The Caretaker | Study Guide

Harold Pinter

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The Caretaker | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


Act 1

All of the scenes take place in Mick's home where Aston lives. The room has a window on the back wall that is half covered by a sack. There is a cupboard above an iron bed along the left wall. Paint buckets, boxes, vases, a stepladder, a lawn mower, a shopping trolley, and other miscellaneous items clutter the room. Another bed with a mound of clutter lies next to a gas stove. Above the stove is a shelf with a Buddha statue on top. A vacuum cleaner is tucked underneath the bed. A bucket hangs from the ceiling to collect drips from the leaking roof.

Mick is alone in a room in his home in west London in the early 1950s. Mick is a tradesman who allows his slow-witted brother Aston to live in his home. When he hears muffled voices outside, he turns off the light and exits through the door.

Two men named Aston and Davies enter the home. Davies is an older homeless man that Aston has rescued from an altercation at a local tavern and offered temporary stay at his home. Davies and Aston discuss what led up to the incident at the tavern. Davies shares his frustration in finding a seat while he inserts negative comments about other nationalities and races. He says that a coworker had asked him to take a bucket of rubbish out back which infuriated him. He threatened the coworker and created commotion when Aston intervened.

Davies and Aston converse before making the room more suitable for sleeping. Davies peppers Aston with questions about the black family that lives next door. His focus then turns to his shoes. Davies asks Aston if he has a spare set of shoes because his shoes are worn, but he is unhappy with both pairs that Aston offers him. Davies is curious about the Buddha statue on the shelf, and Aston says that he picked it up in a shop because he liked how it looked. The men then prepare the room so that it will serve as an adequate sleeping space.

Aston and Davies continue to reveal more about themselves. Aston offers Davies some money which he eagerly accepts. Aston shares how he did not drink the beer at a pub recently because it was not served in a thin glass. Davies does not respond and launches into his need to get to the town of Sidcup to retrieve papers that prove who he is. Sidcup is a town southeast of London. He tells Aston that years ago he changed his name to Bernard Jenkins. He has an unemployment card in that name but fears that he will be arrested if he uses that card. Davies's real name is Mac Davies.

Davies notices a bucket hanging from the ceiling. Aston explains that there is a roof leak, and the bucket is there to catch the drips. Davies heads to bed while Aston works on mending a plug. Davies is concerned about the stove that is near his bed but lies down anyway.

The next morning Aston walks to the foot of Davies's bed and coughs to wake him. Davies startles and awakens. Aston shares that Davies was groaning and jabbering during the night which Davies denies. The men discuss the stove near Davies's bed, and Aston assures Davies that it is not connected. Davies announces that he may go to a café in Wembley for a job prospect and expects that he will get the job because he is English.

Aston leaves and Davies looks around the room. He sees a stack of papers which almost fall to the floor after he touches them. Suddenly, the door opens and Mick walks into the house. Davies does not notice at first and is startled when Mick seizes his arm and forces it back. Mick puts his hand to his lips and then to Davies's lips before letting him go. Mick then moves to a chair where he sits expressionless and watches Davies.

Act 2

Davies stands facing Mick who is seated in a chair. Mick stares at Davies without saying a word for a few moments. Then Mick asks Davies who he is. Davies tells Mick that his name is Jenkins. Mick wants to know how Davies slept and which bed he used. Mick tells Davies that he is choosy. Mick's barrage of questions rattle Davies, and he is angry that Mick will not share anything about himself. Davies shares 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. They lunge and grab the legs from each other. Davies is furious. He explains to Mick that he was brought home by the homeowner who saved him from a fight at the café where he works. Mick calls him a liar and tells him that he is the owner. He gives Davies the option to either be dropped at the police station or rent a spot in the home.

Aston returns and says that he has brought Davies's bag that was left at the café. Mick claims that he has seen it before and grabs it. A tug-of-war ensues over the bag. Eventually Mick gives it to Davies and leaves.

Aston and Davies are alone in the home and talk about their plans. Aston adds that he plans to build a shed. Davies then realizes that the bag is not his. Aston confirms that he picked up the bag elsewhere and purchased some clothes for Davies which Davies dislikes. Davies asks Aston if he is the caretaker of the home which Aston denies. Aston then offers Davies the job of caretaker. He considers this offer but shows concern. Davies confesses that he uses an assumed name and adds that the authorities might want the assorted unemployment cards he possesses.

The next scene opens with Davies entering the home after dark. He finds that the light does not work, so he lights a match. The match stays lit only momentarily, and the box of matches falls. He cannot find the box and assumes someone moved. Davies says he has a knife. He then stumbles, falls, and cries out. Suddenly the vacuum cleaner begins to hum, and Davies jumps away. The vacuum cleaner goes off and the light goes on to reveal Mick standing on the bed. He holds the plug and tells Davies that he was doing some spring cleaning.

Mick decides that he and Davies started off poorly and tells him that he wants to know more about his brother's friend. Davies denies being Aston's friend. Mick shares his worries about his brother and comments, "No, he just doesn't like work, that's his trouble." Mick is angered by some of Davies's remarks about Aston. Mick changes the subject and offers Davies the job of caretaker. At first Davies is hesitant, but he accepts the position. Davies tells Mick that he can provide references once he gets to Sidcup. He plans to go the next day once the weather breaks.

The next morning Aston wakes Davies so he can head to Sidcup, but Davies decides that he will not go because of the weather. Aston plans to walk to Goldhawk Road to look at a saw bench. He suggests that Davies go to the nearby café for some tea while he is gone.

Aston is reminded of how often he used to go to the café years ago. This remembrance leads into a long monologue about a time that he "went away." Aston tells Davies that he used to work in a factory where he was younger than most of his coworkers. He says that he used to talk to his coworkers quite a bit. Unfortunately, he told them about the hallucinations he was experiencing. Some of the coworkers shared their concerns with one another. Eventually Aston was taken against his will to a hospital where the doctor recommended a procedure be carried out on his brain. Aston's mother gave permission for the procedure. At the hospital Aston watched others succumb to the treatment. He did not want the electric shock therapy and tried to fight the men off. One of the men grabbed Aston around the throat and administered the shock treatment while Aston was still standing. Aston could not walk very well after the treatment, and his speech was slowed. He had headaches. He thought he would die. Aston adds that he no longer talks much to people and typically avoids places like the café. He is still angry. He thinks about finding the man who did that to him sometimes. He says that he may do so but not until after he has built his shed.

Act 3

Mick lies on the floor and Davies paces around the room in the home. Davies shares a list of complaints about Aston. He feels that Aston is not listening to his worries about the gas stove and the blacks using the lavatory. Davies suggests that he and Mick together could improve the home. Mick appears excited about the idea and begins to list ideas for improvement. Davies then asks who would live in the home. Mick answers, "My brother and me." Davies asks him about himself, but Mick does not respond.

Davies returns to his complaints about Aston. He tells Mick that Aston has no feelings and that he is different. Davies shares that Aston wakes him up every night and tells him that he is making noises. Mick agrees that that is terrible. Finally, Davies tells Mick that he often awakes to find Aston standing over his bed smiling at him. Davies claims that "He puts on his coat, he turns himself round, he looks down at my bed, there's a smile on his face!" Mick does not respond.

Mick rises to leave as Aston enters the room carrying a paper bag with some shoes for Davies. Immediately, Davies tells him that the shoes do not fit and the only way they are usable is with shoelaces. Aston finds brown shoelaces for the black shoes, but Davies is not satisfied. Davies shares his need to get to Sidcup but states that he cannot go there because of the weather and his lack of good shoes.

That night Davies groans in his sleep. Aston lights a cigarette, walks over to Davies, and shakes him. Davies is not happy and begins to criticize Aston. He taunts Aston with going back to the hospital and says, "They can put them pincers on your head again, man!" When Aston approaches him, Davies takes out his knife and threatens Aston to not come any closer. Aston asks Davies to find another place to live and tells him that he is not suitable. The men argue over who should stay and who should leave. Davies declares that Aston should leave because Mick has hired Davies as a caretaker. Aston offers Davies money to get to Sidcup and then tells Davies that he stinks. Davies moves toward Aston and thrusts the knife toward his throat. Davies puts the knife back into his pocket and eventually leaves.

It is early evening. Davies has returned to the home and sits with Mick. They talk about Aston and where he will live if Davies becomes the caretaker. Mick adds, "Well, you say you're a good interior decorator, you'd better be one." Davies shares that he is not an experienced interior decorator. Mick becomes angry and calls Davies an imposter. Infuriated, Mick circles around Davies and yells, "You're violent, you're erratic, you're completely unpredictable." He calls him a barbarian and tells him that he stinks. He says that he has not seen any of the references that Davies supposedly has in Sidcup. Mick takes a sixpence out of his pocket, throws it at Davies's feet, and tells him that this is his pay for caretaking. Mick picks up the Buddha and throws it at the gas stove which causes the statue to break.

The door opens and Aston enters. Mick and Aston exchange faint smiles. Mick leaves. Aston sees the broken Buddha, grabs a screwdriver, and begins to poke at the plug he picks up. Davies tells Aston that he had left but came back for his pipe. He begins to beg Aston to let him stay. Aston tells him, "You make too much noise." A long silence ensues, and Davies heads slowly to the door.

The Caretaker Plot Diagram

Falling ActionRising ActionResolutionClimax123456789101112Introduction


1 Aston offers Davies a place to stay temporarily.

Rising Action

2 Davies tells Aston about the incident at the tavern.

3 Davies tells Aston he goes by a fake name.

4 Davies notices a bucket and a Buddha statue.

5 Aston offers Davies keys to the home.

6 Mick questions Davies after finding him at his home.

7 Aston asks Davies to be caretaker of his home.

8 Mick asks Davies to be caretaker and decorator.


9 Aston tells Davies about his hospitalization.

Falling Action

10 Davies taunts Aston after he wakes him.

11 Aston and Mick ask Davies to leave.


12 Davies begs to stay but must leave.

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