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The Use Of Short Dialogues And Monologues English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 4765 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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It’s a game of the mind that one plays with themselves when they read or watch a Harold Pinter play. It makes your mind burst with questions which I personally think happens only after you watch the play, and is rather monotonous while watching the play. Most of these questions that hit my mind were related to the relationships these three men: Aston, Davies and Mick share and the mediums Harold Pinter has used to convey them, and I decided to focus on the usage of short dialogues and monologues. The play is almost like interrogating each character’s mind and in the end, one is able to see identity development or revealing of an identity. There are certain devices that are used by Harold Pinter to bring out even the devices of short dialogues and monologues. He uses censures and directives in his short dialogues and uses short, abrupt dialogues in his long monologues. This also creates a great effect on audiences as the dialogues not only have simple diction but prior to that it carries harsh messages, example the main theme of the aftermath of the second world war and the openness and the sense of brutality it has through the character of a wicked doctor.

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In most Harold Pinter plays, language rather than the portrayal of action is regarded to be a predominant instrument through which the characters negotiate relationships. Language is a central medium through which the characters are able to intercede their relationships in The Caretaker where action is not as prominently able to bring out the relationships. Action is usually considered as a paramount medium through which characters negotiate each other’s relationships but Harold Pinter’s instrument is language. The Caretaker’s action is revolved around struggle for power over one another in the play. This essay will enlighten on the use of short dialogues and monologues in the play to bring out the relationships between the characters. The structure in which they are put, the effect of each separately on themes and tone of the play related to the relationships in the play. The pattern of short dialogues and monologues in the play to bring out certain factors between the character’s relationship. After analyse of the play and research on theatre of absurd, I discovered that the play deconstructs distinguished notions of reality and intrudes the audience’s insight of their own individuality.

Main Body

2.1 Concentrating on the monologues

The Caretaker as a play deconstructs a sense of notions and concepts of reality and makes the audience question their own identity if you look at it from the point of view of a dramatists or theatre person. This also hi-lights an important aspect of Harold Pinter plays and most Theatre of Absurd plays and that is existentialism. [1] The play also explores this theme for character development. Pinter focuses a lot on the social society and explores the norms it holds. An example of these dramatic features is displayed in Aston’s long monologue.

Aston in the monologue talks about his time that he had spent in the mental institution. What is so stark about this conversation is that Aston discusses this with a stranger and the language used that is rather colloquial like in a social conversation, this shows development of society as well and how two strangers can accept each other. The monologue is able to reverse the meaning of good and evil and make the reader question their roles. For example the colloquial language used to describe the torcher, “One a night. I was one of the last. And I could see quite clearly what they did to the others. They used to come around with these… I don’t know what they were…they looked like big pincers, with wires on, the wires were attached to a little machine. It was electric. They used to hold a man down, and this chief… the chief doctor, used to fit pincers, something like earphones, he used to fit them on either side of the man’s skull. There was a man holding a machine, you see, and he’d turn it on, and the chief would just press these pincers on either side of the skull and keep them there. Then he’d take them off. They’d cover the man up… and they wouldn’t touch him again later on.” [2] This extract from the monologue also show the ease of Aston’s tone while talking to Davies, a complete stranger, shows development in society socially.

In Aston’s monologue he also represents a doctor in a negative manner, bringing out a sense of power, status and security. He also portrays shows how the doctor uses rather ruthless and physical means to deal with the “patients”. This goes against the idea of hospitals being a place of refuge, protection and healing and especially for the conservative society. “The one day they took me a hospital, right outside London. They… got me there. I didn’t want to go. Anyway… I tried o get out, quite a few times. But… it wasn’t very easy. They asked me questions, in there. Got me in and asked me all sorts of questions. Well, I told them… what they wanted to know… what my thoughts were. Hmmnn. Then one day… this man… doctor, I suppose… the head one… he was quite a man… distinction… although I wasn’t so sure about that. He called me in. He said… he told me I had something.” [3] This monologue also in a way disrupts the relationship that the people have with civil rights; it makes one question the concept itself. Even though the play is fictional, the portrayal of the monologue through the colloquial language and the social tone makes it seem rather true to an audience. But there is a factor which does not back that and that is the fact that Aston is force to bring forward these words. The idea of forcing out such an experience is disturbing in itself, which brings out another theme and that is of the aftermath of the world war two.

The idea of a household, home is also questioned by Pinter, of its safety.

“Aston: You see. What we could do, we could. . . I could fit a bell at the bottom, outside the front door, with caretaker on it. And you could answer any queries. Davies: Oh, I don’t know about that.

Aston: Why not?

Davies: Well, I mean, you don’t know who might come up them front steps, do you? I got to be a bit careful”. [4] The language used in The Caretaker is to form a sense of inquiry of the characters who interrogate the themes of the play which is the aftermath of the world war two. The speech pattern of the character within The Caretaker helps to present the existential viewpoint of problems of identity and classification.

Aston’s monologue is recognized by many critics to be a climactic one which means that the Act three which is followed by the monologue is the downfall of action.

“Aston: …And I had these headaches. I used to sit in my room. That was when I lived with my mother. And my brother. He was younger than me. And I laid everything out, in order, in my room, all the things I knew were mine, but I didn’t die. The thing is, I should have been dead. I should have died. Anyway, I feel much better now. But I don’t talk to people now. I steer clear of places like that cafe. Never go into them now. I don’t talk to anyone… like that. I’ve often thoughts 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 of the garden.” [5] Although the diction used by Pinter here is rather simple, established the comfort level between the stranger that is Davies and Aston who is able to open himself forcedly yet easily. A relationship between strangers is formed, but then the question arises of the unusualness of the relationship especially when the scenario is of a climax. The simple diction does not stop of the climax but magically enhances it by the technique hat Aston says what he feels, in other words he says his thoughts which is what establishes a strong sense of relationship and also makes the climax.

Another important monologue which establishes a strong adult-child and aggressor-struggler relationship is when Davies and Mick are conversing and Mick tries to the power over him by making him believe wrong facts about the past and creating a dominant position for himself. He also use small sentences in the monologue which are usually instructions, commands, matter of fact

statements concerning Davies like, “You’re an old robber, there is no getting away from it.” [6] A tone of threatening is created by Mick as well to establish his dominance against Davies.

“Mick: …… Say the word and I’ll have my solicitors draft you out a contract. otherwise I’ve got the van outside; I can run you to the police station in five

minutes, have you in for trespassing, loitering with intent, daylight robbery, filching, thieving and stinking the place out. What do you say? Unless you’re really keen on a straightforward purchase. Of course, I’ll get my brother to decorate it up for you first. I’ve got a brother who’s a number one decorator. He’ll decorate it for you. If you want more space, there are four more rooms along the landing ready to go. Bathroom, living room, bedroom and nursery. You can have this as your study. This brother I mentioned, he’s just about to start on the other rooms. Yes, just about to start. So what do you say? Eight hundred wood for this room or three thousand down for the whole upper storey.” [7] 

Mick here has several tones which are created by his choice of persuasive diction and short dialogues within the monologue itself. there is a hint that Mick also bribes with the offer of the house but it’s for his own greed of money. This monologue also brings out the characteristics of both the characters that are Mick’s dominance and power over Davies and Davies as a struggle against the aggressor (Mick).

“Davies: What about this gas stove? He tells me it’s not connected. How I do know it’s not connected? Here I am, I’m sleeping right with it, I wake up in the middle of the night, I’m looking right into the oven, man! Its right next to my face, how do I know, I could be lying there in bed, it might blow up, it might do me harm!


But he doesn’t seem to take my notice of what I’m say to him. I told him the other day, see, I told him about them Blacks coming up from the lavatory. I told him, it was all dirty in there, all the banisters were dirty, they were black, all the lavatory was black. But what did he do? he’s supposed to be in charge of it here, he had nothing to say, he hadn’t got a word to say.


Couple of weeks ago… he sat there,…” [8] 

This monologue is present in Act three; it is rather different if compared to the other two monologues discussed above. It first is after the climax, which is Aston’s monologue. It also conveys a feeling of lethargy due to the constant pausing in between lines; this also creates a slow moving atmosphere in the play compare to

of before showing the difference before and after the climax. The random questions that Davies has in his speech also create a sense of slow moving atmosphere and lethargy. Davies here talks about Aston’s decline towards being social life another parts of his personality. Davies here brings out the development and fall of his relationship with Davies and Mick. He begins to flatter Mick when Mick is the one who tries and succeeds in over ruling him as the dominator and aggressor. This a

little like back stabbing because Aston was the one who brought him there and is convinced enough to fix the apartment without Davies being included. But guilt is struck to Davies as soon as Aston enters and hands him another pair of shoes, which he accepts but rather unwillingly.

2.2 The use of short dialogues in several ways:

The personal aspects of the characters in the play are implied by the conversional qualities that their speech generates. Aston’s resistance to Davies, which in turn unveils his own bounteousness of spirit, this is conveyed through his acceptance of the many incidents on which Davies breaks the connection between the characters and has a mutually unexpected reply to Aston’s story.

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“Aston: I went into the pub the other day. Ordered Guinness. They gave it to me in a thick mug. I sat down, but I couldn’t drink it. I can’t drink Guinness from a thick mug. I only like it out of a thin glass. I had a few sips, but I couldn’t finish it. Davies: If only the weather would break Then I’d be able to get down to Sidcup.” [9] 

Aston gives Davies the chance to change the topic even though Davies takes no notice for Ashton’s interests and self-concern by rebuffing to respond appropriately to his statement.

The control is rather balanced between Ashton and Davies and the way by which it is constructed and conveyed can be compared to adult-child relationship if you take the example of Ashton being an adult as the provider who satisfies Davies’ physical needs, giving him a home and provide money. Conversely, Davies, the child is economically dependent on Ashton for a shelter, clothing and his basic necessities. Ashton’s desire to meet Davies’ physical wants is in striking contrast with his unwillingness to agree on emotional relationship. Davies’ seeks for mental and physical empathy are responded to with purely physical support. This is done through initial exchanges; Ashton offers Davies a seat, tobacco, a bed, picks up his bag from the cafe, his job as the caretaker. His language use therefore establishes Ashton as a provider, and hence in a dominant position. These declarations are all made in the declarative form, for example:” Ashton: I’ll pop down and pick up them for you.” [10] This establishes Aston with a dominant and a higher role, as he assumes the authority he has to be helpful towards Davies security and his child like behaviour. Aston also withholds or fails to volunteer information to Davies, a strategy used by adults when a child’s mental capabilities. For example, when Davies seeks reassurance about the blacks next door, “Davies: They don’t come in?” Ashton does not respond rather changes the topic, “You see a blue case?” [11] Davies’ complaint about Aston’s withholding of information and failure to communicate further illuminate his subordinate position. He complaints that Ashton “don’t say a word” to him and “don’t have any conversation”. It is Ashton who controls the structure of their conversation.

A sense of friendliness is developed by Davies towards Ashton and his effort to dominate him are unveiled through his lack of co-operation when he responds to Ashton’s complaints about the noises Davies makes when he is asleep, “Davies: What do you want me to do, stop breathing?” It obviously is not Ashton’s intent to mock or make humour out of the situation but Davies portrays that Ashton’s complaints are unreasonable and something that he cannot comply with. The predatory, territorial instincts of Davies are recognized by Mick through his rejection of Davies and his right to the room is revealed when Mick tells Davies that he will share the penthouse with his brother,” Davies: What about me? Mick: All this junk here, it’s no good no anyone.” [12] This directive generated shows that Davis is excluded from the penthouse and this infers that he is a part of the junk that Ashton accumulates.

Davies internal motives are sharply realized by Mick and are revealed by him not accepting his mistakes. With disregard to Davies’ working abilities, “Mick: Christ! I must have been under a false impression.” [13] This comment is unabashedly false, as Mick clearly understands Davies’ character, there is an ironic intent in the ironic way of conveying and reemphasizing his profound understanding of Davies’ internal motives and his objections to them. Through the conversational directives arising from Davies’ speech that his feelings manifested, his fear of Mick emerges clearly and his own inferior position, for example: “Mick: What’s your name? Davies: I don’t know you. I don’t know who you are.” [14] Davies’ response gives rise to the generalized conversational directive that he is unwilling to reveal his identity to a stranger. His wariness indicates his recognition of Mick as a potentially powerful adversary as well as his profound mistrust of others around him and his desire for self concealment. The dramatic significance of the practical inferences arising from the character’s observation is seen in insights thus gained into their personalities and relationships.

If Pinter’s dialogues are compared to verse, they will be seen as the more tightly structured ones in comparison. This is due to the way they are shown in nicety through the flow of long and short sounds, words and sentences. The repetition, discontinuity and the colloquial use of language in the play are used as formal elements but Pinter in The Caretaker refuses to yield rational justifications for the actions he has portrayed but is clearly able to present the reality of people’s lives through hidden meanings and glimpses of ghastly moments in reality. “Aston: You said you wanted me to get you up. Davies: What for? Aston: You said you were thinking of going to Sidcup. Davies: Ay, that’d be a good thing, if I got there. Aston: Doesn’t look like much of a day.

Davies: Ay, well, that’s shot it, en’t it?” [15] 

Aston uses his short dialogues as directives to propose to Davies. “Aston: Sit down.” or “Take a seat.” [16] . As I mentioned before of the relationship between Davies and Aston of an adult and a child, this relationship could be compared to many relationships which are to this level, for example Aston as the teacher and Davies as the unperceived student. This can be seen through his behaviour in various situations for example, when Aston gives Davies instruction when he uses the electric fire. Another important aspect would be the fact that Aston does not provide Davies with a clock which shows his strong control over Davies’ time. In a different yet similar way by constantly affronting and criticizing him to strengthening his dominant position. This is seen through his accusation on Davies by calling him names such as, ‘choosy’, ‘scoundrel’, ‘barbarian’ and more through intervening Davies’s effort to defend himself, therefore he denies Davies equal speaking rights and subordinating him further. This shows how contrasting their personalities are as Davies only criticizes Mick once.

Mick uses many instructions while he converses with Davies, sort of like an aid towards monitoring his behaviour and directing him. For example, “Don’t get too perky”, “Don’t overstep the mark, son” and “Don’t get too glib” [17] . These directives disclose Mick’s complete comprehending of Davies’ character, where he already foresees that Davies will, “overstep the mark” and try to take full advantage of Ashton. Getting back to the case of censure, Mick is also issued by instructions and directives by Davies, but these directives only occur when Davies defends himself like defence mechanisms as Davies is not as superior to know that Mick makes full use of explicit directives. Davies directives are simply a desperate gesture or attempt to gain some control over the happening situation in which he gets himself involved with Mick. For instance the contrast is rather strong when Mick is the aggressor and Davies is the struggler, when Davies tries to receive his trousers and bag from Mick. There are many occasions where Mick reinforces his dominant position over Davies to the extent where he monitors his thoughts and claims that he can read his mind with short sentence declarations such as, “I know what you want.” [18] Another example could be the fact that he himself controls Davies’ past by creating it for him and Davies in a way helps him as he indicates his subordination by accepting the fictitious stories of the past told by Mick about the colonies in history.

Mick assumes himself to be the teacher who has the right to criticize the subordinate pupil that is Davies. This is conveyed through Mick’s judgement about Davies’ student like qualities and deliberately misapprehends him shown in the example where Davies claims Ashton is ‘no particular friend’ he has, Mick responds saying, “I’m sorry to hear my brother’s not friendly.” [19] . Davies acceptance of his words again brings out the teacher and student position in the relationship they share as Davies accepts Mick’s views on situation more than his. At another instance Mick questions Davies’s use of relating words such as the adjective ‘funny’ which Davies uses to describe Aston. Then Davies retracts his question and follows with a strong but weak attempt to re explain what he had actually meant and accepts his linguistic incompetence and accepts himself to be a subordinate.

“Mick: What’s funny about him?


Davies: Not liking work.

Mick: Whats funny about that?

Davies: Nothing.” [20] 

Mick’s dominance and Davies’ sub-ordinance role is constantly repeated by the various different types of short dialogues. It begins from Mick’s first utterance to Davies saying,” What’s your game?” [21] onwards. Whats highlighted here is their ability to understand each other’s inter feelings and intentions which are conveyed in the verbal conversing that takes place. On the other hand the contrast is the relationship that is shared between the brothers which is revealed in the way of their conservational exchanges which are limited rather portrayed in short dialogues to ultimately be well balanced. The short dialogue devices that are used to reveal Mick and Davies relationship are censures, directives, adult to child conservations, teacher to student talk but significantly lack in Mick and Aston’s relationship.

When Mick and Davies converse, Mick has the quality that Davies has of being the subordinate when he repeats words said by Aston. For example, “From the roof, eh” [22] is repeated, but the implication of the subordinate given by Mick is undone by the other linguistic strategies that are used when he is conversing with his brother.

A sense of equal participation is noted in Mick’s behaviour when he says relevant information and mostly repeats Aston’s dialogues. These qualities mentioned above of Mick portray that he wants a full conversation from Aston, but the only example of a full conversation where both make a genuine effort to communicate on equal terms in the entire play is the conversation about the details of the damaged roof.

Looking closely at Aston and Davies conversational exchanges, one can therefore see the similarity to Mick and Davies and especially the relation of an adult and child. These conversational exchanges are quite successfully moderated by Harold Pinter to create Aston in a dominant role, similar to Mick’s creation of dominance.

The language used by Harold Pinter is rather colloquial English, it is in form where conversational implications are examined, example the importance of this essay short dialogues. This also magically has dramatic significance if analysed closely through each characters psychological behaviour and mechanisms. That is the common instincts of motives, fears, strengths and weaknesses which are revealed through the usage of short dialogue. The usage short dialogue in this play used by Harold Pinter brings out the power of social conversation which also helps bring out character confrontation.


Exploring the psychological behaviour and the relationships that were based on the aftermath of the world war two, made me come to a conclusion that through these established relationships between Mick, Aston and Davies and the evolving of their identities, Harold Pinter was letting out a social message of the present society during the time this play was written, that is in 1960s right after the Second World War. He creates the attitudes of these men to be very general and in other words very casual although the circumstances they are going through or have gone through were rather harsh and unpleasant. This is also contrasting to the way they accept their lives easily portraying the attitude after the war. The monologues in the play are a device usually used to bring out a certain character’s characteristic but in some monologues of Mick and Davies, Harold Pinter uses these devices to bring out the relationships and the identities of others. The abruptness and the structure is a typical of Theatre of absurd, strongly in Act three after the climax, the period of lethargy. This essay has made me understand Pinter’s intention of bringing out a message through relationships and developing identities.


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