In his use of dialogue, Pinter captures the mannerisms, repetitions, abruptness, disjointed speech and other peculiarities of the characters that inhabit his world. Most of the time, it sounds like tape-recorded speech. Pinter's craft is tightly controlled. Every syllable, every inflection, the succession of long and short sounds, words and sentences—all bit into a well-wrought pattern.
Language as a Vehicle and Instrument of Dramatic Action
Pinter uses language in a most dramatic way as a vehicle and instrument of dramatic action. Words become weapons in the mouths of Pinter's characters. The one who gets hold of the more accurate expression establishes dominance over his partner; his victim of aggression can be defeated by language which comes too thick and fast, or by language which is too nonsensical to be comprehended. This happens, above all, to
in The Birthday Party. Stanley is subjected to a process of brainwashing through a flood of incomprehensible questions and assertions fired at him by the two terrorists. Stanley
The precision, economy and control that Pinter exercises over the language of his dialogue firmly link him to the tradition of contemporary British high-comedy. Noel Coward has ranked Pinter as the one among the "new wave of British dramatists" whose craftsmanship in the use of language he admires. On the one hand, Pinter can be linked to Kafka and Beckett, on the other he can be related to Oscar Wilde and Noel Coward. This double aspect of Pinter's language is highly characteristic of his originality, his ability to work on a multiplicity of different levels. "Insofar as his play are firmly rooted in real speech and situation, Pinter appears to be naturalistic; and he was, in fact, originally characterized as a member of the social realist 'kitchen sink' school. Insofar as he avoids motivation and questions the very nature of reality, his plays can be seen as structures of poetic images of an unverifiable and therefore dreamlike world between fantasy and nightmare. Insofar as his observation of linguistic quirks is extremely sharp, his dialogue must be considered to be one of the most realistic representatives of the genuine vernacular of the mid-twentieth century; but because the real speech of real people is to a large extent composed solecism and tautology, it can also be compared to nonsense poetry and the literature of the absurd," says Neol Coward.
From one angle of vision, Pinter's world of inhilated, in articulate characters, surrounding themselves with irrational anxieties, is grotesque and comic; from another point of view, this world will appear pitiable and tragic. This kind of ambivalence, or multivalence, Pinter might argue, is in itself a realistic trait; for reality itself is equally inetivalent,.
Pinter's characters do not often talk explicitly about a situation. For instance, in the final scene of The Birthday Party, Meg knows, deep down, that Stanly is gone, but she cannot and will not admit it to herself while Petey is too inarticulate to offer any consolation.
Meg: I was the belle of the ball.
Aetey: Were you?
Meg: Oh yes. They all said I was.
Petey: I bet you -were, too.
Meg: Oh, it's true. I was.
Meg: I know I was.
Four times Meg repeats that she was the belle of the ball—the disastrous party through which her substitute son was destroyed and taken away from her. It is quite clear that she does not, in fact, want to say anything about the impression she made at the party. She is, in fact, merely trying to hang on to the illusion that everything is still as it was, and that disastrous party was not a disaster but the success she had hoped for. The fourfold repetition of the statement does not derive from any desire to say the same thing four times; it is merely a sign of the desperateness of her attempt not to let the realization of the disaster down on her. Similarly, Petey's affirmation that the statement is true has merely the function of expressing his sympathy for his wife, and his inability to do anything toward making her acknowledge or realize the true position. Thus, the dramatic effect of this moving, brilliantly economical and can use passage of dialogue is entirely due to the complete contradiction between the words that are spoken and the emotional and psychological action which underlies them. Here the language has almost totally lost its rhetorical and informative element and has fully merged into the dramatic action. It is this element of action, the interaction between the characters, their reactions to each other which constitute the truly dramatic element in stage dialogue. In Pinter's drama, the dialogue is, ultimately, a form of action.
"Music Hall Monologue"
Peter Davison calls the dialogue in The Caretaker "the Music Hall Monologue" and reproduces two extracts. The first one deals particularly with people and their relationships; it is logically related to the concerns, and to the dramatic pattern, of the play as a whole. The first is when Mick compares Davies to his uncle's brother who was always on the move till he married a Chinamen and went to
. Then, he suddenly pauses and asks Davies; "I hope you slept well last night." There is obviously no connection between the two statements, but Mick launches on his monologue while he is sizing up Davies; he is just marking time through this diversion. Jamaica
The second passage from The Caretaker makes use of legal jargon, rather after the marner of Arthur Roberts. The subject-matter and technique are relevant to whole play. Later, Davies is to feel, even more pointedly, the 'malignant' justice of the law, as he feels it when Mick explains Aston's rights to The Room.
Pinter's Favourite Linguistic and Stylistic Devices
Pinter's favourite linguistic and stylistic devices are not verbal absurdities to be ridiculed. These devices do, in fact, illuminate the mental processes which lie behind the ill-chosen or nonsensical words. In each case superficially similar quicks of language may serve quite different ramatic functions. Davies resorts to this often, especially at the end of the play:
But... but...look...listen here...I mean what...I mean... what am I going to do?... What shall I do?... Where am I going to go?...
Talking about his ex-wife's' slovenliness, Davies mentions the saucepans in which he found some of her underclothing. He repeats himself, saying: "The pan for vegetables, it was. The pan..."
Here the repetition serves a completely different purpose. It shows us the in articulate man's struggle to find the correct word.
In Pinter's world, personal inadequacy expresses itself in an inadequacy in coping with and using language. The inability to communicate and to communicate in correct terms is felt by the characters as a mark of inferiority. The ability to communicate "is regarded by the characters as a part of civilisation, and even as a basis to claim to being human. The loser in a contest about words and their meaning loses his claim to live. Power, the power over life and death, derives from the ability to make one's opponent accept the meaning of words chosen by the dominant partner. When Davies ventures to remark that Aston, Mick's brother, is "a bit of a funny bloke", Mick stares at him in indignant amusement:
Mick: Funny? Why?
Davies: Well….He's funny.
Mick: What's funny about him?
Davies: Not liking work.
MICK: What's funny about that?
Mick: I don't call it funny.
Davies: Nor me.
Davies's surrender is both object and complete. A disagreement about the meaning of a term has become a fundamental existential contest of wills. Words, thus, are of vital importance.
Pause and Silence
Behind the apparently random rendering of the colloquial language in Pinter's play, there lies a rigorous economy of mean. Each world is sential to the total structure and decisively contributes to the ultimate, overall effect aimed at. That is why silences play such a large and essential part in Pinter's dialogue. Pinter uses two different terms for punctuation of his dialogue by passages without speech: Pause and Silence. Indeed, silence is an essential, integral part, and often the climax, of his use of language.
There is silence when Mick is alone in The Room at the beginning of The Caretaker before there are "muffed voices" of Aston and Davies. There is silence, again as Davies enters the dark room and tries to light a match while Mick is already there "sparing cleaning" The Room with the Electrolux and, finally, there is "long silence" as Davies pleads with Aston at the end of the play: "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..."
Pinter has been accused of a mannerism of silence or an excessive use of long pauses. But the silences and pauses in his work are simply a part of his creed as a craftsman. They are the highly persona! way of experiencing, and reacting to the world around him. And, indeed, if we try to listen attentively and closely to the real speech of people, we shall find that there are more silences and longer pauses, than those generally allowed in the traditional dramas. Besides, there is a definite purpose behind the silences and pauses in Pinter's plays. When Pinter indicates a "pause", he wants us to understand that intense thought processes are continuing and that unspoken tensions are mounting; and when he indicates a "silence", it is a sign at the end of a movement and the beginning of another, as between the movements of a symphony.
According to Andrew Kennedy, "In The Caretaker...a language of lived encounter is created out of the fragmented speech of two inarticulate persons: Aston and Davies set against the sadistically elaborate jargon—speeches of Mick. To that extent, The Caretaker is Pinter's most valuable achievement in unified 'listening' and 'shaping', in fusing the human abstract attributes of dramatic language".