MAX: … the last thing we want to do is wear the girl out. She’s going to have her obligations this end as well. This slightly embarrassed and cimcumlocutory way of defining the terms of her employment seems almost to come from a different person from the one who so recently wished to know whether the arm-rest was up or down as Sam has ‘a good bang on the back seat. ‘ Lenny, who talks almost non-stop during his first meeting with Ruth, allowing her only time to make short remarks, is virtually silenced as she lays out her demands if she is to stay with them.
From the quiet woman she arrived as, she has developed into a ruler of the household with some extremely precise requirements. RUTH: I would want at least three rooms and a bathroom. LENNY: Two would do. RUTH: No. Two wouldn’t be enough. (She pauses) I’d want a dressing-room, a rest room, and a bedroom. She knows her desires very well, and soon comes to dominate the conversation. RUTH: I would naturally want to draw up an inventory of eveything I would need, which would require your signatures in the presence of witnesses. LENNY: Naturally. RUTH:
All aspects of the agreement and conditions of employment would have to be clarified to our mututal satisfaction before we finalized the contract. LENNY: Of course. Through these shifts of both personal opinion and the register selected by the characters to make their points, Pinter creates a situation in which it is very hard to attribute any real value to anything the characters say. Does Max really think of himself as old, or does he truly believe he is ‘still strong? ‘ Following Lenny’s numerous snide comments and sarcastic sneers, what is to be learnt by his apparent submission to Ruth’s flood of demands?
Either the characters are not to be trusted as they constantly switch between lies and truth, or they themselves are unsure of their own minds. In both cases it is clear that of all that is said, only a very small amount can really be of any value to the others. This sense that large amounts of the time the characters are talking without really saying anything useful is consolidated by the sheer number of times when a total lack of understanding or interest is displayed. The incident of Ruth’s tiredness on her arrival, used earlier, also displays this clearly.
Not only does Teddy not notice that he has asked her the same question three times, but he doesn’t spot that each time he gets three different answers. He is so caught up in the excitement and anxiety of returning home that he asks questions and thoroughly fails to heed the reply. TEDDY: … Are you cold? RUTH: No. TEDDY: I’ll make you something to drink if you like. Something hot. TEDDY: … Are you tired? RUTH: No. TEDDY: Go to bed. I’ll show you the room. TEDDY: … Are you nervous? RUTH: No. TEDDY: There’s no need to be. The play is full of incidents such as this, involving almost all of the characters.
Max and Lenny have a similar exchange over the horses in the paper. LENNY: … What do you think of “Second Wind” for the three-thirty? MAX: Where? LENNY: Sandown Park. MAX: Doesn’t stand a chance. LENNY: Sure he does. MAX: Not a chance. LENNY: He’s the winner. (He ticks the paper) POSSIBLE NEW HEADING HERE This failure to interact successfully has numerous parallels with the meaningless chatter of Vladimir and Estragon in ‘Waiting for Godot,’ and the suggestions which are offered to the audience regarding the wider meaning of these language rituals also have similarities.
Indeed the very same absence of attention paid to the words of the other speakers is also common in ‘Waiting for Godot’. VLADIMIR: Ah yes, the two thieves. Do you remember the story? ESTRAGON: No. VLADIMIR: Shall I tell it to you? ESTRAGON: No. VLADIMIR: It’ll pass the time. (Pause. ) Two thieves, crucified at the same time as our Saviour… Here Vladimir ignores the answer of ‘no’ from Estragon entirely, and on many other occasions conversation is slow to begin as neither is fully concentrating on what the other is saying.
POSSIBLE NEW HEADING HERE CONCLUSION BEGINS HERE: Whilst it would certainly be difficult to claim that ‘The Homecoming’ offers such a general and abstract depiction of mankind’s existence as ‘Waiting for Godot,’ comments about human life are made in both which merit comparison. Returning to Camus’ supposition that humans require habit and routine to give their lives the illusion of meaning, there are aspects of the language rituals in both plays which would lend support to this idea.
In ‘Waiting for Godot’ it is clear that Vladimir and Estragon have their ‘waiting’ routine, but in addition to that they have the company and conversation which they provide for each other. They seem to show very little affection towards one another, with Estragon asking for help three times to get his boot off. On the third he receives this totally useless response: ESTRAGON: Why don’t you help me? VLADIMIR: Sometimes I feel it coming all the same. Then I go all queer… MUTUAL DEPENDENCE Despite this lack of affection they do seem to need each other.
To begin with they have special names for each other, ‘Didi’ and ‘Gogo,’ which have an air of tenderness. There is also the time they have spent together, which they claim to be ‘half a century,’ and the many nostalgically-told tales from their shared past. ESTRAGON: Do you remember the day I threw myself into the Rhone? VLADIMIR: We were grape harvesting. ESTRAGON: You fished me out. VLADIMIR: That’s all dead and buried. ESTRAGON: My clothes dried in the sun. They are still together although they show few signs of enjoying each others’ company, and conversation runs desperately dry: (Long silence) VLADIMIR: Say something!
ESTRAGON: I’m trying. (Long silence) VLADIMIR: (in anguish). Say anything at all! Such is also the case with the family in ‘The Homecoming. ‘ Given the fact that so many members of the family clearly dislike others, they talk almost incessantly. Although their conversations lead nowhere, often they do not even respond logically to what the other says, they feel the same need to talk as Vladimir and Estragon do. Both plays advance an idea that to converse with other humans is a necessary part of our existence. This diversion from the contemplation of our true predicament often allows for a total lack of meaning in what is said.
To de distracted is enough. It is also revealing of a fundamentally selfish nature inherent in the characters in both plays. Vladimir’s refusal to help Estragon with his boot, their dual hesistance to aid Pozzo to his feet, and the way in which the family in ‘The Homecoming’ seek Ruth’s services all betray egotistical outlooks. This is reflected beautifully in dialogues like those above where the express wishes of a person are totally overlooked. It is as though these characters are protected from a true sharing of knowledge and emotion by a shield of self-interest which inhibits their ability to really ‘communicate.
‘ Both plays, however, manage to include their use of language rituals to present slightly more optimistic ideas. All the characters are essentially searching for something to bring happiness into their lives. In ‘Waiting for Godot’ for example, the repetition of the following exchange may be seen to have a second interpretation: ESTRAGON: Let’s go. VLADIMIR: We can’t. ESTRAGON: Why not? VLADIMIR: We’re waiting for Godot. BATHOS AND BLACK HUMOUR TO COME BEFORE CONCLUSION (major relocation)
As has been discussed earlier this is commonly seen to symbolise a wait for some form of salvation or diversion, to add meaning to or rescue their lives in some way. As this never arrives it certainly has an air of pessimism, yet the fact that they cling to this routine does indicate hope. A hope based on a belief that there is something worth waiting for, that their reward will come. In ‘The Homecoming,’ though the end scene is a sad one, with Max dethroned and reduced to a wimpering figure seated at Ruth’s knees, his passion as he pleads ‘Kiss me’ demonstrates the immense yearning he has for a positive alteration to his life.
There is almost a form of balance struck between man’s isolation as conversations achieve nothing, and his solidarity as he persists in conversing. Likewise we see man’s unhappiness with the present balanced by hope for the future. A second way in which the use of language succeeds in lifting the mood and adding a more optimistic touch to the playwrights’ perception of the human condition is through humour. Bathos and comic undercutting of particularly pessimistic scenes are used to great effect to achieve this. In Act I of ‘Waiting for Godot’ Pozzo makes a particularly dark and gloomy speech, ending:
POZZO: … But- (hand raised in admonition)- but behind this veil of gentleness and peace, night is charging (vibrantly) and will burst upon us (snaps his fingers) pop! like that! (his inspiration leaves him) just when we least expect it. (Silence. Gloomily. ) That’s how it is on this bitch of an earth. Finishing this, and inviting to further discussion on the content, he is solely concerned about the manner in which he delivered the speech. POZZO: How did you find me? Good? Fair? Middling? Poor? Positively bad?
This comic bathos is remarkably similar to areas of ‘The Homecoming,’ such as Max’s outburst at his brother Sam. After insulting him and dragging out painful memories of the past, such as their father’s death, Sam coolly responds: ‘Do you want to finish the washing-up? Look, here’s the cloth. ‘ CONCLUSION TO START HERE Allowing for the differences in the presentation of these ideas, the abstract approach of Beckett compared with the detailed and disturbingly realistic world created by Pinter, the playwrights’ thoughts and suggestions concerning the human condition do not seem to differ much in essence.
Language rituals in the plays embody man’s need to talk. In light of the furious emotional outbursts of ‘The Homecoming’ and the nonsens exchanges of ‘Waiting for Godot’ the word ‘converse’ is not appropriate; for though at times characters in ‘The Homecoming’ attempt to raise serious issues, they are shot down by a selfish refusal of their listeners to share in the emotions of others. Yet they persist, driven by a need to divert their attentions from the truth of their lives and existence.
This failure to connect fully with others, this inner knowledge of the true reason for the desire to talk, isolates the individual yet further. However there also seems to be an agreement between the playwrights that to crumble in the face of these bleak ideas is futile. One’s position is unalterable, and the introduction of humour into both plays makes it clear that we must not totally despair. Laughter reminds the audience that, in spite of our isolation and hopeless predicament, life must carry on as we are powerless to change our circumstances. It provides the glimmer of hope we require to continue.
Though we may be condemned to suffer and to waste our lives with conversations leading nowhere, we must try to smile as we do so as there is ‘nothing to be done. ‘ (Laughter in the play does not mean we should seek laughter in life. It is symbolic of anything which gives us hope and motivation. ) [My conclusion is a bit rubbish because I find it hard to write about both playwrights’ ideas simultaneously whilst also distinguishing bewteen them. As I see it, any ideas which come through ‘The Homecoming’ are directly concerned with human interaction.
This can be extended to tie in with thoughts about existence itself, but there is nothing so obviously in the text itself as there is with ‘Waiting for Godot. ‘ Beckett gives both a view of the human condition as a period of waiting filled by meaningless distraction, but I find it hard to find any such broad and general perception within Pinter’s work. I keep mentioning how people need to talk, build routines and seek distraction from thei hopeless existence, but the actual mentioning of this hopeless existence appears only in ‘Waiting for Godot. ‘]