This post is going to be overloaded with my own rambling about life mixed with literature (specifically my literature book: THE BIRTHDAY PARTY (TBP)... I am so in love with Pinter). Darling Partner once asked me why I think so much about life well, news for you I stopped doing that already to make myself focus on studying hard! However, the thing about this is that it’s a EVER PERSISTENT PROBLEM and here it comes again, nudging me to question myself and my identity as I read the TBP play. Are we all becoming Stanley in our own ways!?!?!?
Sian studying literature teaches us not to study at all (or so it seems)…
Once again, my overflowing love of literature is overwhelming me!! HAHA please ignore this post if you aren’t interested about life and lit. :D I just need a place to pour all the thoughts in my head.
Ok quick overview of the play. Stanley is the main protagonist in the play, he lives in the boarding house belonging to an ordinary couple (Meg and Petey). One day, two sinister strangers, Goldberg and McCann, arrive at the boarding house and take him away.
Trust me the plot is as simple as it looks (this is the job of the literature students which is to, as my teacher likes to say, “unpackage the text” ) For the actual events that happened and development of the story, be prepared to be SORELY disappointed. THERE IS ALMOST NONE AT ALL. And yet there are. How subtle but drastic.
Well anyway, reading TBP there will definitely be tons of questions popping up in your head. Who is Goldberg and McCann? What do they represent? What has Stanley done to be taken away? What is the Establishment ( Aha! TBP is slightly a political play. Think 1984, V fro Vendetta etc…)? Believe it or not, these questions are really left unanswered just as how Pinter wants it to be. It is vague, it is absurd. Well of course! Welcome to the Theatre of the Absurd!
I must admit. For the first time as a literature student I am at a loss. How can there be almost no plot in the story? Plus why does all the character talk gibberish? Honestly it is English language that makes no sense.
BUT AFTER STUDYING, I am totally in love with Pinter! When you understand it, you begin to appreciate it. That is so true for literature. Let me digress a little. There was once I felt that literature is quite unfair. Why? Because almost all kinds of play/books/films like to make references to one another, citing each other something like an inside joke or reference. Ocean Thirteen for one is an excellent demonstration of this. The entire movie is filled with inside jokes.
I mean if you don’t read George Orwell’s 1984, it is not fair then if another book make references to “Big Brother” and you have no idea what the heck it is. Or worse when it is a biblical reference, what if you are an atheist and never touched the Bible? HAHA then the meaning will be lost/not understood. I used to dislike the fact that authors like to draw reference to one another especially if it got to do with Shakespeare or Greek mythology. I know nuts about them. HOWEVER, after reading even more, it kind of sinks in and you begin to enjoy these subtle references. You are interested to know more about it and to be honest, my interest in old films really paid off. You get the Gone With the Wind jokes and the Casablanca shit.
Anyway back to rambling on TBP. Pinter makes the audience sympathize Stanley, as he is the victim of the two strangers’ interrogation, ultimately succumbing to their sinister motives and suffers a mental breakdown. We have no idea what crime he commits except that he is blamed for it and Goldberg and McCann seem insistent to hold him responsible for his actions and came to take him and change him. There are many interpretation for this and I’m going with the one that Stanley is in fact guilty for well, being Stanley. Take a deep breath and try to get my meaning.
Well, here comes the problem. You see, Stanley is out of job, he lives with no purpose, a shadow of his past musician pianist life (or so he claims, we are reading a play whereby what the character claims themselves to be is QUESTIONALBE and they already say so few words, I have a hard time deciphering already). Stanley is also lazy and gives off the impression that he live off Meg and Petey’s earnings. The 3 of them, kind of live in their own beautiful world created by themselves but nevertheless becomes vulnerable to the external forces which interrupts their peaceful well-constructed mundane lives coming in the form of Goldberg and McCann arrival when they turn up on Stanley’s supposedly birthday. I say supposedly because it is never made clear to us whether it is Stanley’s birthday or not. Meg says it is but the birthday boy himself disagree. Absurd isn’t it?
So to go on, the 2 strangers than cause him a mental deterioration when they questioned Stanley’s identity and blame him almost just for existing and then puts him into his “correct” place. To them, there is no place in the society for someone like Stanley who does not conform, does not do what is necessary, does not lead a normal life (having a job, a family). We sympathize him because we see this as the individual being crushed by the society which does not tolerate people like Stanley, and no matter how far he can hide, there is nowhere to run to as Pinter suggests, the terror is always out there.
Stanley represents the individual, who is rebelling against the society, by not being part of it, he has no family and leads a bohemianism lifestyle. To the eyes of the state, he is nothing but someone who has to be forced to conform and then comes Goldberg and McCann. The ideals he represents are like a disease, to be cured of, to be destroyed.
Here’s the thing. I have difficulties blaming the state for behaving that way. True, it did come across to me as something like a totalitarian figure, controlling the way how the people should behave but honestly, Stanley is lazy and useless and rotting away. He is of no contribution to the society and his existence is of no purpose, therefore, the fact that the state is doing something about people like Stanley, well I can’t really blame them. Or is it? Is it because I am already “conformed” myself? What is the purpose of my existence anyway? What if I simply choose to live my life this way? Am I wrong? Who says that it is MUST to lead a meaningful life?
Ionesco defined the absurdist everyman as “cut off from his religious, metaphysical and transcendental roots…lost; all his actions become senseless, absurd, useless…”
Pinter seems to be telling me that there is no problem to just exist for the sake of existing. It is the choices that make us who we are and not simply behaving how we are told/inform to do so. WAH LIKE THAT CAN DON’T STUDY ALREADY LAH WIN. That’s why I cannot fully sympathize with Stanley. The way he lead his life is of no value at all. Some one should kick him in the ass and tell him to start working hard. But then again is it because this message is already so ingrained in my head by the Establishment that’s why I am echoing this point of view after all?
In fact, it seems like I’m all for the totalitarian state now SIAO! Of course their cruel methods are questionable and the reliability/ goodwill of the Establishment to change Stanley for Stnaley own sake does deserve my sympathy. Do as you are told to, contribute to the society, live your life to the fullest. While Stanley is like do as you wish, don’t need to meet society expectations, live your life as whichever way you pleased. HOW CAN ONE BE LIKE THAT?
TBP is shocking me. I think it is meant to shock me. It is meant to make me re-think my existence and to re-consider the way of life. If I managed to fully sympathized Stanley’s condition, having to lose his individual voice and his own identity in the end, it makes me wonder if I should sympathized with myself then. Because I do wonder what the hell am I doing everyday. Cough why am I attending econs lecture? Honestly, I like economics; I like the economics teachers I really do. But the lecture itself is pure agony. You sit in a freezing lecture hall hearing the teacher drone on the exact same words printed on your lecture notes and the powerpoint slides showing the exact same words printed on your lecture notes. I really wonder if I am alive whenever I’m in middle of attending the econs lecture. The urge to stab myself in the eyeballs with my 0.38 uniball black pen - just to ensure that I can actually feel- is tempting. No I am just kidding I check my watch every 15mins.