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LESSON 18 HAROLD PINTER; TOM STOPPARD Reading Assignment:  Norton Anthology , pages 2361-2381; 2395-2424. Writing Assignment: 1. Write a short essay explaining the title of Pinter's play The Dumb Waiter . What are the literal and symbolic functions of the dumbwaiter? Literally, the dumbwaiter is simply a small elevator. People in the upper levels of the building use the dumb waiter to order food from the “cafe” below. The food is sent up through the dumbwaiter. But the dumbwaiter takes on a more complex meaning in this play. The dumb waiter “orders” for Ben to kill Gus. It represents two things: first, the communication between Gus and Ben, and second, Ben’s mechanistic nature. The communication between Ben and Gus is not good. For example, in the story, Ben often focuses on the newspaper, not on Gus’s wonderings. The two characters never talk with each other. When Gus tries to ask questions on p. 2370, Ben exclaims, “What’s the matter with you.” He’s very angry at the fact that Gus has “so many damn questions.” Like Ben and Gus, with the dumb waiter, one can either send notes, which is an ineffective way to communicate, or speak or listen. A simultaneous conversation is difficult. Ben’s mechanistic nature, which will be discussed in response #2, is also symbolized by the dumb waiter. The dumb waiter “causes” the killing by being easily controlled by pulleys. Like the dumbwaiter, Ben is a machine, a machine that cannot think for itself and simply follows orders. 2. Using specific details from the play, compare and contrast the characters of Gus and Ben. How do they differ from the stereotype of hired killers? Can one of them be said to be "natural" and one "mechanistic"? If so, which is which? Be sure to consider the ending of the play in your answer.
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Gus and Ben differ from the stereotype of hired killers in that the topics they discuss are topics that ordinary people might discuss. Gus ironically says, “I like to get a good look at the scenery. You never get the chance in this job”(2365). Just looking at this quote, no sensible reader would assume that the two work as serial killers. For example, on p. 2367, the two discuss the score of football games. Ben loves to read the newspaper and is shocked at some of the newspaper articles, as most ordinary people are. Also, Gus is a little too emotional to be a serial killer. Ben copes with the intense job with woodwork and model boats, and never stays idle. Gus asks if Ben ever gets fed up, but they soon fall silent, because Ben doesn’t want to discuss emotional issues. But Gus is always bringing them up. He isn’t cold and practical like a serial killer would be imagined to be. For example, he doesn't like Wilson because he “find[s] him hard to talk to” (2371). Gus also has more of a conscience: he thinks about the girl they killed last. The two characters can be seen as completely different. Whereas Ben is portrayed as
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