As established, the humour Duffy uses is merely a facade veiling a more disturbing subtext. However, this technique is not unique to Duffy, as Katherine Mansfield notably used humour to depict serious issues. In “Daughters of The Late Colonel”, the colonel’s character is authoritarian, oppressive and callous. These traits emerge through observing the daughters’ behaviour, rather than the colonel’s himself, although the two flashbacks Mansfield makes use of reveal the malevolent aspects of the colonel’s character.
Section three describes the death of the colonel. His two daughters are watching him as he is laying on his deathbed, “purple, a dark, angry purple in the face” and he suddenly opens “one eye only”, which “glares at them” for a moment, and then he immediately dies. The deliberately comic effect of this moment, together with the word “rule” used in the sixth section remove any doubt about the fundamentally cold nature of their father-daughter relationship.
There exists a pervasive sense of patriarchal control, this sense not being dependent on the presence of the colonel; the man inspires fear even after his death, as we note in the priest’s sudden reaction upon realizing that he was about to sit in the chair which belonged to the colonel. Similarly, in The Homecoming, Jessie’s maternal absence and her personality pervade the play, as seen in Max’s poor cooking skills (which call for a woman’s hand) and in the analogy of the “three sons”, which Martin Esslin believes to be no coincidence.
Additionally, he affirmed that Ruth is a reincarnation of Jessie, and that “Max’s violent reaction on first meeting Ruth could be seen as the outcome of his sudden confrontation with the image of his dead wife. ” Disregarded in the combative discourse between the male characters of the play (who account for all but one character) are all four Gricean maxims of the cooperative principle. The quality, quantity, manner and relation aspects of the play’s dialogue are either awkwardly disjointed or entirely absent.
Max and Lenny in particular are disputatious individuals who prefer the unilateral adversarial method when arguing; this method is merely an attempt to aggressively destroy the other’s position in attempt to promote their own. The fallacy of attacking the person holding the argument and not the argument itself is indeed alienating in the sense that it doesn’t allow for discussion or compromise, but it also has a comic thespian purpose.
Janice Moulton, an analytic feminist, argued that “the adversary method doesn’t give women a fair chance because they are both less aggressive and less allowed to be aggressive. ” Thus, in seeing Ruth acting so domineeringly, we feel uncomfortable because we want her to befit the stereotypical female roles which we are acclimated with, namely that the woman be less assertive, aggressive or rational.
As soon as Ruth is introduced in the play, she becomes the catalyst of the action. The critic Bill Naismith observes: “The rhythm of the play is determined by the way Ruth, in particular, speaks and moves”. As such, she is the play’s pivot. Ruth’s small utterances and her eerie monologues, punctuated by dramatic, lascivious pauses, have a hypnotically seductive appeal to them. On the other hand, the collapse of her speech has been interpreted by some as a mental breakdown.
The character of Ruth can be interpreted on a number of levels; in a mythological sense, she is a fertility goddess; psychologically, she represents the fulfillment of the men’s Oedipal dreams; sociologically, she is a dominant figure territorially, and in a dramatic sense, she is integral to the Pinteresque universe by being the character who achieves dominance through her silence. Alternatively, one might get the impression that Ruth is a male projection rather than a character in her own right, and that Pinter has her character emerge purely from the collective male consciousness.
To put it in Simone De Beauvoir’s existential terms, Ruth is the “Other”, an idealized, stereotypical character with no individuality of her own. The play indeed does reflect various overused myths about women in the treatment of Ruth’s character. For instance, it reflects men’s beliefs that women are cold, frivolous and incapable of deep feeling or true commitment (seen in Ruth’s lack of concern or even acknowledgement of her husband); that in fact, women deserve to be humiliated and treated brutally as they inwardly desire it.
“If the play is seen like a dreamlike myth […] Ruth is a passive character, she is the object of male desires and, being an image in a dream, yields to these desires without putting up any resistance”. The Homecoming, as an exemplar of the Absurdist Theatre, employs paralinguistic devices which possess the quality of being exceptionally powerful when performed. John Lahr wrote: “The Homecoming changed my life. Before the play, I thought words were just vessels of meaning; after it, I saw them as weapons of defense.
Before, I thought theatre was about the spoken; after, I understood the eloquence of the unspoken. The position of a chair, the length of a pause, the choice of a gesture, I realized, could convey volumes. “ The chair, for instance, is used as a territorial symbol of power; its function is rather like that of a throne, and as a result it comes into play in each of the characters’ attempts to dominate and assert their status. Likewise, Ruth asserts her control over the physical space of the stage through walking with confidence and familiarity.
The way she “walks around the room” is contrasted with the special dynamics in “Teddy walks about”, which reveal Teddy’s uncertainty. Harold Pinter’s play thus challenges the traditional views of language and communication, and provides a striking insight into the relationship between speech and silence, presence and absence, and the role of each antithetical part in the struggle for power and dominance, all taking place predominantly in the context of gender.
In my essay I have primarily discussed the nature of the male-female relationships in the works of the three very distinguished authors Katherine Mansfield, Harold Pinter and Carol Ann Duffy. I aimed to focus chiefly on the intricacies of character, on the arguably flexible quality that describes most of the selected texts and which might allow for a large scope of different interpretations, and additionally on the influence of the context on the authors’ work, along the road touching upon the techniques these skilled writers had employed in order to augment their artistic depictions.
Word count (including quotes, footnotes and bibliography): 3569 Word count (excluding quotes, footnotes and bibliography): 2776 Bibliography Baddy, G. (1988) Katherine Mansfield, The Woman and The Writer, Penguin Duffy, C. (1999) The World’s Wife, Picador Eliot, T. S (1998), The Waste Land, Prufrock and Other Poems, Courier Dover Publication Esslin, M. (2004), The Theater of the Absurd, Vintage