The Incommunicability of Language in Harold Pinter's "The Caretaker"

An Analysis Based on Jan Blommaert’s Theories of Critical Discourse Analysis

Essay 2014 14 Pages

Didactics - English - Literature, Works



I. Introduction

II. Methodology

III. Discussion

IV. Result

Works Cited

I. Introduction

Harold Pinter (1930-2005), the well-known English playwright, in the three-act play The Caretaker (1960) dramatizes the challenged identity of a stranger by a temporary familial unity. The play, which lacks a unified plot with expected actions in its usual sense, depicts that how the old Davies is failed to communicate with two brothers, Mick and Aston, and is victimized by his “greedy nature.” (Patil 2011, 1) The play begins with the exit of Mick, immediately pursued by the arrival of Aston and Davies. Their conversation discloses that Aston has rescued Davies from a struggle with his employer who has thrown him out from his work in a café although Davies attempts to rebuild his broken personality by his apparent lies. Then, Aston proposes Davies to stay in their home to recover his life. Davies agrees and is surprised by Aston’s favors. Aston lefts Davis alone at home, and Mick, the younger brother enters and reacts to Davies as a robber. Then, Mick leaves and Aston returns. Davies encounters with Aston’s unexpected offer about working as the caretaker in the brothers’ home. Davies can hardly believe this situation, and hesitates to accept this proposal. When Aston is out and Davies is offered by Mick as the caretaker, he finds Mick’s dominance and starts obeying him. Davies tries to pretend himself superior than his savior, Aston. The next morning, Aston reveals his wish to have good friends, and describes his difficult experiences in hospital where he has painfully suffered by the electronic shock. This confession makes Davies lose the belief and trust he has had to Aston. Affected by his complexes, Davies sees himself superior than Aston and friend of Mick. In a struggle, Aston wants Davies to leave the home, but Davies responds that he is the caretaker and it is Aston who should find somewhere to go. When he says to Mick that Aston should be back to the hospital, Mick aggressively reacts to him. Davies understands he has lost the last chance of his life when his implores to Aston about staying at home do not work.

The surest thing which makes The Caretaker as one of the most prominent plays of Harold Pinter is his ability in depicting the complexities of human relationship just through some short conversations between the characters. In this way, the position and function of language in communication is highlighted by Pinter for the audience to explore both social and individual aspects of language and the complicated spaces which it creates and within which it is created. As Katherine H. Burkman in The Dramatic World of Harold Pinter: Its Basis in Ritual suggests, “the absurdist dramatists are no longer telling stories but exploring states of being and revealing patterns” (6). The present study intends to reveal how the author has used the verbal means to portray the complexities exist within the human communications as placed in social context. To do so, using Critical Discourse Analysis, which regards the social aspects of language as the deep structure for the linguistic patterns, could be effective.

II. Methodology

That “discourse” is accounted a general, critical, and essential concept in the realm of human sciences including sociology, history, literature, and politics and so on is an undeniable reality. Additionally, literature can be taken into account as a discourse, and subjected to “discourse analysis.” There have been numerous definitions concerning “discourse.” Jan Blommaert in his “Discourse” states “there is a long tradition of treating discourse in linguistic terms, either as a complex linguistic forms larger than the single sentence (a ‘text’) or as language-in-use … the conception of discourse, broadly speaking, underlies the development of contemporary linguistic pragmatics” (2).

Along with the emphasis on the social and communicative nature of language, Blommaert stresses the process in which the construction of meaning takes place. This process is provided under both linguistic and socio-cultural conditions. Additionally, “Critical Discourse Analysis” or CDA studies socio-cultural elements which are embodied in shaping the process of discourse analysis. According to Blommaert, “CDA is part of a wider landscape of critical approaches to language and society, and will thus make our view of the contribution of CDA sharper and clearer” (6).

One key element discussed in CDA is “language.” Any account of language in CDA may follow the items “inequality,” “choice” and “determination.” Referring to the discussion of “indexical meaning”, any difference in language is related to different social values rested on “orders of indexicality.” Also, no equal access to orders of indexicality for all members of society leads to difference in language. So, it is obvious that any difference in language is directly related to one’s social position (Ibid 69). Blommaert maintains that people have to choose verbal elements, select their discourse and plan their sequential moves in communication (98). He asserts that, according to Michel Foucault, there is an archive within which the orders of indexicality act. This limitation encompasses the creative quality of communication or speaking, resulting in determination (105).

The attributes articulated by Blommaert to describe CDA embrace “the role of voice.” Voice is the first condition without which no language-in-use is possible. Also, it causes the inequality of people for some have stronger voices. Besides, it determines the amount people are heard by others. The other point is the way one can choose to produce the voice.

Among all the elements the categories of the CDA, identity is still a pervasive one. It is both in the realm of social studies and has a direct relation to the concept of culture. Also, other considerations about the CDA are adaptable to it as a subject participating in the process of discursive formation. In today’s social studies, identity is included within the realm of discourse. It means that identities are made through interactions, and they can be altered along with the change of discourse. When we articulate the term identity, we imply its various manifestations such as gender, nationality, ethnicity, race, etc. Identities can be established as they are recognized by others. They are non-essential and constructed in practice as are produced and enacted. In other words, identification is the result of a semiotic behavior, coming out of social conditions. Related to Conversational Analysis, identities are not relevant until they are enacted by the participants in conversation although they may target other parties not involved in the interaction. The other point is the relationship between identity and inequality. In fact, the issue of identity emerges when inequality exists.

Accordingly, there is interrelatedness between the elements of CDA. On the one hand, the role of voice is studied to show how it serves to reflect identity issues. On the other, identity has impact on producing voice. Furthermore, inequality, choice, and determination have direct connections with voice and identity.



ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
478 KB
Catalog Number
Institution / College
University of Tehran
Harold Pinter The Caretaker Jan Blommaert Critical Discourse Analysis inequality choice determination voice identity social system.




Title: The Incommunicability of Language in Harold Pinter's "The Caretaker"