The Birthday Party 2012 JC2 H2 LIT Mock Exam Context Qn
Context Qn • Write a critical appreciation of the following passage, relating it to the development of the play as a whole. • NB: The extract is the last section of Act 3 – the final conclusion. • ‘development of the play as a whole’ – how does the ending (last 20 lines) bring to a resolution the themes and the plot? How are the characters finally presented?
Denouement/Endings • Denouement (day-noo-mon) • French and means literally “untying” - • The final scene reveals the outcome and/or unravels the main dramatic complications in a play. • Usually it reveals all the secrets, misunderstandings connected to plot and where necessary clarifications are made. • ENDINGS – will resolve all questions raised in the play
Theme: Power & the establishment • Indictment of the Establishment and society: • The establishment is flawed, fallible, hypocritical • Resistance is futile • the protagonist is reduced to “nothing” – enslaved by authority and voicelsss– taken ‘illegally’ from his ‘home’. • Petey’s feeble warning at the end ‘Stan, don’t let them tell you what to do!’ is futile and only serves to underline his helplessness. • The subsequent silences (ins stage directions) underscore the futility of the single ‘protest’
The falling strips of paper – remind us of how Stanley was treated • Petey watches it fall – manifests the ineffectiveness of his protest and his own fragility. He does not bother to pick it up – not in the text. • He returns defeated to his routine – reading the newspaper – a self-protective gesture that allows him to ‘ignore’ his wife and the outside world.
Family relations isolation & alienation • The strips of paper on the floor also reflect the family’s shattered domesticity and fragility. • Petey as ‘absent’ father and Meg as ‘mother’ are unable to protect Stanny. • Family as institution – is dysfunctional • Individual is essentially alone. • Isolation and Alienation => linked to meaningless of life.
structure • Cyclical structure: Ending of Act III mirrors the beginning of the play • Meg and Petey waiting for Stanley to come down. Same topics of conversation; same qns‘is it good?’ • Ests a rigid, neat pattern, but empty & void of life • GB & MC have brought ‘peace’ and ‘order’ but in the most ironic fashion, depriving the world of any vitality of life. (Stanley the individual has been carted off) • Ending becomes an endless process of vacuous, hoplesswaiting (Absurdism) – Stanny will ‘never return’.
The repetitive day – reinforces theme of a meaningless, irrational universe. • The setting at the end(which never changes) – reminds us of Stanley’s fear – ‘there’s nowhere to go’ => symbolically there’s no escape. • Lack of purpose and meaningful universe is alo reflected in plot structure: • absence of logical sequence / • devt of plot & lack of resolution
Unsatisfactory ending? • Key questions of the play remain unanswered—What happens to Stanley? • No catharsis for the pity and fear aroused • We want an explanation of what we have experienced, to exorcise our uneasiness through words. • But the experience of the play is too complex for simple explanations. • Even within the play, the characters are unable—or unwilling—to verbalize what is behind the emotional phenomena.
Is it all despair and dismay? • Pinter has not given us an explanation. Because words are inadequate mediums of communication. • We must create our own explanations. • The audience experiences the absurd ideas and absurd activities of persons who do not know how to come out of the abyss of anxiety. • The ending is depressing: => We are left with the futile and irrational pursuits (games) of the present day masses – eg Meg and Petey. Meg’s ‘delusion’ is small comfort – so is Petey’s ineffectual and passive ‘resistance’ or ‘acceptance’.
HOPE? • Martin Esslin (literary critic) explains: • The moment we realize that we may have to live without any final truths the situation changes; • we may have to readjust ourselves to living with less exulted aims and by doing so become more humble, more receptive, less exposed to violent disappointments and crises of conscious …. • .. therefore in the last resort happier and better adjusted people, simply because we then live in closer accord with reality. (Kepos 384)
Essay qn • ‘There exists terror beneath the laughter.’ How far do you agree with this comment on The Birthday Party? • Comedy of Menace: • The play mixes comic absurdity with the threat of menace. Eg Meg’s foolish antics is juxtaposed against Goldberg’s sly menace. • Light treatment of grave themes – give the impression of humour and menace. Eg the language used in the interrogation scene.
Humour is based on the absurdity of life – it’s a bleak, dark humour. • The play mocks the futile attempts of characters who struggle to live in a way that is more ‘meaningful’ to them. • Their games are empty and ‘fun’ in a bleak entertaining way but do nothing else. • The language also entertains – by being ‘excessively ‘banal’, trivial and ‘boring’. • Many instances of cliches, stock expressions, repeatedly used – can be amusing in revealing the paucity of communication and relationship.
The terror is the menace of authority and the establishment. • It is also the existential horror that none of the characters can escape. • Characters look to the past for meaning and identity. The present is fraught with lack of beliefs (the hollow men) and danger/threat. • Fear of external threat is ambiguous and vague. Eg the establishment can refer to any authority and corruption is everywhere in society.
Comic techniques • Comic characters: like Meg • Meg is immediately identifiable as an absurd fool to laugh at egAlmost all of her dialogue in Act 1 is in the form of inane, pointless, questions • Incongruities in situation and relationship – Meg and Stanley’s => Meg’s laughable attempts to flirt and tease Stanley. • => Darker significance is the terror of isolation and meaninglessness • => hollowness of life without family and real intimacy.
Goldberg and McCann • They are the comic gangster duo: • Humorous question-and-answer pattern casts McCann as the subservient, dim-witted stooge and Goldberg as the superior (27) • McCANN. Is this it? • GOLDBERG. This is it. • McCANN. Are you sure? • GOLDBERG. Sure I’m sure. [...]
Language • Banality and ordinariness of the dialogue draw out attention to the inherent absurdity of communication • Stating the obvious • Tautologies of language and logic • Random amusing statements of life that also seem menacing Pg 28 eg(“Everywhere you go these days it’s like a funeral”)=> Goldberg’s attempt to put MC at ease – also carries an implicit intention of ‘murdering’ Stanley
The Interrogation Scene • the interrogation scene in Act 2 is absurd. • - Trivial (“When did you last wash a cup?”) • - Nonsensical (“Is the number 846 possible or necessary?”) • - Contradictory (“..kill your wife?”, “..never get married?”) • While the dialogue is farcical, the intensity of the accusations show violent intent - to condemn, punish and damage Stanley.