"Yes, but we've got to be on tap though, haven't we?" (90) (Metaphor)
On tap is a term used for beers served by tap. Therefore, saying that someone or something is on tap means it is ready to be served, or ready to go, at a moment's notice. In this quote, Gus is complaining about not feeling like his vacation time is actually free time because he is constantly waiting for a call about the next job. Making a reference to beer and drinking culture emphasizes their place in society as middle-aged British men. Drinking beer is a significant part of British culture, so using slang related to drinking emphasizes the shared background of the two men as well as their age and status. Gus comparing himself to beer is also a way of objectifying himself, showing the way he feels used and manipulated by his mysterious employer.
"It's enough to make the cat laugh" (113) (Metaphor/Hyperbole)
This hyperbolic metaphor states that a situation is bad enough to make a cat laugh. This scenario is far-fetched and comical in itself, and it is intended to lighten the mood in a tense situation. In the case of "The Dumb Waiter," Gus uses this idiom when the people in the room above who have been ordering food take all that Gus and Ben sent and are still ungrateful and critical. Ben promises the people tea, but Gus reminds him soon after that they don't have any gas on the stove, making this impossible. The statement is issued sardonically, making the word "laughter" stand out in even more contrast to the present situation.
The Toilet (Metaphor)
The faulty toilet in the basement room is a metaphor for the dirty, broken system Ben and Gus are part of. When Gus tries to flush the toilet repeatedly there is no effect, and only later, seemingly on its own, the toilet flushes. This shows how Gus feels confused and powerless about his job, not truly understanding the cause and effect of his role as a hitman for a larger organization. Pinter's choice of a toilet for this metaphor also adds an element of childish comedy to the play, something often that is often present in the Theatre of the Absurd.
The Basement Room (Metaphor)
The basement room itself can be seen as a metaphor for life. The men are trapped in the room for an indeterminate amount of time, and the room contains all the necessities for vital processes: a way to send food in and out and means of sleeping, eating, and using the bathroom. The only way that the men are able to leave is when death occurs. This metaphor is meant to suggest that life is boring and absurd, just like Ben and Gus's time in the basement, and that death is inevitable.
The Dumb Waiter (Metaphor)
The dumb waiter that connects Ben and Gus's room to a room above metaphorically represents the disconnect and imbalance of power between social classes. Not only does the machine impede communication with the people above, whom Ben and Gus assume are of a higher social class, but the people take all of the men's food and drinks without thanking them or giving them any kind of compensation. This represents the way the British government and social elite construct policies that benefit themselves. Ben and Gus seem not to realize this is happening until everything is gone, paralleling how people of lower classes may not understand or be able to stop government policy. The dumb waiter was an insightful choice for this metaphor because the machine was originally designed to separate social classes by keeping human waitstaff out of the dining room. It was also clever for Pinter to place Ben and Gus at the bottom of the dumb waiter: although it would not matter in an actual dining situation, the fact that Ben and Gus are located one or more floors below the people communicating with them emphasizes their lower social class.
The Dumb Waiter Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Dumb Waiter is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.