Using the attatched passage, The Birthday Party, Harold Pinter, 1960, examine the similarities and differences between the dramatic speech found here and naturally occurring conversation. The importance in Harold Pinter’s work is what he is trying to say to the audience via his chosen style of language, action and silences. Initially, Pinter’s dramatic dialogue appears to be similar to natural occurring conversation, the two speakers ask questions, respond and repeat utterances. The stage setting, devoid of props other than a table emerges as a blank page enabling Pinter’s specific language of oblique dialogue to be foregrounded.With the pauses, interactions and dislocated conversation, Pinter creates incoherence; the audience is not sure what is going to happen next.
In Pinter’s own words: ‘A threat is constantly there: it’s got to do with this question of being in the uppermost position, or attempting to be. ‘ Pinter’s style at first appears to emulate a natural conversation in the basic picture of everyday occurrences. To a certain extent in The Birthday Party, the colloquial language gives the audience the impression that the play is unrehearsed and that it is similar to natural conversation.The deficiency of normal non-fluency features demonstrates how the script is unlike natural occurring conversation. There is no mispronunciation, overlaps or interruptions. The conversational turns obey dramatic form, all the grammatical structures are completed and there is no competition between the speakers. The few voiced fillers are placed for a specific reason; Meg’s repetitive ‘Oh’ signifies her inability to understand Petey’s utterances, creating time for substantial processing in her attempt to comprehend Petey’s information.
The unconnected information Petey offers to her about ‘Someone’ in the newspaper presents the fact that Meg is unaware of social format of any nature. ‘Oh’ presented before or after a pause slows down the pace and represents a break down of conversation and for Meg, imparts a sense of bathos. Petey’s voiced filler ‘eh’ in ‘You like a song eh, Meg? ‘ shows a deliberate attempt to be friendly towards Meg, making it apparent to the audience that Petey has an ulterior motif.
The pauses between utterances are unlike the small silent pauses in a normal conversation. Pinter’s silences, what is not said, create an obscure purpose.It is necessary to look at Pinter’s play extrinsically to fully understand his messages. The absurd silences create a mood, an atmosphere of uneasiness, Pinter’s every pause is calculated and created for a dramatic effect. Meg dominates the word count with approximately four hundred words to Petey’s two hundred, approximately 200% more than Petey. We assume that Meg is the superior speaker yet she addresses Petey by name on four occasions, rendering a politeness and at the same time, bestowing an importance upon him.
At the opening of the play the incomer, Petey, doesn’t initiate the phatic exchange.It is clear from Meg’s opening line. ‘Is that you, Petey? ‘ and two subsequent requests, that Petey does not obey the politeness principle, there is no possible acknowledgment from the addressee, he simply does not answer her.
The audience can see that Petey is sat at the table with his newspaper and within earshot of Meg. Pinter demonstrates Petey’s power over Meg in his determination not to respond to her utterances. His first response, ‘What’ appears to be slightly hostile and according to Saks, Schegloff and Jefferson, present the absence of phatic communion.