Ashes to Ashes | Study Guide

Harold Pinter

Download a PDF to print or study offline.

Study Guide
Cite This Study Guide

How to Cite This Study Guide

quotation mark graphic


Course Hero. "Ashes to Ashes Study Guide." Course Hero. 8 Jan. 2021. Web. 28 Jan. 2022. <>.

In text

(Course Hero)



Course Hero. (2021, January 8). Ashes to Ashes Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved January 28, 2022, from

In text

(Course Hero, 2021)



Course Hero. "Ashes to Ashes Study Guide." January 8, 2021. Accessed January 28, 2022.


Course Hero, "Ashes to Ashes Study Guide," January 8, 2021, accessed January 28, 2022,

Ashes to Ashes | Themes


Love and Threat

Rebecca's first memory blends love and the threat of violence and abuse. This dark mix foreshadows the violence of later memories. The seductive violence and passive lack of resistance Rebecca describes is echoed throughout the play as Rebecca expands on her memories and Devlin reacts. Devlin intensifies the threat with his own frustration and fascination. Rebecca's memories are drowning her but they also provide her with a tool to use against a jealous and confused Devlin.

Rebecca takes pleasure in teasing Devlin with her lover who adored her. The memories protect her and give her freedom to say things she might not otherwise say. When threatened she can retreat into memories where Devlin can't follow.


Rebecca's memories offer hints of leaving and abandonment. Her lost lover left her. She sees people migrating through the landscape. These strangers are guided to the seaside carrying luggage and out to deep water where they sink beneath the waves. She and her lover are at a train station surrounded by people waiting to leave on the trains.

Devlin responds as though Rebecca's memories are an explicit threat to leave. He's jealous and resentful. He's seduced by the imagined alternate past Rebecca describes. The ordinary world he and Rebecca share seems far safer and more secure than the world of her memories. However, that ordinary world does not offer the dark thrill the memories offer. Even Devlin attempts to bring that dark threat into his own world when he tries to recreate the dark seduction Rebecca describes in her first memory.


Harold Pinter described Rebecca's fate in Ashes to Ashes as drowning and an inescapable death. He envisioned the entire play as if it took place underwater. In his Nobel Laureate lecture (2005), he said, "Ashes to Ashes, on the other hand, seems to me to be taking place under water. A drowning woman, her hand reaching up through the waves, dropping down out of sight, reaching for others, but finding nobody there, either above or under the water, finding only shadows, reflections, floating."

The notion of Ashes to Ashes taking place in an underwater, drowning world is evocative. It colors the play by adding a haunted submarine atmosphere. This mood is reflected in Rebecca's monologue of the drowning people. Even her fear and upset reaction to police sirens is subverted. It echoes a longing for the sirens of mythology that sing sailors to their doom.

Rebecca's memories become more complex and they add the element of a crowd drowning in the ocean with their luggage bobbing on the waves and floating away as the owners are lost. The image seems to evoke an ending that can't be escaped or evaded and wipes away meaning.

Cite This Study Guide

information icon Have study documents to share about Ashes to Ashes? Upload them to earn free Course Hero access!