The ways in which Pages 17-19 reveals Pinter’s characteristic themes and dramatic techniques in the Birthday Party
There are several themes and techniques that Pinter uses throughout his book. A few can be related to every character, some to only a few, and some to none of the characters at all. However, each character is individual, intertwined through common behaviour. Even though it is never said that Stanley has met or heard of Goldberg and McCann, each is bonded to each other due to Pinter’s creative ability. Human instinct. Marvellous though it is, there are brutal aspects to it as well. The ability to establish dominance is with one foot on either side.
Stanley, apparently a failed pianist manages to bring into being a relationship with one of the simplest individuals in the play, Meg. During the opening scenes he appears to be a boy from the way that Meg treats him. For her, he is her special person, and she sticks with him even though he rebukes her several times. He criticises her tea and recoils from physical contact when it is clear Meg is trying to cheer him up. The dominance is evident, though it would appear not much is needed to assert this.
Meg is a simple character and her understanding of items and words appears to be limited. When asking about her fried bread, Stanley responds with the word “succulent”. It is clear that Meg understands this to be of some sort of sexual orientation, as she replies saying that he shouldn’t say such a word to a married woman. However, when Goldberg and McCann arrive, this position of security is upturned on Stanley as he is, throughout the play due to several scenes of interrogation, broken mentally and is reduced to a quivering wreck.
A theme of irony can be drawn here, as Stanley scares Meg with the prospect of men coming in a van, with a wheelbarrow in the back although towards the end of the play, Stanley himself is taken away by the wheelbarrow of Goldberg and McCann. The upset of the dominant person or people in the play takes Stanley from the top and firmly places him right back at the bottom. On Page 17 Stanley takes advantage of Meg simple mindedness or the word “succulent”. The setting of the play is in a seaside town, where Petey sets out deckchairs each day.
However, the scene of the seaside is painted once or twice, but the bulk, if not all, of the play is set in the room that consists of a small kitchen and living room. This one scene setting allows the play to be contained, even though there are many external forces, such as Goldberg and McCann imposing on Stanley’s life and reducing him too a quivering wreck who cant even speak properly. The theme of absurdity also can be drawn from the book. The long speeches made by various characters throughout the play are most likely to be false.
For one, Meg’s speech about having a famous doctor for a father cannot be true; otherwise she would have had a reasonable education and would not be living in her own world with Stanley as an “adopted” son. Goldberg’s speeches about tipping his hat to toddlers and helping stray dogs may seem very charitable, but why would one tip his hat to toddlers; surely they would not understand the meaning of such a gesture? Or for that matter, how can one help stray dogs? It is unlikely that he would have any food on his person after going for a walk with a Sunday school teacher.
It is also absurd that Goldberg is referred to using three different names. He appears to be Benny to his dying uncle, Simey to his wife and mother and Nat to McCann and others. In one of his speeches, he speaks of how in his day, the gentlemen never took liberties, and where very well-mannered in the presence of ladies. However, he is confronted by Lulu after what appears to have been a “one night relationship” and this is clearly taking slightly more than just liberties.
Stanley’s speech about his concert and round the world tour playing the piano seems unlikely, because if he truly was as successful as he said he was, then no sensible manager would let him go to waste. Meg’s fantasy of having other siblings, who each had their own room all with different colours, is also absurd. Goldberg and McCann present an interesting thought to the play. Even though they appear to know each other well, they also work together and have done for what appears to be some time now, they still have issues that would appear hold true throughout the play.
Near the start of the play, during the first scene with Goldberg and McCann, McCann is nervous about their “assignment” and Goldberg appears to relax him using one of his unlikely tales of his childhood. Later in the play, during one of McCann’s paper ripping sessions, Goldberg asks him why he does it. He clearly gets agitated at this and describes it as being childish and “without a solitary point”. This uneasiness between these two people even though they seem to “work” so well together and appear as friends is another one of these inconsistencies that Pinter uses in his play.
The aggression shown in certain passages shows that there are times when physical contact and force is necessary to emphasise or convey a point. Stanley’s assaults on Meg and Lulu during the party show his insecurity and it is evident that he is trying to reassert is dominance in the household. McCann feels he has been tricked by Stanley when he sits down and Stanley doesn’t follow suit. He angers quickly and rises only to be stopped by Goldberg. Later in the book, Stanley feels intimidated, and as with animals, he is more dangerous when he is cornered, and kicks Goldberg in the stomach and picks up a chair with which he threatens McCann.
A theme that doesn’t in particular apply to any one character is the way in which the conversations are constructed. It would appear that is short conversation when short sentences are used, there might be a pause, breaking up the conversation and possibly leading to a new topic. The pause can also come at an awkward moment, perhaps when the conversation is be forced and the characters involved are trying to break an uneasy silence. Some conversation however is actual conversation, such as the exchange between Meg and Petey at the start of the play when discussing the morning’s paper.
However, Goldberg changes this with his long narratives. He uses these to demand admiration and he evens goes as far as telling of his speech on the possible and the necessary. His speeches become regular after his arrival and pauses become few and far between as he always has something to say. Sometimes the pause can be menacing, such as in the scene when Stanley is finally taken away.
When confronted by Petey, Goldberg pauses, studies him and says “Why don’t you come with us, Mr. Boles? A sentence like this after a pause with precise stage directions presents Petey with little option but to back away. The way that the conversation is constructed during scenes like this can be themed to be awkward, menacing or friendly, due to Pinter’s ability to use pauses and stage directions to great effect. It would seem that Pinter creates this play to represent some real life scenarios. A lot of people do create backgrounds and childhood fantasies to give themselves some individuality. It is most likely their insecurity that forces them to do this.
People do make up stories because they feel that they need something to be admired for, have something that makes people respect them, that provides some sort of dominant feature for that person. This is what Pinter portrays in Stanley, and his past has “returned to haunt him” but not in the conventional sense. This person, who has spent over a year in a quiet, backwater, seaside town and has not caused any trouble other than allow himself to be a son to a childless women and that even the most common and unheard of person can be easily undermined, mentally broken and reduced to nothing because of unwanted past.