The Birthday Party by Harold Pinter
The Birthday Party is a play right written by Harold Pinter. The play is based on power. The dictionary definition of power is’ The ability to act or produce an effect’ or ‘possession of control, authority, or influence over others’ In the play there are several characters. These include Petey, a man in his sixties and his wife Meg, who is also in her sixties. Stanley is a man in his late thirties and a guest at Petey’s and Meg’s hotel. Goldberg and McCann then later become guests. Goldberg is a man in his fifties and McCann is a man of thirty. Lulu occasionally visits in the play; she is a young lady in her twenties.
In the play right everyone seems to have power over everyone at some point apart from Meg and Lulu. From the start of Act One Petey pays no attention to Meg. He reads his newspaper and acts really disinterested towards her. An example of this is on page 10. Meg says “What does it say” and Petey simply replies “Nothing much. ” He makes her feel like she has to make conversation with her. This type of power is used without any effort. It is gained by silence towards the other person. You can imagine this one stage with Meg being very enthusiastic and Petey just saying short answers with a bothered tone of voice.
It gives you the idea that Meg makes all the effort in this relationship. Stanley had power over Meg but only after Petey has left the room. He has a sort of power over Meg that makes her feel small and insufficient. At this point in Act I he appears to be a nasty character. He says on page 16 “You’re a bad wife”. At this point due to the nasty comments she receives she begins to be defensive. This shows how Meg is weak because normally a person’s instant reaction is to say something back but she doesn’t. Instead she says “I’m not. Who said I am” she doesn’t make any attempt to fight back.
You can imagine in a theatre the fear in her voice. She fears that Petey has said she is a bad wife. He has only made a simple statement but it knows how to hurt her feelings while only saying four words. Although only four words are said, Stanley has mental power over her because she is now scared and offended. In Act II from page 47 McCann and Goldberg ask Stanley a range of ridiculous and confusing questions.
Stanley is left terrified and speechless. McCann and Goldberg have total power over Stanley at this point as Stanley begins to become weak. The questions asked are pointless like “What comes first the chicken or the egg. This is asked by McCann on page 52. There is no obvious answer for this but yet any obvious reason to ask this. Stanley is shocked and doesn’t make any attempts to resume any power that is seen earlier on in this play. They use enough power to scare him but yet Goldberg’s and McCann’s power is actually stronger than what is shown on these particular pages of the play. Although, McCann and Goldberg have power over Stanley, Goldberg still has power over McCann. McCann does exactly what he is told and never questions Goldberg. McCann could be seen as a sidekick for McCann.
You get the impression that without Goldberg, McCann would be a very weak character. Lulu is a minor character and doesn’t really have time to have any power but Goldberg does later in Act II have power over Lulu. Goldberg seduces her and she is infatuated with him. This is another type of power – Seduction. This is shown in pages 57-62. It especially shown that she has feeling with him when she turns to him and says “I like older man. They can soothe you. ” By saying this Lulu has just let Goldberg know that he has power over her totally. I think Stanley likes to behave as if he is very powerful but in fact he is not.
He only has power at the beginning of Act I over the possibly weakest character when it comes to power. In the end he crumbles where he is not even his own person. He is totally controlled by other people. This being mainly Goldberg and McCann. Pinter has an obvious interest in power in ‘The Birthday Party’. He displays this well. I think his interest in power could be because he at some point in his life has had some sort of experience where power has been hard to get and even harder to keep. There are many aspects of the play that result in pain from power. Power itself is a hard thing to get used to.
He strongly believes that if people or groups of people have to much power then it will create havoc. Pinter actually has great interests in politics as well as other social interests. From research I have done I have actually found that Pinter is very against war. In his opinion wars happens because of power, displaying and giving evidence in his theory about people having too much power. The play was written when the cold war was happening and he was disgusted by this war. I think in the play he perfectly displays his thoughts on people having to much power.
Goldberg could be considered to have too much power and he uses this for bad when he reduces and in a way de-humanizes Stanley. During this playwright everybody wants power and everybody wants to keep it. Only one person is clever enough too able this to happen. This person is Goldberg. I think Pinter is trying to make characters out of people he knows and I think he could be Stanley in this obvious attempt to show how to much power creates havoc. Pinter is very clever on the way he shows power through the characters. There could be many interpretations of how this play would be seen on stage.
And there have been many interpretations in the many showings of it since it was written. Pinter’s use of theatrical devices is good. When he wrote this play, it is totally obvious that from his strong but clear stage directions. I noticed that he uses a lot of pauses and silence which builds up a lot of tension and there is a lot of tension in this play. He makes Petey a sort of silent character in pages 4-8 when he is very disinterested in Meg. Another theatrical device that Pinter uses is detailed stage directions. He actually displays power himself here, as the writer.
He makes sure that when performed the play is done exactly how he wants it to be done when this is performed in a theatre. This also demonstrates his liking in power. Throughout the whole of this play it becomes more and more obvious that power is an interest of Pinter’s. He shows realistically how he can use power even though he is not a character and shows how power can be lost and gained quite easily. Although I found the play boring it has an obvious moral about power and he would like it to teach the country that giving certain people too much power will create havoc. This I found interesting.
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