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Chapter page
Abstract ; . i

1 Introduction . ...... 1

1:1 Relevant studies in the field 3

1:2 The Co-operative Principle of Grice 5

1:3 Verbal strategies examined in this

dissertation . 13

2 The Caretaker 15

2:1 A synopsis of The Caretaker .......... 15

2:2 An interpretation of The Caretaker , . 16

2:3 Brief character studies of Aston, Davies

and Mick . 21

3 Aspects of Pinter's language 25

3:1 Form and function in Pinter?s language 25

3:2 Aspects of the language of The Caretaker ... 29

4 An analysis of the intra- and inter-personal

relationships of Aston, Davies and Mick in
the light of conversational implicatures
and verbal strategies . 39

4:1 Aston and Davies 39

4:2 Aston and Mick 45

4:3 Davies and Mick * 47

5 Conclusion 57

Bibliography *.. 59

Speech in Harold Pinterfs The Caretaker


Lesley D. Clark

This study attempts an analysis of the form and

function of the language in Harold Pinter's play, The Caretaker*

I aim to establish how linguistic devices are used to reveal

and develop dimensions of the characters of the play and their

inter-personal relationships.

The language is viewed in the light of the Co-operative

Principle of Grice; teacher-pupil discourse strategies; adult-

child discourse strategies; and various other linguistic devices

An explanation is given of Grice's Co-operative Principle,

with an illustration of how generalised and standard conver-

sational implicatures arise, and how they are observed or

flouted. These are followed by a description of the verbal

strategies I use in my analysis. They include censure, implicit

and explicit directives, the withholding of information,

and the refusal to participate in turn-taking.

I give a synopsis of The Caretaker, my interpretation of

the play and brief character studies of Aston, Davies and Mick

to provide the necessary background against which the psycho-

logical development of the characters and their relationships
need to be viewed.
I then explore the dual level at which the language works;
its superficial linguistic form, and its symbolic function. I
try to show how psychological aspects of the characters and
their relationships are revealed in the symbolic undertones
that their seemingly vernacular speech has.
Various aspects of the language are considered, such as
repetition, with the conclusion that these contribute greatly
to our understanding of the characters and their relationships
in The Caretaker* Selected exchanges, between Davies and Aston,
Davies and Mick, and Aston and Mick are analysed, revealing
that the verbal strategies used show Davies to be the subordinate
character. Adult-child strategies-are used to establish Aston

as the superior in his relationship with Davies; -teacher-pupil
strategies are used to'establish Mick as superior to Davies.
The aspects of character revealed through conversational
implicature are also examined, showing that these support
the insights into characters1 motives and relationships provided
by the other strategies examined.
Finally, I conclude that through my linguistic analysis of
The Caretaker, it is possible to see how the characters' internal
motivations and their relationships are established and nego-
tiated through specific linguistic strategies and devices
employed, in their verbal exchanges*

The main aim of this dissertation is to. consider the

form and function of the language used in Pinter's play

The Caretaker (Pinter I960)* By form f I mean the linguistic

structure of the language and by 'function', its use to create

meaning outside of its semantic form. I hope to show how

various linguistic devices (defined in the remainder of this

chapter), provide meaningful insights into the characters1

interior motives and serve to develop or reveal aspects of

their intra- and inter-personal relationships,

I shall focus on the application of the 'Co-operative

Principle1, as defined by Grice, to ascertain at what points" in

the dialogue conversational maxims are ignored and where

conversational implicatures arise from 'observed' or f flouted 1 '

j .' '
conversational maxims to see what dramatic significance these

incidents have. I shall also relate teacher-pupil and adult-

child verbal strategies^as well as speaking and turn-taking

rules (Burton 1980)j> to the text to show how they aid character


As the discourse analysed"is in written form, no account

will be taken of supra-segmental features, such as stress

and intonation, from which inferences can arise.

Pinter's work is interesting material for linguistic
analysis because within the field of literary criticism, his
plays are renowned for their linguistic content more than any
other twentieth-century British dramatist T s. "Pinter's plays
are often labelled as !Theatre of Language1 (Vannier, 1971),

where vernacular speech is presented as a spectacle, the

action of the plays being embedded in the dialogues. As
Quigley points out:

"the point to be grasped about the verbal activity in

a Pinter play is that language is not so much a means
of referring to structure in personal relationships
as a means of creating it. Characters are constantly
engaged in exploring, reinforcing or changing the
relationship that obtains between them and their current
situations." (1975 )
I hope to illustrate how this is done in this paper.
For some critics» the discourse in Pinter's plays can be
regarded as an accurate portrayal of everyday speech (Esslin,
1977). For others, it is language fenriched' (Ganz, 1972) with
profound, symbolic meaning and dramatic significance.
It is not my intention to determine whether PinterTs
language is ! real f or not, as the language of stage dialogues
must be more selective than that of ordinary conversations to
hold an audience's attention* However, I do aim to provide
evidence to support and combine both of the above views through
a linguistic analysis of the play, by showing how the language
works at the * levels of form and of function.
In the remainder of this chaper, I. outline relevant

research'in the field. (1":"1), then provide a:''definition of

Gric's Co-operative-..Principle (1967) (l:-2) and outline the
discourse strategies used in my analysis (1:3).
In chapter 2, I provide a synopsis of the play
(see 2:1), my own interpretation of it and give a brief
character study of Davies, Aston and Mick (2:3)* This is
to provide the background against which the character develop-
ment needs to be viewed* Then, in chapter 3, I examine the
form and function of Pinter!s language (see 3:1) and include
the opinions of various literary critics on the topic. I
also consider other aspects of Pinter's language (3:2) to show
how they contribute to the character portrayal. Chapter 4
considers how the relationship between the characters Aston •;
and Davies, Mick and Davies, and Aston and Mick are developed
through conversational implicature and the verbal strategies
outlined in 1:3. Finally in chapter 5, I draw a number of
conclusions about the language of The Caretaker.

1:1 Relevant studies in the field

Burtoni.61983) presents "A stylistic study of Pinter's "i

play !The Dumb Waiter'11 in Dialogue and Discourse. In
her study, she examines the relationship between the two
characters, Ben and Gus, and concludes that for the most
part, "the text sets up very clear participant relationships,
with Ben as the superior, managerial mem ber and Gus forced
Into a subservient and Inferior role*11
In her analysis of the text, she discusses a variety of,
different verbal strategies that she claims are used to
portray Ben as the dominant figure and Gus as the inferior.
She looks at initiations, questions, requests for speaker's
rights, requests for permission and the volunteering of
information^ in detail. This is to show that the verbal
strategies employed are those of adult-child interactions*
She then focuses on aspects of GusT behaviour that are
specifically childlike. She claims that Ben and Gus interact
in roles similar to those of a teacher and pupil. She
examines strategies of directives, praise and censure,
monitoring of time, authority and social convention judgements,
and metastatements about form, appropriateness and legitimacy.
She shows how all of these verbal strategies can be found in
teacher-pupil relationships and clearly demonstrates how Ben
is heard to be in the dominant position and Gus to be the
In a short paper entitled Pinterls "The Caretaker, a
study in conversational analysis11, Kripa K. Gautam gives a
short study of the way the characters in The Caretaker pattern
their conversational strategies to indicate the nature and
scope of the relationships they desire with each other.
He briefly examines how Pinter seta, up clear partici-

pant relationships through linguistic devices. Gautam

uses Gricers ideas of logic and conversation in his analysis.

He examines exchanges in the light of the Co-operative Principle

and verbal strategies described by Sinclair and Coulthard,

and by Sacks.
HB concludes that Pinter articulates "the silence of tension
underlying .their -verbal manoeuvres. Furthermore,
he claims that the~'characters use language more as an
armour against the external menace than as a weapon to cope
with their ontological solitude11. (1987:58).

1:2 The Co-operative Principle of Grice (1967)

In this section, I explain Grice's Co-operative

principle and conversational maxims. I then discuss
'generalized' and 'standardized1 conversational impli-

catures and give extracts from The Caretaker to illustrate

how they arise* Finally, I explain the properties of
calculability', 'non-detachability', 'conventionality1

and 'jion-deductability' «

An understanding of the Co-operative Principle,

maxims and conversational implicature is necessary to

appreciate the role that these have to play in

the negotiation*as well as in the overall development
of relationships and characters, examined in chapter 4.

Grice first presented his concept of the Co-operative

Principle in a series of lectures at Harvard University in the
U.S.A. in 1967. At that time, a widely accepted pragmatic
theory was that the core component of a complete semantic
analysis of a language involved concepts of strict logical
entailment, truth-relations between sentences and also
presuppositions. Levinson gives an explanation of these
principles in Pragmatics (1983).
Grice felt that the above-mentioned principles provided
insufficient means of describing a language, as they were
semantically bound and ignored pragmatic aspects of communi-
cation. He defined other notions he felt were required in his
Co-operative Principle theory. Of course, a rule-governed
account of natural languages can never be complete, as there
are always possibilities of non-conventional exploitations
of a system. A discussion of the shortcomings, problems,
revisions and applications of Grice!s theory can be found in
chapter 3 of Levinson!s Pragmatics (1983).
Grice's theory, which applies to spoken discourse, is
founded on the assumption that there are a number of
principles that guide the conduct of conversation. These
principles state that discourse is structured; involves a

common principle; is a co-operative effort between partici-

pants and has a mutually accepted direction. This theory
has certain conversational maxims and sub-maxims that underlie
it. These are defined below!

Conversational Maxims

1. Quality

Maxim Try to make your contribution one that is

true, specifically:
Sub-maxims 1) Do not say what you believe to be false,
2) Do not say what you lack evidence for.

2. Quantity

Sub-maxim : 1) Make the information as informative as

required for the current purposes of the
2) Do not make your contribution more
informative than is required.

3. Relevance

Maxim Make your contributions relevant,


4. Manner

Maxim Be perspicuous, specifically:

Sub-maxims : 1) Avoid obscurity

2) Avoid ambiguity
3) Be brief
4) Be orderly
These maxims !generate inferences beyond the semantic
content of the sentences uttered1 (Levinson, 1983:103), just
as the language in Pinter's play is described as functioning
outside its semantic content* The pragmatic inferences allowed
by the maxim of Quality are that the exact truth is given; by
the maxim of Quantity is meant that complete information is
given; by the maxim of Relevance that a statement is relevant
to the situation; and by the maxim of Manner that events
described follow temporal order.
Grice does not hypothesise that maxims are normally
adhered to on a superficial level, but that they are often
complied with on various other levels. He posits that in
most ordinary conversations where maxims are not overtly
conformed to, the Hearer assumes that they are being observed
on a more profound level, because of the belief that the Co-
operative Principle is being upheld. An example is given by
Levinson in the following exchange:
"A: Where f s Bill?
B: There's a yellow VW outside Sue's house.11
(Levinson, 1983: )

At face value, B violates the maxims of Quantity and

Relevance, but this is not so. Having faith in the Co-
operative Principle, we search for connections between A
and B's utterances and arrive at the suggestion, conveyed
effectively by B, that if Bill has a yellow VW, he may be at
Sue's. This example constitutes the other major component of
Grice T s Co-operative Principle theory - conversational impli-

Firstly, I shall define the various types of conversational

implicature, namely 'generalised1, 'standard1 and those made
by 'floutings' of the maxims. 'Generalised' implicatures do
not require specific contexts for inferences to be made. For
example, Pinter's character Aston says "I went into a pub
the other day". This implicates that, observing the sub-
maxim of Quantity, which states 'do not make your contribution
more informative than is required', the actual pub visited is

either unknown to the Hearer or irrelevant to the communicative

intention that the Speaker has.
'Standard' implicatures involve contextual conditions, as
in the example:
"Davies: You getting in?
Aston: I'm mending this plug" (The Caretaker:21)
•Here Aston's response implicates that, observing the maxims of
Relevance and Quantity, he accepts that it is a reasonable

time to get Into bed, but Is prevented from doing so as

he has to mend a plug.

Conversational implicatures can also arise from

'floutings1 of maxims,whereby some maxim is blatantly not
observed in order to exploit it for a specific communicative
purpose, such as irony. Thus the Co-operative Principle is
still being upheld. They are used by Grice to explain amongst
other things, figures of speech. For example, Mick, in The
Caretaker accuses Davies with:
YouTre nothing else but a wild animal11. (The Caretaker: 73)
This blatantly flouts the maxim of Quality, as Davies is
a human being, not an animal* So seeking to uphold the
Co-operative Principle, we implicate by Relevance that Davies
has the qualities of a wild animal. In other words, he may
be savage, predatory, territorial and behave in a manner
more commonly associated with a wild beast than a human being.
Without co-operative effort1 this figure of speech would be
incomprehensible to the Hearer.
There are four major distinguishing properties of

conversational implicature defined by Grice. These are

cancellability, non-detachability, calculability and non-
conventionality, illustrated with appropriate conversational

implicatures below.

1. Cancellability

This involves the addition of a word or phrase to an


utterance that cancels the implicatures generated by the

utterance. This extract from The Caretaker illustrates this

1) "Davies: This your house then, is it?

2) Aston: I'm in charge." (The Caretaker:12, 13)

Aston!s response implicates that he is not the landlord

or owner of the house, as, to comply with the maxim of Quantity,
i.e. Tmake the contribution as informative as is required for
the current purposes of the exchange1, he would have had to
explicitly affirm or negate the supposition made by Davies in
(1). Given the context, an interpretation of utterance (2)
would be that Aston is flouting the maxim of Quantity, as his
response evidently does not give all the !information required1
by the question. By way of Relevance, the implicature is
made that he is not the householder, but wishes to communicates
that he is in a powerful position in the house and controls
what goes on in it. In other words, he is asserting power and
claiming territorial rights.
This implicature is cancellable, and therefore 'conversa-
tional1 as we could add r yes r to the response to give:

3) I'm in charge here, yes.

Thereby cancelling the implicature given in (2).


2. Non-detachabillty

Conversational Implicatures must also be non-detachable,

that is, the meaning must not change when the semantic form
does. For example, the statement:

1) Pragmatics is easy!

is blatantly flouting the maxim of Quality, as it is, in fact,

a difficult subject. We can thus conclude that the statement
is made ironically, and thus implicate that the subject is
difficult. Whatever we replace the words with, for example:

1) Pragmatics is simple!
2) Pragmatics is child f s play!
3) Pragmatics is a cinch!

the ironic implicature would still be there and the conver-

sational implicature is thus non-detachable.

3. Calculability

These implicatures should also be 'calculable1. In*

other words, it must be possible to show that; from the literal
sense of the utterance, the Co-operative Principle and the
conversational- maxims, we would be able to make a certain

4. Non-conventionality

Conversational implicatures are 'non-conventional1, i.e.

not part of the conventional meaning of an utterance. As one
has to know the literal S'ense of an utterance in order to cal-
culate its conversational implicatures, these, therefore,
must constitute two separate meanings. Finally, one utterance
may generate various conversational implicatures in different

1;3 Verbal strategies examined in this dissertation

In this section, I describe the verbal strategies that

I use in my analysis of the language in The Caretaker. They
are strategies of directives, praise and censure, volunteering
or withholding information and turn taking, which are used to
create unequal relationships between characters in The Caretaker.
A role relationship seen in Mick and Daviesf exchanges
is that of teacher-pupil, where Mick takes the teacherfs role,
thus showing his dominant position. Sinclair and Coulthard
(1975) and Mead (1976) describe features of teacher-pupil talk
which depend on unequal speaking rights in the two roles* From
these I have selected directives, censure and repetition.

Explicit directives are unmitigated, that is, imperative.

Implicit directives are mitigated, that is, non-imperative.


Censure, I interpret as one character!s criticism of another.

The subordinate character shows his position by repeating

answers he has previously given to the Speaker, as Davies
does with Mick.

Ward (1971) refers to adult-child relationships, stating

that adults do not regard children as people to talk to. One
of the ways that this is shown is by the withholding of
information. This feature is evident in some of the speeches
of Davies and Aston.

I also refer to the normative rule defined by Sacks (1972),

which states that a person who has been asked a question should
speak and properly reply to it. Again, in Aston1s and Davies1
exchanges, Aston often ignores Davies1 questions, thus taking
an adult!s role, according to Ward T s (1971) research. Ward
also notes that an adult asserts power by refusing to take
his turn in an exchange, thus showing he does not regard the
Hearer as being worth talking to* According to Sacks (1970),
the turn-taking rules say that somebody should talk all the
time, not more than one person, but somebody. A completing
Speaker, finding no-one else has started, may keep off silence
by going on* Thus, the Hearer has forced the Speaker to continue
by refusing to take his turn. Davies is forced to do this on

the many occasions when Aston refuses to take his turn. * *



In this chapter, I give a brief synopsis of the play

(see 2:1) my interpretation of it (see 2:2) and (Z;3) a brief
character study of Davies, Aston and Mick* This provides the
necessary background against which the psychological motivation
of the characters is revealed in the plot and dialogue.

2:1 A synopsis of !The Caretaker1

The play involves three characters: two brothers, Aston

and Mick, and Davies, a homeless tramp. Aston rescues Davies
from an altercation in a cafe and invites him to stay in his
room* Davies accepts, then becomes increasingly possessive
about the room. He agrees to the offer of a job as care-
taker from Mick, hoping to oust Aston, but it is Mick and Aston
who reject Davies, telling him to leave. The play finishes ~
its cyclical motion as it closes with the brothers regaining
complete control of their territory and the intruder, Davies,
homeless once more with no room to go to*
The cluttered, unrelated and unconnected set should also
be mentioned, as it reflects the disjointed communication
between the characters and counterpoints their attempts to

impose structure on their lives (Quigley, 1975)* Another

dramatic visual effect is Pinter*s use of ordinary household
appliances to inflict terror on the audience, such as Mickfs

use of an Electrolux vacuum cleaner to intimidate Davies.


These act as devices creating uncertainty about the

characters' intentions in the audience. These characters
may seem uncivilised, but they are products of our civilisa-
tion (Anderson, 1976) and therefore completely recognizable
to the audience as people like themselves. I consider it to
be this recognition of elements of Aston, Mick and Davies in
all men that gives the play its psychological impact.

2:2 An interpretation of 'The Caretaker1

On the 27th of April I960, The Caretaker opened at the

Arts Theatre, London. Pinter was in vogue, and the "result of
this popularity was that many fundamental questions about his
techniques and talents went unanswered, even in academic
circles* Esslin r s (Schroll, 1971) plea for reservations of
judgements about the play, to allow it time to prove its worth
independent of Pinter's reputation, were ignored. The play
received positive reviews from its opening night onwards, from
drama critics in the U.K. and U.S.A. alike (Schroll, 1971).
The Caretaker was viewed as a comedy of menace, Theatre
of Social Realism and Theatre of the Absurd in critical circles.
Early interpretations of the play included Clurinan's (Schroll,

1971) review depicting Davies as mankind, Mick a god-head,

angel-devil, and Aston as a Christ figure. Other contemporary
reviews were Florence J. Goodman's (Schroll, 1971:52), which

presents the play as a picture of Hell, and Marjorie

Thompsons (Schroll, 1971) idea that it reveals youth's
predicament in a world where they fail to accomplish anything,
For the playwright, Harold Pinter, it is about the

"individual's attempt to bring reality within the

bounds of personality and so to make it bearable. 11
(Pinter, 1960)

lonesco defines man's predicament as;

"devoid of purpose - cut off from his religious,

metaphysical and transcendental roots, man is
lost; all his actions become senseless, absurd,
useless." (Esslin, 1968).

I interpret Pinter's quotation and the play itself as an

allegory of this dilemma of twentieth-century man described
by lonesco* The play is about failure of effective connunication, I
see the characters as searching for reassurance through commu-
nication with others, searching for reassurance of the
meaning and purpose of their existence in society.
In Harold Pinter!s opinion,

"I think we communicate only too well, in our silence,

in what is unsaid, and what takes place is continual
evasion, desperate rearguard attempts to keep ourselves
to ourselves, communication is too alarming."
(Pinter, 1962:14,15).

This quotation can be applied to the characters in The

Caretaker. It is because Aston and Mick understand Twhat is
unsaid1 that they recognise the greed and possessiveness of
Davies and how Davies knows that he has no hope of being
reinstated in the household. The surface communications are
unsuccessful, as they reveal the greed and 'poverty1 within
rhe characters, as in Pinter's words, their speech is speaking
of a language locked beneath it" (Esslin,1970:46) . The
language is therefore performing a function beyond its semantic

The play moves through a cycle whereby Aston and Davies

attempt, but fail, to establish a bond through communication.
Davies then turns to Mick, but is rejected by him too.
Concurrently, they vie for possession of the room, a
haven from society, where illusions can be created of a
journey to Sidcup for Davies; building a shed for Aston and
creating a penthouse for Mick. It is a place where they
can escape from their failed relationships and retreat into
their illusions which are symbols of a purpose to existence.
Aston and Davies are living on the extreme edge of society*
They are both social outcasts, Aston because of his past
history as a mental patient and Davies because of his life-

style as a tramp.

They fail in their attempts to bridge the communciation

gap through shared experiences, as neither is prepared to accept
the emotional commitment and responsibility implicit in

acknowledging another's emotional experiences. Ultimately,

they are concerned only for and with themselves.
From the moment that the play opens, Davies tries, but
does not succeed, to elicit Aston's sympathy for his supposed
ill-treatment by foreigners, employees, an unhygienic wife and
monkss the theft of his tobacco; the loss of his soap-giving
friend, and papers; and his age, and bad health. Giving
sympathy would involve Aston's recognising that Davies had
the rights that he claims, and that they had been violated.
This would indirectly reaffirm Davies* status as a human being
in the world. Instead, Aston offers physical comfort.
Refusing to acknowledge Daviesf psyche, he refuses to acknow-
ledge the feature that differentiates Davies, and mankind,
from a T wild animal' (The Caretaker;73) which Mick later

accuses him of being.

Aston seeks Davies1 attention when he relates his encoun-
ter with a woman in a cafe, who attempted to seduce him, to
Davies. Davies responds with "They've said the same thing
to met! (The Caretaker:25) and that it had happened many times*
By switching the topic .of conversation back to himself, he
devalues Aston and his experience. By stating that the same
thing has happened to him not once, but many times, he implies
that Aston is inferior. He also implies that it is not an
experience that makes Aston unique in any way. He successfully
shows that he is not really interested in what Aston has to say,

Mick, I interpret as being the most cynical and secure

character. He does understand Davies, but uses this not to
further communication, but to manipulate Davies into exposing
his motives to Aston, thus bringing about Davies1 downfall.
He is determined to assert his territorial rights, explicitly
stating his claim to Davies: Me, I am (the landlord). I got

deeds to prove it11 (The Caretaker: 51).

Possession of this room is the central theme of the play,
The room is the physical security which the characters struggle
for possession of and the cornerstone of the play. As in much
of Pinter's work, it is a symbol of comfort and security
compared with the inhospitable, cold, exterior world. Fighting
for possession of the room, they threaten each others' security
in their struggle for authority and dominance. It is these
shifting power relationships1 (Anderson, 1976:2) taking place
in the dialogue of the play that shape the action.
This action begins when the characters1 lives are invaded
by an intruder who threatens to steal the little physical
security they have. This is a central theme of Pinter's work
which is reversed in The Caretaker, as Davies, the intruder,
is unsuccessful and is ousted by the potential victims, Aston

and Mick.

2:3 Brief character studies of Davies, Aston and Mick


In the first act of the play, Davies uses language to -

try and elicit certain responses from Aston. Iniitially,
he attempts to gain Aston r s respect, presenting himself as a
man of social standing who has nhad dinner with the best"
(The Caretaker;9) which he has "eaten off the best of plates"
(The Caretaker;9)• He refuses Aston 1 s offer of a roll-up
cigarette, accepting the tobacco for his pipe, a symbol of
considerably higher social status.
He portrays himself as a man of high personal standards
who left his wife when he found "a pile of her underclothing,
unwashed11 (The Caretaker:9) in the vegetable pan* He implies that he
has seen better days and has not always been a tramp, as he has "slept in
plenty of beds" (The Caretaker:23)
His early speeches contribute much to the humour of the
play as his language so often contradicts the impression
he aims to give. He criticises his workmates with "all them
toe rags, mate, got the manners of pigs" (The Caretaker:9)«
Yet his own uncouth, crude vocabulary hardly suggests that his
own manners are in any way superior to theirs.
His self-contradictions, such as claiming to be used to

beds, then stating later "ITve lived all my life in the air,

boy" (The Caretaker;53) reveal his dishonesty.

His honesty comes further into doubt when he relates his
encounter with the monks at Luton. The monk's threat:

"If you don T t piss off... I'll kick you all the
wayr to the gate'1 (The Caretaker; 15)

causes amusement because of its incongruity, but the incident

also forces the audience to question Davies1 credibility.
When Davies fails to impress Aston, he tries to elicit
Aston1s sympathy for his age, poor health, his ill-treatment
by workmates and foreigners, and his lack of decent shoes.
These attempts also fail, as Aston is not interested in Davies?
emotional traumas.

Aston 1 s lack of interest annoys Davies and he becomes

increasingly demanding and unpleasant towards Aston,as the*
play progresses, revealing his greed and viciousness when he
feels his position in the household is more secure.
Davies recognises that he will not be able to manipulate
Mick by eliciting his respect or sympathy and does not attempt
to do so* After his initial mistrust of Mick, he tries to
ingratiate himself with Mick when he realises Mick is the actual

house owner.
By the end of the play, Davies has shown himself to be a
greedy, selfish, cruel and dishonest character, unworthy of a

place in the brothers1 household.



Aston!s kindness and generosity are constantly exhibited

in act one of The Caretaker. He rescues Davies from the cafe
and provides him with a place to stay, tobacco, money and a

Aston's taciturnity seems rather peculiar at the beginning

of the play, but when its cause is revealed In his tortuous
speech about his experiences in the mental hospital, horror
and sympathy are experienced. He claims that he "used to talk11
(The Caretaker;54) to people and "thought... they understood1'
(The Caretaker:54) what he said, but he "talked too much11 (The
Caretaker;54) resulting in his brain operation. Now, not
surprisingly, he does not "talk to anyone... like that11 (The
His shed has become the focal point of his existence, to
which even his thoughts of revenge on the man who operated
on him take second place, as his words that close act two show:

"I've often thought of going back and trying to find the

man who did that to me. But I want to do something first,
I want to build that shed out in the garden." (The Care-

Daviesr ill-treatment of Aston is all the more appalling

given this past history, and the audience is relieved when
Aston rejects Davies1 ingratiating attempts to reinstate
himself in the room by suggesting that he and Aston "both put

up that shed together!" (The Caretaker:77)



Mick is a character of many dimensions. His fascination

for the exotic is displayed in his long speeches to Davies,
where he weaves fantastic tales of his uncle's escapades
abroad. His desire for luxury is shown in his fabulous
designs for his penthouse apartment.
His ability to make perceptive judgements about human
nature is shown in his first utterance to Davies, when he
asks "What's the game?". He immediately and justifiably
mistrusts Davies and suspects him of playing games with
Aston, which is exactly what Davies has attempted to do by
trying to manipulate Aston with his stories of past experiences*
Mick's intimidation and interrogation of Davies reveal
threatening and sadistic aspects of his personality. We view
a more compassionate side of his character in his relation-
ship with his brother Aston. Mick shows his concern for his
brother's interests by his enquiries about Aston's repairs
to the roof. He also reveals his protective instincts
towards his brother in his reactions to Davies1 criticisms of
Aston. He manipulates Davies into exhibiting his interior
motives to Aston, and thus brings about Davies1 downfall. In
this way, he removes the intruder who threatens Mick and Aston1s



In this chapter, I briefly examine the two levels at

which I believe Pinter's language to perform. These are the
superficial, by which I mean the linguistic and semantic form;
and the symbolic, by which I mean the function that the language
has which goes beyond its semantic content, revealing psycho-
logical aspects of the characters involved. I also examine
some interesting linguistic devices that reveal character
and action in The Caretaker other than those arising from
Grice's maxims and the verbal models described in 1:3. This
will include repetition, alliteration and silence.

3:1 Form and function in Pinter!s language

I view Pinter's language as functioning on two levels -

superficially it appears to be ordinary vernacular speech, but
in fact it also functions on a more profound, symbolic level.
Any playwrightfs language is, necessarily, highly stylized,
being restricted by time and place* It is also selective, and
cannot, therefore, be literally interpreted as a realistic
sample of everyday speech. Indeed, in the words of John
Russel Taylor (1963) realism on stage can only be achieved

by sacrifice of reality11.
On the surface level, Pinterfs language is not feaves-

dropping r » but fmannered distortion1 (Vannier, 19631.


Pinter creates an illusion of naturalism by using elements of

ordinary speech to create dialogues that echo the vernacular,
with its repetitions, tautologies and non-sequiturs* Through
these means, he creates an accurate rendering of lower-class
speech (Esslin, 1977).

Much of the language of the characters in The Caretaker

supports these views, Mick's language is rich with idiom
and colloquial slang, common in vernacular speech* For
example, in the following extract, when Mick is complaining
about Aston's furniture, he says:

A11 this junk here, it's no good to anyone. It!s
just a lot of old iron, that's all. Clobber11.
(The Caretaker:61)

using the common colloquialism used to describe worthless

rubbish, i.e. 'clobber1.

Davies1 speech contains many repetitions and unfinished

sentences, such as when he is considering the offer of a job

as a caretaker:

Well now... wait a minute... I... I ain't never done
no caretaking before, you know11. (The Caretaker:50)

These pauses and repetitions are common features of colloquial

speech, indicating hesitation and doubt. His language
illustrates Pinter's portrayal of the 'irrationality1 (Kennedy,

1971) of our speech, with its poor syntax, tautologies and


The dialogue also works on a more profound level where

the language used has symbolic or dramatic significance,
functioning outside its semantic content and thus becoming a
vehicle for portraying psychological struggles and conflicts
within the individual and between characters. It is the
struggles and conflicts between characters, worked out in their
language, that is of interest in this dissertation.
On this more profound level, one way in which the language
moves out of the realms of naturalism is by taking on symbolic
overtones. Another way is the 'rhythms of rituals; responses
and cross-examinations' (Vannier, 1963) which subtlely
expose the psychological dimensions of relationships. In
Mick's cross-examination of Davies, quoted below, his
dominant position is revealed by his superior linguistic ability,
He bombards Davies with questions and Davies' inferior position
is revealed by his failure to respond adequately. Mick asserts
power by completing Daviesr answers himself, then continuing
his interrogation. Davies falters in his responses, leaving

his utterances unfinished"":

Mick: Sleep here last night?
Davies: - Yes.
Mick: (continuing at a great pace) How'd you sleep?
Davies: I slept..*
Mick: Sleep well?
Davies: Now look...
Mick: What bed?
Davies: That...
Mick: Not the other?11 (The Caretaker;33)

It is clear then that there are psychological mechanisms at

work that supercede the semantic content of the exchanges.

Ganz (1972) sees the movement between

the surface and symbolic levels of language as creating a
sense of fear, of being forced to acknowledge what lurks in
the inner self* I interpret this to mean that the audience
recognise their own speech in the surface level of the dialogue
and a terrifying vision of the human condition in its symbolic
overtones. Taking the closing speech of the play as an
example, we see Davies asking:

"What am I going to do?

What shall I do?
Where am I going to go?11 (The Caretaker ill, 78)

These words represent far more than a tramp's concern to

find a dwelling place. His words echo the cries of twentieth-
century man in existential philosophy who, finding himself
alienated and alone in a meaningless world, asks for a meaning
to his existence. His plight is illustrated in Camus' defini-
tion of the feeling of Absurdity, quoted below:

A world that can be explained even with bad reasons is
a familiar world. But..* in a universe suddenly divested
of illusions and lights, man feels an alien, a stranger.
His exile is without remedy, since he is deprived of the
memory of a lost home or the hope of a promised land.
This divorce between man and his life, the actor and his
setting, is properly the feeling of absurdity1'.
(Camus, 1984:13)

Davies too has been 'suddenly divested 1 of a place to

create his illusions; he has lost his ""hope of a promised land 1
to come and Is an irremediable l exile 1 from the room.

3:2 Aspects of the Language of 'The Caretaker'

'It is in the language of an Eliot or Pinter play that

one finds the dramatic action1 (Royer, 1983: Abstract), as
the characters are revealed to us through a !window of language1
(Vannier, 1976:104). Their relationships are exposed,
established and developed in the dialogue of the play* The
pragmatic inferences it is possible to draw from their conver-
sational exchanges are so many and varied that the characters1
language hints at mysteries which even the author does not
claim to be able to unravel (Anderson, 1976). The
examination of the dialogue in the light of Gricers Principles
and other discourse strategies in chapter 4, and the
linguistic devices illustrated below, attempt to unravel

some of these fmysteries1

Through the linguistic devices discussed in this section,
it is possible to see how the characters1 verbal performances
establish their identities. Their Inner fears and obsessions,
strengths and weaknesses are revealed through their lexical
and syntactic usage. For example, Davies1 fear and hatred of

foreigners is emphasised by the way in which he blames them

fpr his not being able to find a seat in his lunch break and
for making noises (actually made by himself) that disturb
Aston 1 s sleep. He is also concerned that Aston does not share
the toilet with the Blacks. Aston r s fears in the mental
hospital are revealed in his markedly long speech closing act
two. Mick's possessiveness of the room is made clear in his
obsession with its potential interior decor and his claims
to ownership.

It is through verbal abilities that characters construct

and establish their social identities, and different advantages
are shown in their varied skills. Mick, for example, reveals
his vitality in his idiosyncratic speech* His speeches reveal
his linguistic fluency and *„ lively mind through the way in
which he is able to string together spontaneously^ a series of
sentences rich in exotic imagery and touching all parts of the

globe, e.g.

"MICK: Jen... kins

A drip sounds in the bucket, DAVIES looks up.
You remind me of my uncle1s brother. He was always
on the move, :that man. Never without his passport.
Had an eye for the girls. Very much your build. Bit
of an athlete. Long-jump specialist. He had a habit
of demonstrating different run-ups in the drawing-room
round about Christmas time. Had a penchant for nuts.
That's what it was. Nothing else but a penchant*
Couldnlt eat enough of them. Peanuts, walnuts, brazil
nuts* monkey nuts, wouldn't touch a piece of fruit cake*
Had a marvellous stop-watch* Picked it up in Hong Kong.

The day after they chucked him out of the Salvation

Army. Used to go in number four for Beckenham Reserves.
That was before he got his Gold Medal. Had a funny habit
of..carrying his fiddle on his back. Like a papoose. I
think there was a bit of the Red Indian in him. To be
honest, I!ve never made out how he came to be my uncle's
brother. I've often thought that maybe it was the other
way round. I mean that my uncle was his brother and he
was my uncle. But I never called him uncle. As a
matter of fact, I called him Sid. My mother called him
Sid too. It was a funny business. Your spitting image
he was. Married a Chinaman and went to Jamaica.

.1 hope you slept well last night11. (The Caretaker: 31)

His speech leaves the urban tramp, Davies, baffled and dis-..
His ability to use a barrage of language as a weapon to
play on the alienation and despair in Davies1 subconscious
inind is also seen in the following extract, where he offers
Davies tenancy of the room at:

"twenty per cent interest, fifty per cent deposit;

down payments, back payments, family allowances,
bonus schemes, remission of term for good behaviour,
six months lease, yearly examination of the relevant
archives, tea laid on, disposal of shares, benefit
extension, compensation on cessation, comprehensive
indemnity against Riot, Civil Commotion, Labour
Disturbances, Storm, Tempest, Thunderbolt, Larceny or
Cattle all subject to a daily check and double check11.
(The Caretaker:36)

He is intimidating Davies with his use of technical jargon

and long sentences, which he knows Davies will be unable to
comprehend, thus placing Davies in an inferior position linguis-

tically, as he is unable to understand Mick's vocabulary.


In Pinter's plays often the "fighting is with language,

with the hurling of random insults, accusations and non-
sensical-put-ons as common devices"(Herzog, 1976zabstract).
Attack is often "through witty innuendo and irony11 (Herzog,
19 76:abstract). Mick f s speeches, for example, are often
nonsensical put-ons used successfully to subordinate and
intimidate Davies, who lacks the syntactic, lexical and
semantic knowledge that_Mick has. He is confused and
disarmed by Mick's power of words, reduced to incomplete
and inarticulate replies such as "I ain't... I haven't" (The
Caretaker;35) in response to Mick's warning "Keep your hands
off my old mum" (The Caretaker:35).
Mick's linguistic power over Davies is also seen in the
following extract:

1) " Mick: Well, you say you1re an interior decorator,

you'd better be a good one*
2) Davies: A what?
3) Mick: What do you mean, a what? A decorator. An
interior decorator.
4) Davies: Me? What do you mean? I never touched that.
I never been that.
5) Mick: You've never what?
6) Davies: No, no, not me, man* I'm not an interior
decorator. I been too busy. Too many other -
things to do, you see. But I... but I could
always turn my hand to most things... give me*,
a bit of time to pick it up."
(The Caretaker:71,72)

By (6), Davies is still denying Mick's statement in (1). This

shows his confusion and illustrates a point that Sykes (1977)
makes that there are differences in the characters1 speed of
thinking. The slower thinker answers the penultimate question

and a sense of confusion and imbalance is thus generated.

Mick has shown himself to be one of fPinter's formidable word

slingers' (Herzog, 1976rabstract) against whom the inarticulate

Davies stands little chance of victory in a battle of words.Through
their .use of^ languagex people attack,, as Mick does to Davies, retreat, as
Davies inarticulately attempts to do when questioned about his
past ; or disguise themselves; as does Mick, offering Davies
a job to lure him into revealing his desire to oust Aston" .
These strategies articulate three survival techniques
used by animals of flight, of fight and of mimetism.
It is a suitable comparison to make as we see Davies, the
least civilised of the characters who is living outside
conventional society as a homeless tramp, referred to as a
wild animal1 by Mick. Davies uses these strategies in his
struggle against his adversaries.
He continually takes flight from direct questions in
his evasive answers. This can be seen in his reaction to
questions from Aston about his future plans and in his res-
ponses to-both brothers1 offers of caretaking jobs. This
creates an impression that Davies is concealing something and
is incapable of giving honest answers. It also displays
Aston1s kindness towards Davies, as Aston does not insist on

direct or complete answers to his enquiries.

An example of Davies1 evasive flights is I

Aston: You Welsh?
Davies: Well, I been around, you know.*.'1
(The Caretaker:26)

He attempts, but fails to fight by challenging Mick with

"•Now look here1' when Mick interrogates him.

Davies also exhibits mimetic traits in his repetition

of Mick's utterances. This supports a view held by Strindberg
(Sykes, 1972), that the waker character steals and repeats the
words of the stronger. Davies is told by Mick:
You look a capable sort of man to me lf (The Caretaker: 50) to
which he responds "I am a capable sort of mann (The Caretaker:50)
using Mick's own words.

The characters also utilize language to claim their

threatened territory, as Mick does when he tells Davies he is
the householder and "has got deeds to prove it" (The Caretaker:51)
Davies' interest in the room is shown by his repeated enquiries
into the ownership of the room to Aston and Mick. Aston tells
Davies to leave and claims his rights to the room stating
simply: "I live here. You don't" (The Caretaker;68),
The use of names in The Caretaker has symbolic significance.
Aston, and subsequently Davies, use interrogatives to force
Davies to reveal his name. He is the only character named in
the play, which is a sign of his subordinate position, it

useful to consider* the Roman belief of 'nomen omens', whereby

naming a man gives one mystical access to his inner being and
destiny. The brothers have this potential power over the tramp*
Davies goes under the name of 'Bernard Jenkins1. His use
of this false name reflects his attempts to conceal his true
nature. Mick shows his recognition of this point by accusing

Davies with:

"You got two names. What about the rest. Eh?n

(The Caretaker:73)

at a climactic stage of their final denouement.

The taciturn Aston exhibits unusual verbosity in his

concern over Davies' loss of his papers and false name. This
further emphasises the symbolic significance of a name and a
central theme of the play: man's desire to establish his
individual identity in society.

Mick, the dominant character who protects Aston and

engineers Davies1 downfall, displays great skill in using
proper names. He uses the names of exotic countries and
London suburbs to control and subjugate Davies.

Obversely, Aston and Davies lack the power to name the

authorities that menace them. Sykes (1970) makes an interesting
observation about the use of the pronoun 'they1 in act one.
Generally accepted as the paranoics' pronoun (paranoia
involving feeling victimised by some authoritarian, often
unidentifiable force), it takes on sinister overtones in the
dialogues of Aston and Davies. Davies seems a victim of an
unidentified, authoritarian 'they'. 'They1 (The Caretaker:20)
would have him in the nick. 'They1 (The Caretaker;20) should
have stamped his card. 'They1 (The Caretaker:55) put Aston
in hospital and operated on him. The pronoun dehumanizes the
aggressors,^making them more threatening and frightening*
Pinter also uses the paralinguistic device of silence

with great effect. There are silences that mart changes in


topic, such as the pause between Davies' response to Aston T s

story about a woman attempting to seduce him in the pub and
Aston's asking Davies what his name was.

There are other silences which Sacks (1970) sees as catalysts

forcing the characters to eloquence (see 1:2), reveal aspects
of themselves that could lead to their disintegration. These
are common between Aston and Davies. Davies fills the silence
with complaints, comments or anecdotes, revealing his hatred
of foreigners, self-pity and concern to establish ownership
of the room. Aston tells Davies, in the final scene, "You
make too much noise", showing how Davies1 avoidance of silences
has contributed to his downfall and his being ousted.

Periods of silence also increase the dramatic tension*

The play closes with a dramatic silence, giving the audience
time to digest the awfullness of Davies' and mankind's


"Where anr.I going to go?

If you want me to go... I'll go. You just say the word,
I'll tell you what though... them shoes... them shoes
you give me... they're working out all right...
they're all right..oMaybe I could... get down...
ASTON remains still, his back to him, at:the window.
Listen... if I... got down... if I was to.*, get my
papers... would you... would you let... would you...
if I got down... and got my...
Long silence.
Curtain" (The Caretaker;78)

Another function of silence is seen in Davies' pauses in

the above speech which indicate his thought processes as he
realises his dilemma and tries to find a means to persuade the
brothers to let him stay. The interplay between conscious
and unconscious motivation, commented on by Sykes (1970:34),
is shown as he consciously pleads with Aston to let him stay:
"But-., but... look... listen here... I mean" (The Caretaker:77)
then reveals his unconscious despair and isolation, following
the pause: "Davies: What am I going to do?" (The Caretaker;77)
Yet another linguistic device used to create dramatic
effect is repetition. Repetition of words such as 'stinkT and
'animal1 throughout the play creates a sense of unity by
restating a theme that Davies is uncivilised and bestial.
In the following extract, a rhythmic, echoing effect is
created by the repetition of ! bag ! :

"Aston: Yes.
(To DAVIES) I got your bag.
Davies: Oh. (Crossing to him and taking it*) Oh,
thanks, mister, thanks. Give it to you, did they?
DAVIES crosses back with the bag.
MICK rises and snatches it.
Mick: What's this?
Davies: Give us it, that's my bag!
Mick: (warding him off) I've seen this bag before.
Davies: That's my bag!
Mick (eluding him) This bag's very familiar.
Davies: What do you mean?
Mick: Where'd you get it?
Aston (rising to them): Scrub it.
Davies: That's mine.
Mick: Whose?
Davies: It's mine! Tell him it's mine!
Mick: This is your bag?
Davies: Give me it!

Aston: Give it to him.

Mick: What? Give him what?
Davies: That bloody bag!
Mick:(slipping it behind the gas stove) What bag?
(To Davies ) What bag?
(The Caretaker:38)

As well as repetition, the language has certain other

poetic qualities such as the alliteration created by the use

of numerous words containing the phoneme /K/, underlined in the

following extract:

"I'd offset the kitchen units with charcoal-grey worktops.

Plenty of room for cupboards for the c.rockery. We'd
have a small wall cupboard, a large walT~~cupboard, a
corner wall clipboard with revolving shelves. You wouldn't
be short of clipboards. You £ould put the dining-room
across the landing, see? Yes. Venetian blinds on the
window, c.ork floor, cork tiles. You c.ould have an off-
white pile Tinen rug, a table in... in afrotnosia teak_
veneer, sideboard with matt black drawers, curved "~
chairs with cushioned seats, armchairs in oatmeal tweed"
(The Caretaker;60)
These devices, then are manipulated in a variety of ways
to create dramatic tension and are a valid contribution to
Pinter!s presentation of 'human relations at the level of

language itself (Vannier, 1963).




In this chapter I consider the relationship between the

characters in The Caretaker in the light of certain features

such as censure,directives, criticism of language use, with-

holding of information and conversational implicatures.

4;1 Aston-and Davies.

The power balance between Aston and Davies and the ling-

uistic strategies used to construct and convey it,can be

compared to those seen in adult-child relationships and in

teacher-pupil relationships. Astonis the caregiver and provider

who attempts to satisfy Davies1 physical needs, giving him a

home and money. Davies, like a child,is economically dependent

on Aston for shelter, clothing and his basic everyday require-

ments. Aston's responses to Davies1 physical needs show his

superior position as being similar to an adults, as he is able

to provide and Davies can only receive. Aston's responses also

indicate his unwillingness to enter into a psychological

relationship with Davies as he ignores Davies'^ phychological.needs.

Instead he attempts to satisfy Davies1 physical needs. In his

first exchanges with Davies he offers him a seat; tobacco; a bed;

to pick up his bag from the cafe; and at a later meeting a

smoking jacket and finally the caretaking job.

As well as establishing Aston as the provider, these offers
display his superior power as they are all made in the declarative

form, for example in Aston's

I!11 pop down and pick them up for you11.

(The Caretaker : 11)

The Speaker assumes the authority to complete an action on the
Hearer's behalf without actually asking permission first. He
assumes the Hearer will submit to his suggestion. Aston employs
strategies associated with a dominant adult by ignoring Davies1
comments or refusing to participate wholly when it is his turn
in the conversation. In the same way that a parent fails to
respond to all of a child!s ramblings, as in the following

Aston : Yes, when the wind gets up it,

Davies; Yes. . .
Astone: Mmmm. * .
Davies: Gets very draughty.
Aston : Ah. (The Caretaker : 11)

Aston also withholds or fails to volunteer information to

Davies, a strategy used by adults when a concept met by a child

is beyond the child's mental capacites to absorb or is taboo in

some way. In this extract Davies1 fear and hatred of foreigners
is emphasized. He seeks reassurance that the Blacks next door

do not come in and share the toilet:

'Davies: They don't come in?

Aston : You see a blue case? (The-Caretaker : 19)

Davies resents Aston 1 s refusal to communicate on Davies1

terms. His complaints about Aston reveal his own subordinate
position - as Aston is seen to withhold Information and refuse
to converse , strategies associated with the superior in a

relationship. He complains that Aston "don't say a word to me11

(The~6aretaker ; 58) and "don't care about me" (The Caretaker
59) that Aston never tells him where he goes; that Aston has
"got no feelings". (The Caretaker : 62) His complaint that
they "don't have any conversation, you see? You can't live in-
the same room with someone who who don't have any conver-
sation with you" (The Caretaker : 60) is really the crux of the
problem for Davies. He feels rejected and unimportant in Aston's
eyes, so he turns to Mick who seems more interested in
communicating with him.
Another strategy Aston employs, associated with a dominant
role holder is when he usesrexplicit directives as offers to
Davies. For example, his first four utterances are "sit down"
(The Caretaker : 7) "just a minute" (The Caretaker : 8) "Here
you are" (The Caretaker : 8) and "Take a seat" (The Caretaker :
8) His position as provider and quiet authority over Davies are
evident from their exchanges from the beginning of the play
onwards. Aston also plays the adult role when he reassures
Davies about the gas stove: "There's nothing to worry about"

(The Caretaker : 26) He has recognised Davies' fear of new,

technical, unknown objects and reassures him with words a

parent might use to comfort a frightened -child. Aston is also
clearly the teacher and Davies the uncomprehending student

in the following- exchange, where Aston instructs Davies in

the use of the electric fire:

Aston : (going to below the fireplace). See this plug?

Switch it on here, if you like. This little fire.
Davies: Right, mister. '
Aston : Just plug in here.
Davies: Right mister.
Aston goes towards the door.
- (Anxiously). What do I do?
Aston : Just switch it on, that's all. The fire111
will come on." (The Caretaker : 26)

Davies complaints about Aston f s practical actions also

contribute to establishing Aston as the superior of the two.
He complains that what he needs: "is a clack in here
But he don't give me one" (The Caretaker ; 62) Which indicates
that Aston controls Davies1 time for him. This is a feature of
teacher-pupil relationships according to Sinclair and Coulthard
(1975) and Mead (1976) where the superior person controls the
time of the inferior.

AstonsJs tolerance of Davies is shown in his acceptance

of the many occasions on which Davies breaks maxims, thus
failing to uphold the Co-operative Principle. For example-:

"Aston : I went into the pub the other day. Ordered a

Guiness. They gave it to me in a thick mug. I sat down
but I couldnTt drink it. I can't drink Guiness from
a thick mug. I only like it out of a thin glass. I had
a few sips but I couldn't finish it.
Davies: If only the weather would break! Then I'd be able
to get down to Sidcup. (The Caretaker : 19)

Aston allows Davies1" change of topic even though Davies

shows his disregard for Aston's interests and self-concern by
his failure to respond appropriately , to Aston1s commentm

Davies, on the other hand, becomes increasingly antagonistic

and demanding with Aston as he is increasingly lured Into a
false sense of security about his position in the household.
Davies1 rising hostility towards Aston and also Davies1
attempts to dominate him are sftown in the flouting of the
maxim of Quality illustrated in this utterance, given in
response to Aston 1 s complaints about noises Davies makes in
his sleep: "what do you want, me to do, stop breathing?11 (The
Caretaker : 66) This comment blatently flouts the maxim of Quality
as Aston obviously does not intend Davies to stop breathing*
By way of Relevance we interpret Davies1 comment to meanjithat
Aston1 s requests are extremely unreasonable and that he is not
prepared to comply with them*
In DaviesT most vicious attack on Aston,.. his cruelty and
ungratefulness are highlighted:

"Haaaaahhhhh! You better think again! You want me:to

do all the dirty work all up and down them stairs, just
so I can sleep .in this lousy filthy hole every/night?
Not me, boy. Not for you boy. You don't know what you1re
doing half the time. up the creek! You're
half off! You can tell it by looking at you* Who ever"
saw~you slip me" a. few txob? Treating me like a bloody " *,
animal! I never been inside a" nuthouse 1" (The Caretaker : 67)

His words reveal his self pity because instead of exhibiting

gratitude for the home and the job provided by Aston, Davies
turns them into an insult, making the audiences suspicious of

his previous tales of unfair treatment. He cruelly turns the

confidence given by Aston of his confinement In a mental

hospital against him, accusing him of madness.


Aston reacts to his abuse with an implicit directive:

I ..... I think its about time you found somewhere else* I
don s t think were hitting it off11. (The Caretaker : 68)
He avoids direct aggression until Davies1 insults his shed,
calling it "stinking1' (The Caretaker ; 68) He then censures

Davies and issues an implicit directive "you better go" and

reinforces his meaning with an explicit directive "Get your
stuff" (The Caretaker ; 69)
This exchange reveals the inportance of the shed for Aston
who remains guite indifferent to Davies1 abuse of himself but
is angered by a threat to his illusion of hope for the future.
The conversational irnplicature arising from the flouting
of the maxim of Relevance in this exchange further reveals the
symbolic significance of the shed for Aston and the journey to

Sidcup for Davies*

'Aston: Look, if I give you .... a few bob you can get
down to Sidcup.
Davies:You build your shed first!"(The Caretaker : 68)

Aston appeals to Davies toileave, offering him hope for the

furture in the trip to Sidcup. DaviesT response dileberately

flouts the maxim of Quantity but, seeking to uphold the Co-

operative Principle, through Relevance we interpret that Daviesr
trip to Sidcup and Aston's building a shed are both extremely

unlikely events. This flouting therefore shows Davies1 under-

standing of his own illusion and of Aston1s.

This recognition of the psychological implications func-

tioning under the surface language gives their whole confrontation


more profound significance and dramatic tension. The audience

realises the fundamental issues of the individuals1 existence
are at stake; his hopes, illusions, and sancturary in this
struggle over::possession of a room.

4:2 «Aston and.Mick

The equal balance of power that exists in the relationship

between Aston and Mick is evident in the following exchanges

Mick: You still got the leak?
Aston :~Yes
It's coming from the roof
Mick : From the roof, eh?
Aston :*Yes
I'll have to tar it over.
Mick You1re going to tar it over?
Aston Yes*
Mick What?
Aston The cracks.
Mick Think that111 do it?
Aston It 1 11 do it for the time being
Mick Uh.
Davies (.abruptly). What do you do-?
They both look at him.
What do you do when that bucket!s full?
Aston : Empty it (The Caretaker : 37)

Dramatically^this extract is striking as it is the only

lengthy exchange the brotherfs^have in the play. Their

verbal exclusion of Davies foreshadows their physical rejection

of him that follows at the close of the play.

Davies' attempt to participate in this exchange, symbolic

of the threat he poses to their relationship and security of

the room, is immediately rejected by Aston's abrupt reply.
His false start and hesitation in the utterance:

"What do you do - ? What do you do when the buckets

(The Caretaker : 37) indicate his awareness of the bond
of communication between the brothers and his fear of exclusion
from their relationship.

The verbal strategies employed by Aston and Mick in this

exchange are significant as they are markedly unlike those they
use in their individual verbal interaction with Davies. Neither
brother uses strategies of dominance and power as they do with

Mick repeats Astons words .when he says: "From , ,

the roof eh?" . (.The Caretaker : 37) A strategy normally

associated with the subordinate character. However, this

implication of. subordination's" negated through the other

linguistic strategies employed in his exchanges with Aston.
This is achieved by Aston volunteering relevant information
\~ j

and partially repeating d&ck's words. This indicates his willing-

ness to participate in the exchange on equal terms. In addition

the check-back strategies used by Mick display his desire to

ensure full communication.

These exchanges in this extract are crucial to an under-
standing of the balanced relationship between Aston and Mick7 .'
as they form the only example of a conversation in which the
participants make a genuine effort to communicate on equal terms^

in the dialogue of The Caretaker

In the action that follows, Aston acknowledges his respect

and allegiance to Mick by eventually passirg the bag to Mick to

give to Davies himself. Further.insights into the relationship

between the brothers, are gained from the analysis, of certain

exchanges between Mick and Davies dicussed in 4:3/where Mick's

concern and protection of Aston are revealed In his censure

of Daviesr attitudes and his language use.

4:3 Davies and Mick

In Mick and Davies' relationship, their roles are clearly

defined from their first encounter. Mick uses the verbal stra-
tegies of a teacher to undermine Davies1 confidence and assert
his power over him. If the Speaker assumes the right to
censure the Hearer, he is showing himself to be in a superior
position to the Hearer in their relationship* Thus a situation
of imbalance is created. Sinclair and Coulthard (1975) and Mead
(1976) view these features as strategies used in teacher-
pupil relationships.
Censure is a much weilded linguistic weapon of Mick's.
He consistently insults and criticises Davies, ignoring the
pathetic attempts Davies makes to defend himself and thus

further fortifying his dominant position.

In his first exchanges with Davies, he censures him three
times for being 'choosy1 (The Caretaker;33) about the bed he
slept in. Each repetition reinforces his dominant status. He
then accuses Davies of being f a fibber', 'rogue1, ' scoundrel %
'robber', 'old skate', 'barbarian' and of 'stinking the place -
out' (The Caretaker:34,35). Davies' attempts to object to
these accusations are interrupted, often with a new criticism

as in this extract:

"Mick: ....You're nothing but an old scoundrel.

Davies: Now wait -
Mickr Listen, son. Listen, sonny. You stink11
(The Caretaker:35)

These interruptions are a refusal to allow Davies equal speaking

rights and subordinate him even further.

In contrast to the numerous censures that Mick hurls at

Davies, Davies makes only one censure of Mick. This is at the
beginning of their relationship, when he has not been com-
pletely dominated by Mick. His lack of censure of Mick in the
rest of the play indicates his increased subordination to Mick.
It is also made under extreme provocation; Mick grabs Davies *
bag and taunts him with it. After issuing two explicit
directives - TGive us it, that T s my bag 1 and !Give me it1
(The Caretaker:38) Davies censures Mick with JYou thieving
bastard you theiving skate1 (The Caretaker;39)« This attempt
at confronting Mick fails and Davies is shown to be the-inferior
in power terms, as eventually Mick is given the bag by Aston,
to give to Davies himself - so Mick still exercises control
over Davies through control of his possessions.
Mick uses many explicit directives in his exchanges with

Davies, expecting them to be obeyed. Many of these explicit

directives are given as warnings not to behave in a certain

manner* Davies is told:

"Don!t get too perky" (The Caretaker:35)

"Don't get out of your depth" (The Caretaker;35)

"Don't overstep the mark son" (The Caretaker:38)
"Don't get too glib" (The Caretaker:50)
These directives show Mick's control of Davies, as he is
monitoring and directing Davies' behaviour. He even controls
Davies' past by inventing a past for Davies, spent in the
services in the colonies, which Davies accepts. He monitors
Davies' thoughts with declarations such as "I know what you want"
(The Caretaker:59).

These directives also reveal Mick's understanding of Davies'

character, as he foresees that Davies will "overstep the mark"
and try to take advantage of the brothers. He tells Davies
"You don't belong in a nice place like this" (The Caretaker:35)
and accuses Davies with "You come busting into a private house,
laying your hands on anything you can lay your hands on" (The
Caretaker:38)« These comments indicate Mick's recognition of
Davies' desire to possess the room and Mick's own determination

to keep his territory intact.

As in the case of censures, Davies issues~veryyfew

directives at Mick. On the two occasions where he does

give them, it is in response to Mick taking his trousers and
his bag. On these occasions, Davies is not acting as a superior

giving instructions to an inferior, as Mick does with him,

but as a victim struggling against an aggressor. He struggles

to gain control of his possessions, which have been

wrongfully removed by Mick.

Similarly, other directives he gives Mick such as 'Come

on then, who are you?1' (The Caretaker:45) and !Get away-y-y-y-y1'
(The Caretaker:45) are defence rnanoeuvTes used in his attempts
to protect himself from Mick's attacks. They are not used to
express a superior status.

The dramatic significance of the pragmatic inferences

arising from Mick and Davies' observations and floutings of
conversational maxims,is seen in the insights gained into their
Mick f s rejection of Davies is revealed in the conversational
implicature arising from this exchange, where Mick has told
Davies that Aston and Mick would share the penthouse* Davies
asks "What about me?" and Mick replies "All this junk here,
it!s no good to anyone" (The Caretaker:61)» A possible standard
conversational implicature that arises is that Davies will have
no place in the penthouse. We can infer that Davies is part of
the useless junk that Aston has accumulated and that Davies,
like the junk, is no good to anyone. The junk and Davies would

have no place in the penthouse*

Mick's rejection of Davies stems from the threat Davies

poses to his territory. Mick is aware of Davies1 attempts to -

conceal his real motivation, which is to stake a claim to the
room. Mick?s perception of Davies1 interior motives is revealed
in the conversational implicature arising from the flouting of

the maxim of Quality in this utterance:


"Mick: Christ! I must.have been under a false

impression" (The Caretaker:72)

From our previous knowledge of^Mick,:we understand that this

statement is blatantly false, as Mick clearly comprehends Davies1
character. Therefore, we presume that he deliberately flouts ^
the Quality maxim for a specific communicative intention. By
way of Relevance, it is inferred that he intends to be ironic.
This use of irony conveys and re-emphasises Mick's profound
understanding of Davies1 interior motives and his objections
to them.
The conversational implicatures that arise from Davies1
speech reveal his fear of Mick. They also reinforce and re-
state Davies1 inferior role in his relationship with Mick.
In the first exchanges between Davies and Mick, Mick asks
"What's your name?" Davies responds with "I "don't know you. I
don't know who you are.11 Davies1 reply gives rise to the
generalised conversational implicature ;that he is unwilling
to reveal his identity to a stranger. This wariness reveals
his mistrust of people; his recognition of Mick as a poten-
tially powerful adversary and his desire to conceal as much of

himself as possible.
Davies senses that Mick is a threat to his security in
the room. This is revealed by the exchanges that .take place

in Mick's long interrogation of Davies. This exchange:


"Mick: You intending to settle down here?

Davies: give me my trousers then.11 (The Caretaker: 34)

reveals Davies' understanding of Mick's real intentions towards

him, Davies1 response to Mick gives rise to a standard
conversational implicature which infers that Mick wants him to
leave and that he agrees to go on condition that his trousers
are returned to him.

The verbal exchanges between Mick and Davies also

display Mick's feelings of allegiance towards Aston. These
feelings are exhibited in his aggressive reactions to
Davies1 criticisms of Aston. It is useful to make the com-
parison with a teacher-pupil relationship here to show how
Mick acts as the superior, the teacher, by assuming the right
to make judgements about Davies' linguistic abilities.
This role relationship is illustrated when Davies says
Aston is nno particular friend" of his. Mick deliberately
misinterprets Davies"and says, "I'm sorry to hear my brother's
not very friendly" (The Caretaker;47). Davies shows his
subordinate position In the relationship be accepting Mick's
interpretation of Davies' own comment and displays his desire
to placate Mick by repeating "He's friendly" (The Caretaker;48)

to negate any Implied criticism of Aston.

Mickfs deliberate misinterpretation of Davies' comment also
suggests that Davies breaks the maxim of Manner, by, being

unclear in his speech and thus emphasising his inferior 1

linguistic abilities.

Mick further criticises Davies' verbal skills by :-.-

challenging DaviesT lexical usage. He questions Daviesr
application of the adjective ^funny' to:describe Aston:

"Davies: Well*., he's a funny bloke, your brother.

Mick: What?
Davies: I was saying, he's... he's a bit of a,funny
bloke; your brother.
MICK stares at him.
Mick: Funny? Why?
Davies: Well..* he r s funny...
Mick: f What's funny about him?
Davies: Not liking work.
Mick: What's funny about that?
Davies: Nothing.

Mick: I don't call it funny.
Davies: Nor me.
Mick: You don't want to start getting hypercritical.
Davies: No, no, I wasn't that, I wasn't... I was only
Mick: Don't get too glib.
Davies: Look, all I meant was -
Mickr.- Cut it! (Briskly)
(The Caretaker:50)

Davies -backs down and retracts his statement, agreeing with

Mick. His attempt to re-explain his meaning implies an acknow-

ledgement that he is linguistically incompetent, as he was

unable to succeed in his communicative intention in his first

utterance. He displays himself in a subordinate role with

Mick as he seeks to explain himself to Mick to avoid giving

offence. This role is reinforced by Mick f s ignoring his

speaking rights by interrupting him with an explicit directive,

"Cut it11 (The Caretaker; 50).

A further example of Mick T s assumption of the dominant role

in their relationship is seen in this exchange:

'Davies: . ... I said to him, he'll be along, your

brother111 be along, he's got sense, not like you-
Mick: What do you mean?"
(The Caretaker:70)

Mick reinforces his implication that Davies is verbally

inadequate by asking him "What do you mean?11 (The Caretaker;70)
and rewording Davies1 utterance into "You saying my brother
hasn!t got any sense?" (The Caretaker:70) to check Davies'
meaning* Davies, sensing it would be unwise to offend Mick,
praises Mick for his decorating ideas to change the topic.
His flattery of Mick and refusal to restate his criticism of
Aston Show his fear of Mickfs displeasure and ability to

understand the threats behind Mick's words.

Mick also reacts to criticismsjof Aston by challenging

Davies1 language use when Davies suggests that Aston should

go back where he come from" (The Caretaker:?). Any native
speaker recognises this as an idiomatic figure of speech and

would not literally, but Mick deliberately does

so. He asks Davies "Where did he come from?11 (The Caretaker;?)

and Davies, expecting to have been understood, is disorientated
and unable to answer coherently, thus reinforcing Mick's
dominant position.

Mick's most vehement outburst of censure of Davies follows

Davies' most severe criticism of Aston; that Aston is "nutty"
(The Caretaker:73). Aston claims to have been in a mental home
and does behave in an unconventional manner. It seems to be
the truth of this statement and the fact that Aston 1 s mental
health is his most vulnerable point, that provokes Mick's

speech below:

"Mick: What did you call my brother?

Davies: When?
Mick: He's what?
Davies: I*., now get this straight..*
Mick: Nutty? Who's nutty?

Did you call my brother nutty? My brother.
That's a bit of... that's a bit of an impertinent
thing to say, isn't it?"
(The Caretaker:73)

His three repetitions of the phrase "My brother" emphasise his

close relationship with Aston. His repetition of his unfinished

utterance "That's a bit.." and hesitation contrast dramatically

with his normallyffluent and eloquent speech, suggesting that
Mick has been considerably upset. This impression is reinforced

by Mick's understatement that referring to a person as "nutty1.1


Is a "bit impertinent".

The dramatic tension generated by these devices climaxes

in Mick's attack of Davies that follows. It culminates in
Davies1 dismissal from his 'job', which presages his dismissal
from the house.

It is evident through exchanges and linguistic manoeuvres

that a great deal is revealed of Mick1a relationships with
Davies and with Aston. Mick's dominant position and Davies1

subordinate role are constantly restated by a variety of

different language devices which the two characters use.
From Mick's first utterance to Davies, "What's the game?"
(The Caretaker:29) , onwards, their ability to understand
each other's real intentions and threats hidden below the
surface meanings of their language is conveyed in their

verbal interactions*


This linguistic analysis of The Caretaker makes it

possible to see how the surface linguistic form of Pinter T s
language is comparable to vernacular speech. The linguistic
interactions in the play follow characteristic patterns of
everyday discourse. This is evident in the verbal exchanges
of Aston and Davies which exhibit many of the linguistic
features found in adult-child exchanges. They are success-
fully utilised to negotiate a relationship with Aston as the
dominant figure. Similarly, Mick and Davies establish a
relationship through verbal strategies common to teacher-
pupil interactions, in which Davies takes the subordinate
pupil T s role.
Grice's Co-operative Principle is exploited by the charac-
ters, as it is by speakers of colloquial Englistu We observe
the language functioning beyond its semantic form in the
pragmatic inferences that arise from the conversational

implicatures examined.
The dramatic significance of these inferences is evident
in the insights provided into the characters1 psychological
mechanisms. Their personal motivations, fears, strengths
and weaknesses are revealed through their efforts to uphold

or ignore the Co-operative Principle. In the verbal exchanges

of the play, when one character instigates a conversational
implicature, he reveals a dimension of the relationship he has

or seeks to establish, with the other.


The aspects of the characters and their interpersonal

relationships which emerge from the analysis of the verbal
strategies and exploitation of the Co-operative Principle, arc
supplemented by the other linguistic devices examined. These
devices also reveal new dimensions of the characters and their
psychological interactions with one another.

In the selected extracts of Pinter's dialogue examined

in this dissertation, his characters successfully employ a
variety of linguistic strategies and devices that are commonly
attributed to colloquial English to establish their respective
roles. Therefore, his dialogues are an acceptable rendition of
vernacular - linguistic form.
The language is also seen to function successfully at a
more profound level. Through symbolic language and pragmatic
inferences, we are offered insights into the psychological

motivations of the characters concerned.

Through this 'window of language1 (Vannier, 1963),
we observe the individual characters' attempts to manipulate

and conquer their adversaries with words.

In conclusion, through this analysis of the linguistic
devices and exchanges of The Caretaker, we witness Pinter's
creation of a nnew dynamic of dialogue in which the coercive
power of social conversation becomes the focus of character

confrontation11 (Quigley, 1976).



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