. Each character speaks in a manner that is in accordance with their characteristics and background. All three, however, are representative of the lower social classes. Aston's speech is clearly affected by his electroshock treatment. He pauses and speaks slowly, sometimes taking a while to get his thoughts out or saying things that do not seem to pertain to what is going on. His long monologue is the most he speaks, but it is still elliptical and full of pauses. Mick's language is a reflection of his keen intellect, and is very destabilizing and complex. What he says does not reflect what he means most of the time, per his desire to manipulate Davies. As for Davies, he is a celebrated character in drama for his voluble, colorful, and rambling realistic manner of speaking. Overall, Pinter uses language more than action to drive his themes home. He alternates between long rants and monologues and terse bits of speech.

  8. 8

    Why does Mick compare Davies to different people?

    There are two levels to Mick's comparison of Davies to other people. The first level is Mick's reason for telling these elongated anecdotes that compare Davies to people he once knew; he does so in order to discombobulate Davies as part of his plan to make Davies uncomfortable as well as create a false sense of camaraderie and trust. The second way this functions is on a macro level, for it demonstrates how Davies does not really possess a coherent, unified identity. Mick's identification of him as looking and acting like other people further complicates what the audience already knows about Davies's fragmented identity -he has two names and has papers stuck in Sidcup that prove who he is, but are elusive and unattainable. The theme of modern man's lack of identity is furthered by Mick's jovial but manipulative tales.

  9. 9

    Does Pinter give the audience any reason for a hopeful outlook in the play?

    By all accounts, the play is pretty bleak. Many critics find very little that is hopeful or positive or optimistic. The characters are isolated and estranged, unhappy with their lots in life but seemingly unable to change them. There is anger, frustration, impotency, regret, and broken dreams. There is absolutely no resolution at the end of the play, leaving the characters in almost exactly the same places they were when the play began. However, there are two small glimmers of hope. The first is the relationship between Aston and Mick. Despite their inability to engage in verbal communication, it is clear that they care for each other deeply. Their bond is insurmountable, and Davies finds himself on the outside of the brothers' relationship. Second, despite Davies's loss of a place and a job, he is, as Bill Naismith notes, "he is a survivor, and though living on the absolute fringe of society and fearful of all authority he shows determination and spirit." He will never be rooted in one place, but it is likely that he will be just fine as he travels about, looking for work and a bed.

  10. 10

    Why is Davies so obsessed with other races?

    Davies blames other for all manner of things, such as his own misfortunes and for general societal problems. He uses them to deflect his own insecurities about his hygiene and situation in life. This racist viewpoint allows him to ignore the reasons for his lack of a job or stable condition, and instead assume a martyr stance and blame others when things go wrong. This is a characteristic inherent in the character, but scholarly studies of Pinter's plays show how his characters manifest the prevailing societal norms, beliefs, and values of the day. In 1950s London it was common for citizens to resent and distrust the foreigners who were flooding into the city. Fearing a loss of jobs and finding it difficult to see the "other" as anything else, lower class men and women simmered and stewed with prejudice and derision. Davies is a perfect example of how the pressures of immigration and social class created conflict and confusion.