Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Lucina P. Gabbard
An atmosphere of menace surrounds the action of Harold Pinter's plays, The Room and The Birthday Party. Several critics seem to agree that the menace originates in the outer world and threatens to intrude upon the security of a room, where people attempt to hide. But the menace may also originate within the room--from the inner world and not the outer. The Room illustrates how a character deals with a menace that is within, while The Birthday Party deals with agents of menace from the outer world.
Rose Hudd, in The Room, is dissociated from the outer world against her will, but refuses to acknowledge her situation. In order to avoid admitting that the menace is contained within her room, she displaces her fears onto that which is outside the room. The repetition of her references to the outer world and to the basement emphasizes their menacing nature. Rose's words concerning the outside paint a picture of an insensitive, desolate and cruel world, and she constantly compares the warmth and light of her room to the cold, damp basement. Rose's preoccupation with the outer world and the basement suggests that she is struggling to maintain the denial that the true menace is contained within her room.
In that room--the importance of which is underscored by the title--Rose is subservient to Bert's physical and mental needs. Her servility is her only function in life, which breeds a sense of emptiness--a meaninglessness that is subtly presented through contrasts provided by members of the outside world who visit Rose. During the scenes with Mr. Kidd and the Sands, there are subtle hints that Rose desires to return to the outer world, and it is Riley who affords her the opportunity to do so. At first, Rose perceives Riley to be the menace she has feared, projecting Bert's autocratic dependence and violence onto Riley. But Riley gently prods Rose into confessing that her isolation is stifling her, as she forsakes her denial mechanisms.
At the end of the play, it is Bert who surfaces as the destructive force, for his behavior clearly marks him as the menace. With a violent beating, he destroys Riley and Rose's chance for escape. Bert undermines Rose's existence through passive control. He controls his van in the same manner, and when he speaks of his van in the final scene, Bert seems to be warning Rose that she will not escape his dominance. The Room ends with Rose being pushed even further into a meaningless existence.
On the other hand, the agents of menace in The Birthday Party are acknowledged by Stanley, but they also succeed in undermining his existence. In this play, the agents of menace do not threaten to keep Stanley trapped in isolation. Instead, Goldberg and McCann remove him from a stagnant condition which he is reluctant to leave.
Stanley's isolation, like Rose's, offers him little purpose in his life. He has little contact with the outside world, and consequently dwindles to a state of inactivity. Stanley is satisfied to remain within the house, and as a mark of his passive existence, becomes dependent on Meg to satisfy his needs. Meg's maternalizing reinforces Stanley's reluctance to leave the house.
Goldberg and McCann gain control of Stanley and his fate seems to rest in their hands. Their purpose is to remove Stanley from isolation, which they succeed in doing. There seems to be three alternatives for Stanley once he leaves the house. There is a strong suggestion that Goldberg and McCann will kill him, but there is also the slight possibility that they will return him to society. A return to society could mean the acceptance of the trite social conformity Goldberg represents, which would be a spiritual death for Stanley. But possibly Stanley could re-adjust and become a functioning member of society. Oddly enough, though, either of these possibilities will be an improvement over Stanley's present existence. A life in the outside world, even though shallow like Goldberg's, will be less empty than the stagnation Stanley is being removed from.
The Room and The Birthday Party seem to suggest that the threat of menace is omnipresent, originating from both within and outside a room. In both plays, the agents of menace succeed in their goals. Bert pushes Rose deeper into a meaningless existence, and Goldberg and McCann remove Stanley from stagnation. The basic difference between these agents of menace is that while Bert forces Rose into a more hopeless situation, Goldberg and McCann force Stanley into an improved existence. The menace in The Room is destructive. But the menace in The Birthday Party, although terrifying, may well be constructive.
Martin, Lee R., "Functions of Menace: A Comparison of The Room and The Birthday Party" (1979). Masters Theses. 3165.
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