Characterisation in The Birthday Party by Harold Pinter


The Birthday Party by Harold Pinter
Characterization Past histories not important
—completely realistic with life and vitality —ordinary/colloquial language
—sharply unconventional method of characterization —(Ibsen)—past histories of the characters
were the soil in which the whole plot has its roots
—(Pinter)—past histories of the characters, like their off-stage lives and their social
background, are not so important —what is said and done on stage is important
—still every character gives some account of their past (Hamlet—no love scene but
in deep love) whether true or false (commitment of love through marriage)
—Ex—Stanley’s concerts —McCann—lived a quiet life (small business—compelled
to come) —later—town of Basingstroke instead of
Maidenhead Missing links in the conversation
—no characters defined by their past history because they are liable to distort it
—nor are defined by their position in society which they are liable to misrepresent
—also not defined by their physical appearance which is seldom described—rarely any physical
description by Pinter —hardly any character in details
—Stanley (1st appearance)—unshaven/pyjama jacket/spectacles
—towards the end—clean-shaven and well-dressed —not told anything about his face/features/figure Individualized characters
—no multiplicity of characters —6 characters—even fewer in his other
plays —each character is essential to the pattern
—no supernumeraries —individual characters—wide differences—different
dialogues —if taciturnity talking too little is the
key to Petey’s character, garrulity to Meg’s —Goldberg—bossy and patronizing—while
McCann is somewhat servile —Stanley is like nobody else—artist who
has opted chose out of society but who is forced back into it
—Lulu belongs to a different class altogether Convincing characters, despite the mystery
of their motivation —all convincingly drawn—3 inmates (Meg/Petey/Stanley)—next-door
neighbour Lulu—2 intruders (Goldberg/McCann)—realistically portrayed
—inter-relations—encounters—convincingly depicted
—no problem with Meg, Petey, Lulu (perfectly simple-minded)—but mystery with Stanley,
Goldberg (highly complex characters) and McCann —no hard distinctions between what is real
and what is unreal, between what is true and what is false Stanley’s relationship with Meg; and his
sense of humour —Stanley/Goldberg—most elaborately drawn—most
complex and baffling—yet real and solid —When Meg ruffles Stanley’s hair affectionately,
he pushes her away; when she strokes his arm lovingly, he shrinks from her in disgust;
when she asks for a cigarette, he bluntly refuses to give one; when his neck tickled
amorously, asked her to go away —his whole talk with Meg shows not only
an apparent dislike, but also his sense of humour Unreliability of Stanley’s accounts
—informed of 2 strangers—Stanley becomes apprehensive immediately
—avenges telling about van and wheelbarrow, though later realised it was his own fear
—jobs offered and 2 concerts—whether true or false
—more or less poseur someone who pretends to be something they are not, or to have qualities
that they do not have —manager of this boarding-house—thus he
can assume different identities to suit his purpose Stanley’s regression to a state of childhood
—unclear—staying/hiding; why so apprehensive about the visit
—but surely feeling insecure —afraid of adult responsibility, dependent
on Meg, declining Lulu’s invitation, Meg’s birthday present, suddenly start beating drum
violently Stanley’s aggressiveness
—yet self-assertive and aggressive —defies Goldberg/McCann to sit—kicks Goldberg’s
stomach —blind man’s buff—tries to strangle
Meg and to rape Lulu Stanley’s miserable plight, and our pity
for him However, Stanley ultimately becomes an object
of pity for us. The gruelling interrogation to which he is
subjected by the two men (Act II) almost wrecks him; and whatever is left of his individuality
is destroyed by the brutal treatment which he subsequently receives from the two persecutors
(Act III). No wonder that he suffers a nervous breakdown
under the effect of the inhuman in which he is treated by the agents of the organization
which he seems to have offended in some way. At the end of the 2nd brain-washing session,
he is no position even to speak and can only produce gurgling sounds from his throat. At the end of the 1st brain-washing session
too he had almost been bereft of speech; but now he seems to have lost even his faculty
of thought. Portrayal of Goldberg; reminiscences of his
past Goldberg is outwardly a very cultured man,
but there is something sinister about him. He is a Jew who is acutely conscious of the
religion and the race to which he belongs, and yet he tries to produce an impression
of hiving been assimilated into the larger social world around him and of having outgrown
his ethnic affiliations. He often gets into a reminiscent mood. In Act I he speaks about the uncle who used
to take him to various places during the early years of his youth. That, he says, was a golden time for him. In Act II he speaks about this sweetheart
and about his mother who used to give him hot food; in the same Act he also speaks about
his wife and the splendid funeral she had received on her death. In Act III he speaks about his father who,
at his death-bed had given him some very valuable advice. Goldberg’s tendency to reminiscence and
to speak about his past probably shows his desire to escape from the present into the
past, into his boyhood and childhood when he used to enjoy the affection and love of
his uncle and his mother. Perhaps Goldberg has some private anxieties
from which he wishes to escape. Other characters. Goldberg’s attitude towards McCann is patronizing,
and he is even in a position to administer a severe rebuke to McCann when he is annoyed. His attitude towards Stanley is outwardly
almost benevolent but actually he had come as an avenging devil to persecute and punish. Stanley for whatever wrong Stanley might have
done. The cross-examination to which Goldberg and
McCann subject Stanley shows that they are both gangsters or terrorists who have come
to bully Stanley into total submission and to play havoc with Stanley’s mind. Goldberg produces a very favourable impression
on us as a speaker. The speech which he makes at the birthday
party is not only eloquent but impressive. However, he is a most unscrupulous and hypocritical
man as is proved by his seduction of Lulu during the night after the birthday party
had ended. He boast of his sound health just when he
is feeling badly shaken and when he cannot even speak coherently because of what, aided
by McCann, he has done to Stanley. It becomes necessary for McCann to blow into
Goldberg’s mouth to restore to him some of his lost vitality. However, it must be admitted that, despite
his brutality and inhumanity, his unscrupulousness and his hypocrisy, he does impress us favourably
with his sociability, his eloquence in speech, and his wit and sense of humour (particularly
as evidenced in his dialogue with Lulu when she has come to complain that he had taken
undue advantage of her and seduced her by his cunning). Portrayal of McCann
McCann is an able and competent subordinate of Goldberg. However, he is not as hardened and seasoned
a man as his boss. At the very outset he feeling uneasy about
the job he is expected to perform in the boarding-house, and he anxiously asks Goldberg to tell him
the nature of the job to be done. There is no doubt at all that McCann is a
gangster. He adopts a tough attitude towards Stanley
when they meet at the beginning of Act II. He would not shrink from using physical violence
against Stanley if it becomes necessary. he remains impervious to Stanley’s pleas
and to Stanley’s effort to befriend him. He lends valuable support to Goldberg on both
occasions when Stanley is subjected to a brain-washing operation. He is an Irishman with string roots in his
country. He drinks only Irish whisky and, when he is
asked to sing a song, he sings a patriotic one, expressive of his homesickness. He callously breaks Stanley’s spectacles
during the birthday party. He has a bad habit of tearing a newspaper
sheet into strips when he is doing nothing else. In Act III he too feels shaken by what he
and his boss have done to Stanley and he plainly says that he would not want to go again into
Stanley’s room upstairs. He joins Goldberg in ridiculing Lulu when
Lulu complains of having been seduced by Goldberg. Like Goldberg, the Irishman too has his good
points, and is not an unredeemed villain. His real ability and his ready intelligence
appear in the manner in which, like Goldberg, he puts question to Stanley and makes comments
on him in the course of the two brain-washing sessions. He too, like hi boss, is a convincing person. Symbolic significance of these 3 characters
Goldberg and McCann have been regarded as possessing a symbolic significance. According to one view, the 2 men are embodiments
of Stanley’s thoughts and personifications of Stanley’s sense of guilt. According to another view, these 2 men are
messengers of death, or personifications of man’s basic primitiveness, or even agents
of a repressive society. The two men man also be treated as representing
the forces of corruption and violence because they wreck and destroy Stanley’s personality. It must, however, be pointed out that Pinter
himself did not admit that his characters had any symbolic significance. Pinter has expressed the view that to interpret
any character in symbolic terms is to emasculate him. According to Pinter, when critics are unable
to understand any character, they tend to put him on a symbolic shelf. But Pinter’s disclaimer has not prevented
critics from interpreting both his plays and his characters in symbolic terms. Stanley too has been interpreted in symbolic
terms. He may be looked upon as an artist who has
rebelled against society and has begun to live away from it, but who is ultimately forced
to return to society and to conform to its values of materialism. Meg, a comic figure
Meg too has been made to live before us. She is more or less a comic figure. She mothers Stanley but would also like to
become his mistress, if she has not already done so. She amuses us greatly when she feels scared
to hear about a van and a wheel-barrow, and later on seeing Goldber’s car. She amuses us also by giving a muddle-headed
account of Stanley’s concerts to Goldberg. In the end she amuses us by her vanity in
thinking that she was the belle of the ball. Lulu, as uninhibited girl. Lulu, though briefly drawn, is yet a real
person. She is an uninhibited but timid girl. In Act I she offers her friendship to Stanley
but goes away disappointed. In Act II, she encourages Goldberg to make
love to her, but screams and faints when she perceives someone advancing towards her in
the darkness. In Act III, she becomes an almost pathetic
figure when she complains that Goldberg had seduced her by his cunning during the night. Petey, the quiet, non-interfering husband. Petey makes very brief appearances but even
he leaves a lasting impression upon our minds. Many husbands will recognize themselves in
him. He is a man of few words, and he wants to
keep his wife in good humour. He is indulgent towards her little vanities
and he does not interfere with her activities. He certainly feels concerned about Stanley
when he sees him in the clutches of the two intruders but he can do nothing to save him. He knows danger when he sees it, and he knows
that discretion is the better part of valour. Please subscribe to my channel. Thanks for watching.

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