E212-R Harold Pinter Questions

Assigned: The Dumb Waiter (2594-2616).

The Dumb Waiter

1. "Habit is the ballast that chains the dog to his vomit" and "Breathing is habit," wrote Samuel Beckett, whose ideas influenced Pinter and other post-modernists. How might such a comment apply to Pinter's plot and his characters' conversations in The Dumb Waiter? Consider, for instance, their obsessions and their "small talk."

2. What is the point of the semi-comic routine in which the mechanical "dumb waiter" figures? Ben and Gus receive chef's orders, send up their own fast food, get a reply, and so forth — what does this reveal about them and about their situation?

3. Ben and Gus seem to be something like "mafia foot soldiers." Why is that frame of reference particularly apt if the playwright wants us to treat his plays as a metaphor for modern life? Respond with reference to a passage or two in the text.

4. What ironic turn does the action take at the play's end? How is the plot resolved, if that's the right word for what happens? For example, how does the final event change the way an audience might understand the action and dialogue leading up to it?

5. Though there are comic moments in his plays, Pinter's aim doesn't seem to be to please an audience in any simple way. What elements of traditional drama does he reject? What's the payoff for being patient with his minimalist approach?

Edition: Abrams, M. H. et al. The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Vols. 2A-C. 7th ed. New York: Norton, 2000. ISBN 2A = 0393975681, 2B = 039397569X, 2C = 0393975703.