On"Menace"in Pinter's The Dumb Waiter

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 [摘 要]Harold Pinter is one of the foremost playwrights in the second half of the twentieth century.Pinter is chiefly known for his early"comedies of menace"of absurd strain,and The Dumb Waiter is one of the best examples of this group.His plays not only make you recognize the menace in all corners of world,but also show you the roots of the menace:it is not the appearance,but the human nature.Both the outside mysterious power and the inter-menacing dominance produce a threatening atmosphere to the play.
  [关键词]menace human nature power dominance atmosphere
  "Menace",as the typical theme of Pinter's plays,is not the bold explosion-like threat,but a kind of menace that is hard to say and dig into people's soul.The Dumb Waiter tells a story in which the victim is swallowed by certain mysterious power in society.The play is filled with menacing atmosphere,mainly from two directions:the mysterious power outside the room and the inter-menacing struggle in the room.Dramatically,the two characters are menacing hit men but become menaced victims.
  Pinter's plays are well acknowledged as"Comedies of Menace".It was this combination of moods,the comic and the threatening,that was to characterize much of Pinter's works.In his plays,menace is not merely an emotive device,but stands for something more substantial:destiny.
  Ⅰ.Mysterious Power outside the room
  The claustrophobic qualities of The Dumb Waiter are typical of Pinter's plays,which are often constrained by limits of space.To an extent,such constraint is a metaphor for the constraints that life itself places on people and that people place upon themselves.①
   The Dumb Waiter concerns two gunmen,Gus and Ben,in a basement bedroom.To kill the time they talk about football,read newspapers,and argue about the various idioms associated with lighting a gas stove.The two men are in the business of murdering people but know comparatively little about the organization that they are working for.Without warning,a dumbwaiter at the back suddenly begins to work,bringing orders for a meal,which they have to fill with the little food they have with them.However,the orders continue coming.After Gus goes off to the lavatory,Ben gets an additional order:to shoot the next person coming in through the outside door.When Gus enters through that door,Ben faces him,gun in hand.In this short play,the two gunmen continuously experience the threatening power from the basement until in the end one of them has to be shot to death.Menace can be from everywhere and everyone.
  In The Dumb Waiter,the dominant commander,Wilson,never appears in the play,but he is directly or indirectly behind the messages from the dumb waiter and speaking tube.When Gus suggests that Wilson is playing"games"with the men (the orders for food),it raises the possibility of Wilson's having a sadistic personality - a malevolent god.②Not only is he going to execute Gus,for unknown reasons,but he will put him through an agonizing final day.Gus also mentions that Wilson put them through tests several years ago to prove themselves,so we know that Wilson may also be paranoid (a reasonable expectation for the head of a crime syndicate).Wilson is a mysterious figure,the boss of Gus and Ben.He never shows up but the messages from the dumb waiter may be from him.He may also own the café in which the play is set.Regardless of his physical reality or lack thereof,he plays an important role in the other characters' minds and is actually the enigma and dominating menace outside the room.
 Ⅱ.Inter-menacing Characters in the Room
  In Pinter's plays,the characters' internal fears,longings and their guilt are set against the neat lives they have constructed in order to try to survive.In The Dumb Waiter,the characters are threatening each other.The hit men Ben and Gus are the menacing power for someone that will be killed,but they are also threatened by the mysterious power upstairs.The menacing hit men absurdly become that of being menaced.
  Existential crisis not only comes from the menacing force outside the room,but also from the terror lurking between the people inside the room,as revealed in the play The Dumb Waiter.Comparatively,in this play,human existence is more frightening.Threatening power is from the person inside the room,or from acquaintances.Meanwhile the people being threatened here are precisely those whose business is usually to menace others,like Gus and Ben.As a matter of fact,the two killers in the play cannot control their fate themselves.They are confined by unknown and illogical power,i.e.,the mysterious organization and the dumb waiter.This idea is also what Existentialism and the Theatre of the Absurd try to express.Without any physical intrusion,the danger may be lurking already inside the room,ready to take one of the inhabitants as its victim.The threat and terror may come not only from outside force,but also from the people inside the room staying together with you,from one's friends or working fellows.Interpersonal relationship is changing from alienation to hostility,and man's living condition is getting deteriorated.

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