The Caretaker | Study Guide

Harold Pinter

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The Caretaker | Act 2 | Summary

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Summary

Mick is seated and facing Davies. Mick says nothing for a few minutes and then asks Davies for his name. Davies tells Mick his name is Jenkins. After he asks Davies if he slept well, Mick says that Davies reminds him of his uncle and someone else Mick knew from Shoreditch, London. Davies says that he was born and bred in the British Isles.

Suddenly Mick grabs Davies's trousers off the bed, and the two men fight over the garment. Davies is now angry and explains that he was brought home by the owner of the home. Mick calls him a liar and tells him that he is the owner. He adds that one bed belongs to him and the other to his mother. Mick then tells him that he is a stinking scoundrel to which Davies takes offense.

Aston returns and now all three men are present in the room. Aston and Mick discuss the roof leak briefly. Aston then tells Davies that he has brought him the missing bag from the café. Mick grabs the bag, and Davies becomes very upset. A tug-of-war ensues, and Mick eventually surrenders the bag to Davies.

Upon Mick's departure Davies and Aston talk. Davies learns that Mick is Aston's brother and a building tradesman. Aston shares that he plans to build a shed with the wood in the house. Suddenly Davies realizes that the bag is not his. Aston admits that he picked up the bag elsewhere and purchased some clothes for Davies which Davies dismisses. Davies asks Aston if he is the caretaker of the home. Aston replies that he is not and then asks Davies how he would feel about being one. Davies considers this question but shows concern. He then tells Aston that because of his assumed name the authorities may be looking for him.

Davies later enters the home after dark. Not able to find the light, he stumbles, falls, and grabs his knife just as the vacuum cleaner begins to hum. The light goes on and Mick is standing on the bed. He holds the plug and tells Davies that he was doing some spring cleaning.

Davies calms down and the men discuss Aston. Mick tells him that the two of them started off poorly and he wants to get to know his brother's friend better. Davies denies that he and Aston are friends. Mick shares his worries about his brother.

Breaking the subject Mick asks Davies if he would be interested in being the caretaker of the house. At first Davies is hesitant, but he accepts the position. When Mick asks for references, Davies tells him that he can get them once he gets to Sidcup the next day. Then he asks Mick to look for some shoes for him.

The next morning Davies decides not to go to Sidcup because of the terrible weather. He adds that he had another bad night's sleep, and the men disagree about keeping the window open. When Aston says that he is headed to Goldhawk Road to look for a saw bench, Davies whines about not being able to even get a cup of tea because he does not have shoes.

Aston is reminded of how often he used to go to the café years ago, and this recollection prompts him to begin a long monologue about the time he "went away." Aston tells Davies that he used to work in a factory and enjoyed talking to his coworkers. Unfortunately he experienced hallucinations, and uneasy coworkers shared concerns with one another. Aston elaborates that "this lie went round. I thought people started being funny. In that cafe. The factory." Aston was hospitalized against his will and underwent shock therapy. His mother authorized the procedure because Aston was a minor at the time.

After the treatment Aston could not walk very well, and his speech was slowed. He had headaches and thought he would die. He tells Davies that while he does feel better he no longer talks to people. He is still very angry at the doctor and his mother. He may someday look for the doctor but not until he has built his shed.

Analysis

The Caretaker is a comedy of menace that combines humor and tragedy to evoke positive and negative reactions from the audience. At times a character's misfortune is funny. In the opening scene Mick interrogates Davies by first asking for his name. The opening scene mimics the earlier scene between Davies and Aston where Davies talks incessantly in more of a monologue than a dialogue. Unlike Aston Davies is quite aggravated because Mick will not answer his questions. Pinter uses repetition to create humor. Davies asks multiple times who Mick is, and Mick does not answer. Mick also asks for Davies's name several times, and when he pronounces it he pauses between the syllables, Jen ... kins, which adds an element of dramatic irony. The audience knows what Mick does not which is that Jenkins is a fake name. Mick frustrates Davies when he asks how well he slept, and he does not give Davies a chance to say much. The scene is intentionally comedic, and it is humorous to see Davies rattled by Mick's unpredictability. Each time there is a drip in the hanging bucket, both men look to the ceiling simultaneously in a humorous reminder that the home is in need of a skilled caretaker.

Another humorous scene occurs later that day when Davies fumbles to get inside the home. Davies is easily aggravated when he cannot work the light, so he finally reaches in his pocket for a box of matches. The match lights but goes out, and then Davies drops the box. When he cannot locate the box he believes that someone must be in the room and yells that he has a knife. Davies trips and falls. Suddenly the vacuum cleaner begins to hum, and Mick turns on the light to reveal himself. "I was just doing spring cleaning," he says to Davies. Mick is terrorizing a pathetic homeless man for his amusement. The struggle for control between Davies and Mick is shown through comedic scenes that prompt the audience to laugh at the men's weak attempts to gain power.

Mick likes to taunt Davies who is easily antagonized. Davies becomes Mick's puppet. Not long after Aston returns there is another battle over a bag that Aston brings home for Davies. Once Davies indicates that the bag belongs to him Mick says, "I've seen this bag before. This bag is very familiar." This leads to another tug-of-war that enrages Davies. Moreover, Davies realizes that the bag is not his when he finally retrieves it. This is an example of situational irony which is when what happens is the opposite of what is expected. Aston watches the entire battle and finally reveals that he knew the bag was not Davies's. This scene thus exemplifies the ineffective communication among the three men, each of whom acts as an antagonist to the others at times. Davies clearly provides a challenge to Aston who despite repeated efforts to satisfy Davies's needs receives only complaints. Mick's playfulness with Davies provides contrast. Aston's power rests in his silence. For example, it is not clear whether he keeps silent about the bag because he does not think to say anything or because he enjoys the altercation. The play does not contain a great deal of action. The depth is in the characters who reveal the themes through silence rather than action.

A potential conflict emerges when Davies and Mick discuss Aston. Mick indicates that he is worried about his brother and talks to Davies as if he were a caring friend of Aston's. However, Davies with his cynical ways uses that opportunity to criticize and complain about Aston. He remarks, "Well ... he's a funny bloke, your brother." This comment crosses a line with Mick who warns, "You don't want to start getting hypercritical." It is at this point that Mick offers the erratic and unreliable Davies the job of caretaker in another example of situational irony. Mick has just become angry with Davies over his comments about his brother and recognizes Davies's poor work ethic. By securing ties with Davies, Mick minimizes the relationship between Aston and Davies.

Aston's monologue is significant because it reveals his hallucinations and the hospitalization and resulting shock treatments that left him slow-witted and weakened. Until this moment Aston is more of a flat character though it is clear that he is somewhat odd based on his interactions with others and the concerns that Mick shares with Davies. Aston's speech to Davies is lengthy and detailed, unlike his previous dialogue. It is ironic that of all people Aston chooses to share personal information with Davies when Davies is only an acquaintance. Aston's need to verbally share his pain is apparent, and it likely does not matter who is on the receiving end. The home is his world, and the Buddha is his companion until he meets Davies. Aston feels good about helping Davies at the tavern, but he misinterprets Davies's neediness as friendship. At this moment the mood shifts to serious, and the comedic tone is replaced with a dramatic one. Aston shares that he no longer talks to people because he does not trust them, yet he shares his deepest pain with a man he does not trust.

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