Department of English Language and Literature
Presents a Film Viewing Session for Charity on New Year's Eve
26th DECEMBER 2013
• Film Screening
TIME: 15:30 - 17:15
A Christmas Carol (2009)
Single Ticket: 2 TL
Single Ticket + Popcorn and Soft Drink: 3TL
• Food and Pastry Sale
COME ALONG AND JOIN US SUPPORT
MOR CATI WOMEN’S SHELTER!
LET’S CELEBRATE THE NEW YEAR WITH DELICIOUS FOOD!
IN THE MEANWHILE IF YOU WISH WE CAN SEE 2009
PRODUCTION OF A CHRISTMAS CAROL TOGETHER!
CALL FOR PAPERS
Departments of American Culture and Literature
& English Language and Literature
Fourth Undergraduate Conference on Anglo-American Literature:
11 –12 April 2014
Bilkent University, Main Campus
Bilkent University is pleased to announce the fourth undergraduate conference on Anglo-American Literature, jointly hosted by the Departments of English Language and Literature and American Culture and Literature. The conference will concentrate on fairy tales in literature, arts and pictures, and on screen and stage but its scope is intended to be broader. Possible topics may include, but are not limited to:
- Gender and fairy tales
- Politics and fairy tales
- Reworkings of the fairy tales
- Representation of female characters in fairy tales
- Representation of male characters in fairy tales
- Virginity and/or sexuality in fairy tales
We invite you to submit a proposal of 250 words by 30 January 2014. Proposals will be reviewed by the committee on the basis of academic value and originality. Notifications of acceptance will be sent by the beginning of February, 2014 and presenters will be asked to submit their complete papers by March 10th. Paper presentations should not exceed 15 minutes. If you are interested in organizing a panel or a workshop, please include your requests while sending the proposal.
Sirens of Lachesis, A New Play at Bilkent
We are pleased to announce the joint Theater Production of Bilkent University English Language and Literature and American Culture and Literature Departments, "Sirens of Lachesis". The play is written and directed by Ceren Turan, a Computer Science Senior minoring in English Language and Literature. Erolcan Talas (ELIT Senior) will be in the role of Noah, the male lead.
A well paying job in advertising, and a loving wife. At the first glance, Noah’s life seems above the ideal. As the curtains slowly unveil, we see a man unsatisfied with his career and his personal life. Noah is a playwright in his early thirties, though he works in an advertising agency. Throughout the play, we will get to see the clash between Noah’s and his wife Helen’s true inner selves and the social masks they carry. Commenting on the roles people are forced to play in order to be accepted by the society, the play also satirically criticizes “seem-to-be intellectuals”.
In the opening scene of The Tempest there is not only a sinking ship but a dissolving society. The boat which contains people who usurped Prospero’s dukedom of Milan twelve years ago, is washed ashore by Prospero’s magic. Unaware of the fact that they are brought to this strange island, full of witches, spirits and supernatural beings, to pay for what they have done, they continue assuming the roles that hierarchy imposes on them. In the rest of the play, the characters thus appear to be taking their appropriate places in a new kind of social order. Yet, each one tries to exhibit his/her ideal society. Fir instance, at one point, Prospero neglects his duties as “Duke of Milan” which encourages his enemies to cast him adrift on a bark with his daughter Miranda; however, he later becomes a father-like figure to every creature on the island. On the other hand, Sebastian plots to become King of Naples by murdering Alonso. In between comes Stephano, whose ambition to be the king of island is ridiculous through Caliban’s mock-resemblance of Prospero’s authority, and Gonzalo who dreams of a primitive golden age of equality and leisure but simple and honest, full of good nature and good will like himself.
The play begins in the middle of disorder. There is disorder not only among the members of society but in nature. Shakespeare makes use of the themes of the attempt of the human beings to restore order and the use and abuse of power in The Tempest. The boatswain, who comes to life in a few lines, dominates the first scene and exemplifies the superiority of personal character to social rank. Authority varies according to the circumstances. In the sinking ship the boatswain is the king, thus the leader whom each person regardless of social status should obey, Gonzalo has a different view of authority and kingship even in the most desperate position. He recommends to be more passionate and insists on the existence of the King on the board: “Good, yet remember whom thou hast abroad.” The boatswain’s response to this asserts the theme of the play which relates to every individual in the play: “... use your authority. If you cannot, give thanks you have lived so long and make yourself ready in your cabin for the mischance of the hour, if it so hap.” (I, i, 17-23)
The sixteenth century principle of hierarchy – master and slave, king and subject, higher powers and lower powers – continues to exist in this magical island. Prospero, with his ability to control the elements, human beings and supernatural powers, is the ruler of the enchanted island. In fact, his power is more than that of a god. Caliban says: “His art is of such pow’r / It would control my dam’s god, Setebos, / And make a vassal of him.” (I, i, 372-73) Yet this aged magician performs “white” magic. He is a tempest raiser. Nonetheless, courage and determinedness are required of all magicians, white or black, as the spirits as well as the human beings, they control are both reluctant and malignant. Prospero determines to take his revenge and waits till the appropriate day comes. In the meantime, he brings Ariel and Caliban under his control. Caliban, the deformed, half-human slave of Prospero symbolizes the primitive urges. He plans to murder Prospero, with Stephano and Trinculo, pretending to be the leader of the group. He even offers Miranda’s hand to Stephano: “Ay, lord. She will become thy bed, I warrant, / And bring thee forth brave brood.” (III, ii, 101-2)
Caliban accepts Stephano as his new master, and Stephano calls him “servant monster.” In fact, Stephano becomes the real monster and even slave to Caliban, who plots everything and imposes the idea that they should destroy Prospero’s books first for “without them he’s but a sot.” (III, ii, 89-90)
Prospero’s talents lack political insight. As he claims he gives the management of the state to his brother: “The government I cast open my brother / And to my state grew stronger, being transported / And rapt in secret studies.” (I, ii, 75-6) The master, in spite of his learning, talents and magical books is mortal and human, and also fallible. He lacks the qualities of a charismatic politician and neglects his job at the cost of losing this dukedom. Moreover, throughout the play Ariel, Miranda and Gonzalo are presented as essential to Prospero’s effectiveness. Ariel represents Prospero’s finer nature. He is on the side of reason. Miranda represents the sensitive part, who helps Prospero to endure in his hardest times as Prospero himself declares:
Thou wast that did preserve me! Thou didst smile,
Infused with a fortitude from heaven,
When I have decked the sea with drops full salt,
Under my burden groaned: which raised in me
An undergoing stomach, to bear up
Against what should ensue.
(I, ii, 153-58)
The kindliness and good heartedness of Gonzalo is mocked by everybody in the first scene of Act II. However, he does a great favor to Prospero by providing him with supplies and his books. Thus, Prospero and Miranda overcome the difficulty of coming to this island unprepared. When Gonzalo persists in his attempt of the order of hierarchy by saying the boatswain should not forget who is on the board his conservative ideas about power and authority are revealed. The boatswain’s answer is more devastating than Gonzalo’s statement: “You’re counsellor; if you can command these elemnts to / Silence and work at peace of the present, we will not hand a rope more.” (I, i, 19-20) Gonzalo’s inability to alter the situation, in spite of his “authority” reminds the reader of the power of Prospero. As a “counsellor” Gonzalo provides no solution to the problems of reality which emphasizes his powerlessness as a statesman. Due to similar reasons of inability to make use or abuse of the power as a statesman, Prospero ends up living in exile for twelve years – a period enough to cultivate ideas of vengeance – on a strange island, “where man doth not inhabit,” (III, iii, 57) as Ariel tells. Ariel, on the other hand, has a unique place among the three quintessential components of Prospero. Without the aid and support of a spirit like Ariel, Prospero would not actualize his thoughts of punishing his oppressors. Nevertheless, Prospero’s arrogance in his treatment of subordinates is observed in his treatment of Ariel, too. He freed Ariel from the pine in which he is imprisoned by Sycorax. For that act of charity Ariel has served Prospero for twelve years. In spite of his acknowledged promise Prospero delays Ariel’s freedom and through rhetoric he persuades him that he is still the master. His treatment of Ariel changes in a negative way when Ariel reminds him of his promise. He threatens Ariel to keep him in an oak for “twelve winters” which brings him closer to Sycorax whom he outcasts as a “damned witch.” Thus, he decides to remind Ariel of what he has been and what he is, once a month, as he says:
Once in a month recount what thou hast been,
Which thou forget’st. This damned witch Sycorax,
For mischiefs manifold, and sorceries terrible
To enter human fearing, from Argier,
Thou know’st, was banished.
(I, ii, 262-66)
Prospero’s treatment of Caliban is another example of his arrogance. Although Caliban is “a devil, a born devil, on whose nature / Nurture can never stick” Prospero learns from Caliban. Shakespeare intends to show that man can also learn from his passions by creating a character called Caliban. The play deals with Prospero’s becoming a reasonable man, thus he learns how to treat his lesser selves. Despite his evil nature, Caliban becomes “a most ridiculous monster,” (II, ii, 161) to use Trinculos words; yet, memorable and vivid he becomes as important as any character in the play.
From the very early scenes in the play Prospero assumes a role that is beyond the capacity of a human being, even that of a mortal who is furnished with magical powers. Prospero, the magician brings the “three men of sin” to the island, but Prospero, the man has to decide whether he should punish the sinners or to forgive them. The comic movement of the two lovers -- Ferdinand and Miranda, the two innocent characters of the play – towards marriage and consummation adds to prospero’s advance. Ferdinand first appears through the harmonious music of Ariel in Act I, scene ii. Prospero deliberately delays the consummation of the two lovers, as he wants to give time to them to know whether they truly love each other or not. In Ferdinand’s case too, he changes one form of freedom into another, just like he does to Ariel. Ferdinand is given the task of making log files and Miranda in her simplicity of expression and feeling wishes to help him. She utters the following words which rejoice Prospero, who watches the scene as a witness:
This is the third man that e’er I saw; the first
That e’er I sighed for. Pity move my father
To be inclined my way!
(I, ii, 445-47)
Prospero’s powers mentioned above function in collaboration with his concept of time, which is in fact Shakespeare’s concept of time. Prospero’s triumph must be on that day, not later and not earlier. He asks Ariel “What time o’ th’ day” is and Ariel casually replies: “Past the mid season.” (I, ii, 238-39) Prospero has waited for the right day for years and deliberately delays Ariel’s freedom as well as the consummation of the young couple. This idea of waiting for the right time goes parallel with Shakespeare’s idea of treating life paradoxically. For that reason, in the final act through Miranda’s words Shakespeare makes an optimistic remark about the members of society, who are portrayed as decaying in the opening scene:
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world
That has such people in’t!
(V, i, 181-83)
The tempestuous noise of thunder and lightning as stated in the first stage direction of the play lead to the pleasent scene, where Ferdinand and Miranda pledge their hearts and hands in Act V. Prospero’s act of forgiveness reinforces Shakespeare’s aim of regaining order and having the characters tahe their appropriate places in a new kind of social order. Finally, Prospero makes up his mind about whether to use his authority constructively or destructively. He does not choose the either way but forgives the sinners. Although Prospero has the power he prefers not to use it and the change in him is completed as he manages to temper his passion with reason. Thus, he justifies Shakespeare’s ideas on power, authority and judgement which are best expressed in Sonnet 94:
They that have pow’r to hurt and will do none,
They do not do the thing they most do show,
Who, moving others, are themselves as stone;
They rightly do inherit heaven’s graces
And husband nature’s riches from expense;
They are the lords adn the owner of their faces,
Other but stewards of their excellence.
The summer’s flow’r is to the summer sweet,
Though to itself it only live and die;
But if that flow’r with base infection meet,
The basest weed outbraves his dignity:
For sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds;
Lilies that fester smell for worse than weeds.
The first two lines of this sonnet point out the same idea that people who have power to hurt others, but do not use their powers possess “heaven’s graces.” Lines seven and eight emphasize the relationship between the rulers and the subjects, more directly. The true aristocrats, lords and masters are the men who do not abuse their powers. They are the “true owners of their faces” and their might, who justly inherit God’s grace. Others end up being servants. Shakespeare talks about the rulers and the subjects in terms of authority and human psychology, in Sonnet 94. By introducing the flower imagery Shakespeare deals with the transitory nature of the living things, as the summer’s flower blossoms beautifully although it knows that one day it will fade away. In the final couplet Shakespeare goes back to his primary idea that “the sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds.” Even the weed smells better than a beautiful flower such as lily, if the liky festers and stinks.
The final scene of the play is full of joyous action and conversation which result from Prospero’s forgiveness. Certainly, it is a noble manner of Prospero to forgive his enemies, but it is especially appreciated that he comes to terms with Caliban and says: “This thing of darkness acknowledge mine.” (V, i, 275-76) This statement of Prospero together with Caliban’s last words bring the essence of the play, which tries to show what piece pf work is a man and what he is capable of. Even Caliban is able to develop and learn from his faults:
I will be wiser hereafter,
And seek for grace. What a thrice double ass
Was I to take this drunkard for a god
And worship this dull fool!
(V, i, 285-98)
Harbage, Alfred, ed. William Shakespeare: The Complete Works. New York: The Viking Press, 1986. Print.
Written by Dr. Gul Kurtulus
Department of English Language and Literature
We are pleased to announce the joint Theater Production of Departments of English Language and Literature and American Culture and Literature, "Sirens of Lachesis". The play is written and being directed by Ceren Turan, a Computer Science senior student who is minoring in English Language and Literature.
Erolcan Talas (ELIT Senior Student) will be in the role of Noah, the male lead, a playwright in his early thirties who is working in advertising.
Throughout the play, we will get to see the struggle between Noah’s and his wife Helen’s true inner selves and their social selves. Commenting on the roles people are forced to play in order to be accepted by the societies, the play also satirically criticizes “seem to be intellectuals”.
Come and be a part of our performance on 12, 13 December at MSSF (Faculty of Music and Performing Arts) Theater Stage at 18.00!
“Invictus” is a short Victorian poem by William Ernest Henley. Title of the poem means "Unconquered" in Latin.
Background of the poem:
At the age of 12, Henley contracted tuberculosis of the bone. A few years later, the disease progressed to his foot, and physicians announced that the only way to save his life was to amputate directly below the knee. It was amputated when he was 17. Stoicism inspired him to write this poem. Despite his disability, he survived with one foot intact and led an active life until his death at the age of 53.
The poem had no title at first, then, “Invictus” was added by Sir Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch.
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
Clearly, the speaker believes that he is always in control. Even when hard times and disasters strike his life, he claims that he is in charge. The opening lines show that he is the victim in a dark world; yet, he is indebted to gods giving him his unconquerable soul. He is ready to face and defeat whatever enemy he encounters. Thus, the title “Invictus” means that he is unbeaten.
We see the speaker takes a beating from life’s circumstances. His reaction is that he is suffering in silence. He continues to hold his head up, but he does not tell us how he is fighting back or even trying to gain control of the situation at hand. He is simply stating that he is taking his punishment like a man. Is this not the Stoical mindset to suffer in silence? Is there not a vast difference between Stoicism and Christianity?
He indicates that there is something beyond the life in this place of wrath and tears. And he indicates that he doesn’t find much to look forward to since he refers to that destination of looming “Horror of the shade.” Once again, he does not tell us how he is resisting, or, if indeed, he is resisting. He simply says that he will continue to be fearless in the “Horror” beyond this place of wrath and tears.
We see Biblical references to the strait gate. There are various interpretations, and many reasons are given why Henley used this allusion to Matthew 7. But it appears that the speaker (the poet was an atheist) was taking a defiant shot at the Christian belief with Jesus saying in Matthew 7 “strait is the way and narrow the gate.” The second line indicates that the speaker doesn’t really care how sinful his life might have been as some unseen hand records all of his misdeeds.
But in the end, he continues to tell us that he is the master of his fate and the captain of his soul. Yet, nowhere in the poem does he appear optimistic about his future. Nowhere does he exhibit any control of his destiny. Yet if he were truly the master of his fate and captain of his soul, would he not choose a life of peace and prosperity rather than a life of constant strife.
Apparently, William Ernest Hanley was impressed by “stoicism” when he writes this poem. Poem is also known for its last two lines.
"I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul."
Especially these two lines affected people too much. They applied these words to themselves as a tattoo. “Invictus” is identified with Nelson Mandela. Many books are published in the same name. There are many works of art, which are called "Invictus" or "Unconquered." In the recent past, Invictus (the movie) was released in 2009. Movie's director was Clint Eastwood and it starred important actors, like Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon.
It is known that this poem inspired Nelson Mandela when he was in prison. Ye Ran High School, a school in Korea, uses the last two lines of poem as an official motto. Timothy Mcveigh, who took part in Oklohama bombing events, read this poem just before his execution. This poem is also associated with one of Rudyard Kipling's poems, "If."
There is a statue called "Unconquered" in the Florida State University. That statue symbolizes pride, joy, happiness, being unconquered, rebel, fighter, and education. The statue's history depends on Seminole tribe in Florida.
“Invictus” is known as one of the most inspirational poems in the world. Actually, it deserves its fame!
Harold Pinter’s The Birthday Party is of continuing interest to contemporary readers because the playwright deals with the topics of certainty and uncertainty, home and homelessness, past and present, which are not limited to the British context but can be studied in terms of modernism and postmodernism. Pinter, who deals with the modernist principle of negation and the aesthetics of postmodernism in his plays contributes to both movements.
Stanley, who takes refuge in the boarding house in a coastal town, wants to regain his self- esteem. To achieve this aim he builds his relationship with the landlady, Meg on lies and uncertainties. With the appearance of two men, Goldberg and McCann, Stanley is forced to leave his haven. The fact that he is taken away in a wheelbarrow makes the unfortunate development in Stanley’s situation more undignified. He has come down to the bottom from the self-deluding high state he thinks he resides in. All the questions we may have about newcomers’ identity, their real aim in finding Stanley’s place, where they come from, and where they will take Stanley are left unanswered, and this makes the play a mystery not only for the audience but also for the characters.
In today’s world no one can foresee the future; not even the near future is accessible for the inhabitants of this world. Reading and experiencing Pinter’s play in which uncertainty prevails from the beginning till the end makes contemporary readers reconsider what life offers them nowadays.
Keywords: modernism, postmodernism, violence, uncertainty, The Birthday Party
Harold Pinter’ın The Birthday Party adlı oyunu günümüzde okuyucular için ilgi çekici olmaya devam ediyor. Yazar bu eserinde kesinlik, belirsizlik, ev, evsizlik, geçmiş, bugün gibi sadece İngiltere bağlamında sınırlandırılmayacak temaları modernism (çağdaşçılık) ve postmodernism (yeni-çağdaşçılık) bağlamında ele almaktadır. Çağdaşçılığn vazgeçilmez unsurlarından olumsuzlamayı ve yeni çağdaşçılığın estetik değerlerini kullanan Pinter oyunlarında her iki akıma da yer vermiştir.
Bir sahil kasabasında saklanan Stanley öz-saygısını yeniden kazanmaya çalışmaktadır. Bu amacına ulaşmak için ev sahibesi Meg ile ilişkisini yalanlar ve belirsizlikler üzerine kurar. Goldberg ve McCann adında iki kişinin gelmesiyle Stanley sığınağını terk etmek zorunda kalır. Oyunun sonunda Stanley’nin el arabasında taşınarak sahneden çıkartılması onun talihsiz durumunu daha da onursuz hale sokar. Stanley, bir anda kendini hayal dünyasında yarattığı yüksek mertebeden tepetaklak olmuş bulur. Yeni gelen kişilerin kimlikleri, Stanley’nin yerini bulmadaki amaçları, nereden geldikleri ve onu nereye götürecekleri ile ilgili soruların tümü cevapsız kalır. Bu durum oyunu sadece okurlar için değil karakterler için de gizemli kılar.
Günümüzde gelecekle ilgili tahminler yapmak imkansız; yakın gelecek bile tüm dünya vatandaşları için bilinmezlerle dolu. Başından sonuna kadar bilinmezlerle ve belirsizliklerle dolu olan Pinter’ın The Birthday Party oyunu, çağdaş okurun günümüz dünyasının neler vaat ettiğini anlamasını ve bir kez daha değerlendirmesini sağlar.
Anahtar sözcükler: çağdaşçılık, yeni-çağdaşçılık, şiddet, belirsizlik, The Birthday Party.
Modernism implies social turmoil and a sense of menace that can be felt in all aspects of life, and thus a highly skeptical outlook which leads to nihilism and anxiety about the future. In modernism an ironic dismissal of the importance of truth and reason exists together with the need for truth and reason. Therefore the significance of truth and reason coexists with the immensely uncertain presence of the human being in an alienated world. Thought, reason, and observation come to be seen as dependent on language as a structural, mediating system and not as the acts of pure, nonmaterial consciousness with direct access to reality. (Source: http://homepage.newschool.edu/~quigleyt/vcs/modernism.pdf). As a result, on one hand there is the need to have meaning and truth at all stages of life and on the other there is the very real experience of the end of individualism. Impressionism, expressionism, surrealism and nihilism are the fundamental principles of modernism, among which the latter two lead to the idea of the end of individualism. These literary movements emphasize respectively the role of individual perception and the exploration of the nature through the conscious and unconscious mind (impressionism), the focus on the inner vision and the inner spiritual reality that replaces the significance of the external realities of objects and events (expressionism), the liberation of the subconscious through the denial of the supreme authority of rationality (surrealism) and finally the absurdity that is present in the conditions of contemporary life which can be exemplified with people dying in wars, the fears of nameless millions, the uncertainty and inexplicable meaninglessness of the existence of human beings in a world void of any spiritual center (nihilism). Thus surrealism and nihilism promote the death of the subject. (http://vc.ws.edu/engl2265/unit4/Modernism/all.htm)
Harold Pinter’s plays connect him to modernism as he starts writing in the late 1950s when a commitment to the configuration of aesthetics and politics was at its peak. Negation, autonomy, resistance to meaning-making, estrangement and alienation exist in Pinter’s aesthetics and make him an exemplar of modernist discourse. Varun Begley, in Harold Pinter and The Twilight of Modernism (Toronto: Uni of Toronto Press, 2005) defines negation as the formal incarnation of protest against reality and the wish that it were otherwise, and he says that commitment to an aesthetic world takes the place of commitment to the real one. These notions (i.e, negation and commitment to an aesthetic world) are also the characteristic features of modern art. Modernist scepticism and the love of ambiguity are some of the dominant factors of Pinter’s early plays among which The Birthday Party has a special place. Written in 1958, this play marks the beginning of Pinter’s writing career, and his concern with power and language makes him a prominent modernist. Pinter’s plays cover a wide range, starting from early modernism to his modernist writings and finally to the postmodern plays he writes from 2000 onwords. The purpose of this paper is to examine uncertainty and violence in Pinter’s first full-length play, The Birthday Party. As a modernist playwright Pinter depicts violence with all its facets through his characters in The Birthday Party. The play displays the many-sided effects of violence, and it foresees the violence people are exposed to at all times. It was poorly received when it was first performed in 1958, though it has received a lot of attention more recently. Uncertainty and violence will be discussed in relation to Pinter as a modernist. Initially my concern will be the role of uncertainty in The Birthday Party. Secondly, I will focus on violence in the play which exists partly because of the mental disturbance of the characters and partly because of their highly vague past and present situations. Then, in the concluding part I will try to provide the vital link between uncertainty and violence, the relationship between which will be discussed as one of the characteristics of modernism in Pinter’s The Birthday Party.
In the play the characters’ situation raises questions to which no acceptable answers are provided. Stanley claims that he was a successful, highly appreciated pianist who gave regular concerts in the past, the truth of which statements can be vouched for only by his vague memories. With his vague background and bizarre reasons for extending his stay in the boarding house Stanley is the catalyst, whose presence and supposed birthday changes the routine of all the characters. Stanley asserts that he has played the piano all over the world when Meg asks him whether he has been to the places he now lists as his new concert programme. He tells her that he was offered a job in a night club in Berlin, and that afterwards a world tour which would cover places like Athens, Constantinople, Zagreb and Vladivostock was planned. Stanley wants to impress or rather threaten Meg by saying he will leave her. But his new plan seems as uncertain as his account of his previous successes:
Stan: I had a unique touch. Absolutely unique. They came up to me and said they were grateful. Champagne we had that night, the lot. (Pause.) My father nearly came down to hear me. Well, I dropped him a card anyway. But I don’t think he could make it. No, I – I lost the address, that was it. (Pause.) Yes. Lower Edmonton. Then, after that, you know what they did? They carved me up. Carved me up. It was all arranged, it was all worked out. My next concert. Somewhere else it was. In winter. I went down there to play. Then, when I got there, the hall was closed, the place was shuttered up, not even a caretaker. They’d locked it up. (Act I, page 716)
The information provided by Stan is uncertain, and its validity is highly questionable, since his long awaited new attempt to start his concerts seems to exist only in his words. Meg seems not to lose her trust in Stan, but as the only sane character in the play, Petey, never shows any sign of acceptance or approval of Stan’s words (or his acts). The vagueness of Stanley’s family background stems from his incoherent answers or explanations as he wishes to present himself as someone with a solid background. But the more he tries to convince the listener of this background the less clear or convincing is the information he provides about his family and past life.
At the very beginning of the play, Meg and Petey’s pointless conversation centers around Stan, whether he is awake or not, when he will come down to breakfast, if he had a good night’s sleep: their dialogue makes Stan’s identity vague. He could be their son, a mutual friend or someone who is staying in their house. Soon it is made clear that Stan is a lodger. The uncertainty surrounding Stanley’s past is paralleled by our uncertainty about how and why he has come to reside in Meg’s boarding house1 and how long he will stay there.
Meg’s relationship with Stanley is also ambiguous, they can be seen as lodger and tenant, but they also provide a good example of a mother-son, or a lover-beloved relationship. At the end of the first act Meg is vulnerable to Stanley’s outburst of anger when she witnesses his fierce, violent playing of the drum and his final tearing it into pieces, which can be interpreted as Stanley’s negative reaction to Meg’s warm acceptance of the new comers and her generosity in inviting them to the birthday party. The speech in which Meg makes a toast to Stanley is equally unclear:
Meg: Well – it’s very, very nice to be here tonight, in my house, and I want to propose to toast to Stanley, because it’s his birthday, and he’s lived here for a while now, and he’s my Stanley now. And I think he’s a good boy, although sometime he’s bad. (Appreciative laugh from Goldberg.) And he’s the only Stanley I know, and I know him better than all the world, although he doesn’t think so. (“Hear – hear” from Goldberg.) Well, I could cry because I’m so happy, having him here and not gone away, on his birthday, and there isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for him, and all you good people here tonight… (She sobs.) (Act II, page 727)
She delivers her speech in the dark, which adds to the mystery and ambiguity of the birthday party. What happens after the birthday party in Stanley’s room, why Meg does not hear or sense anything strange till next morning, when Petey comes back and why/how he is not disturbed by the presence of the two new lodgers all remain unanswered inquiries.
In addition to uncertainty violence is seen in various ways in The Birthday Party through the dialogue, the highly disparate/unrelated situation of the characters and the play’s strange mixture of suspense, humour and lack of communication as well as its excessively talkative characters. The Birthday Party belongs to the first stage in Pinter’s career when the playwright was interested in the state of characters who feel safe inside (a room) and are exposed to a menace that comes from inside, outside or from an unknown source. In his comedy of menace, in The Birthday Party Pinter depicts the threat that comes from outside with the unexpected visit of the newcomers, McCann, a taciturn and menacing Irishman in his thirties, and Goldberg, a powerful and threatening Jewish man in his fifties. The relationship between Stanley and the two newcomers successfully blends uncertainty and violence. Violence is the result of the psychologically disturbed characters, whose disturbance sometimes extends to the point of schzophrenia. Stanley, Goldberg and McCann are all disturbed in different ways; Stan is a mysterious guest in a house where he becomes a permanent dweller, and Goldberg and McCann are victimizers who represent authoritarianism. With their unexpected appearance Stanley’s peace is destroyed. Of the two, Goldberg is the boss: he tells McCann what to do and at times refers to his past, which he is very proud of. He boasts of not failing in anything he attempts or in his business:
Goldberg: I want your opinion. Have a look in my mouth. (He opens his mouth wide.) Take a good look. (McCann looks.)You know what I mean. I’ve never lost a tooth. Not since the day I was born. Nothing’s changed. (He gets up.) That’s why I’ve reached my position, McCann. Because I’ve always been as fit as a fiddle. All my life I’ve said the same. Play up, play up, and play the game. Honour thy father and thy mother. All along the line. Follow the line, the line, McCann, and you can’t go wrong. What do you think, I’m a self-made man? No! I sat where I was told to sit. I kept my eye on the ball. School? Don’t talk to me about school. Top in all subjects. And for why? Because I’m telling you, I’m telling you, follow my line? Follow my mental? Learn by heart. Never write down a thing. No. And don’t go near the water. And you’ll find – that what I say is true.
Because I believe that the world .... (Vacant) ....
Because I believe that the world ...... (Desperate)
BECAUSE I BELIEVE THAT THE WORLD ....
(He sits in chair.)
(Act III, p: 734)
Goldberg’s discourse is an example of verbal violence, since he asserts his power as the sole authority, but the authority seems to collapse as his speech breaks down into uncertainty. Although Meg sees no danger in the sudden appeareance of two strangers, Stanley sees and smells the danger. He rejects the idea of the party and tears the toy drum given to him by Meg in a solitary moment even before the actual party.
Stan: What’s this?
Meg: It’s your present.
Stan: This isn’t my birthday, Meg.
Meg: Of course it is. Open your present.
(He stares at the parcel, slowly stands, and opens it. He takes out a boy’s drum.)
Stan (flatly): It’s a drum. A boy’s drum.
Meg (tenderly): It’s because you haven’t got a piano. (Act I, page: 721)
Stan hangs the drum round his neck and taps it first gently with the sticks, then as he marches round the table he begins to beat it fiercely, savagely in a possessed manner. The scene is reminiscent of Nora’s tarantella in A Doll’s House, where Ibsen makes Nora dance frantically just before the truth is revealed about her crime of forgery. Torvald vomits up his so called moral ideas and dissatisfaction with the presence of such a woman in his house who will contaminate her own children with her immorality and lies. Stan’s erratic, uncontrolled beating of the drum symbolizes approaching danger. Both Nora and Stanley’s lives are at stake in these scenes, but their attempts to gain time and reconsider what awaits them do not change the approaching danger. Stanley’s reaction to the coming threat is vain since Meg’s ultimate role and contribution to the menace accelarates Stanley’s defeat. Stanley’s erroneous decision in choosing Meg – an ignorant, ineffective character - in whom he thinks he can find a secure haven becomes a great disappointment for him.
The birthday party is an occasion where both uncertainty and violence reign. Petey’s absence and Lulu’s presence add to the fierce struggle between the strong and the weak and bring variety to the violence show. Goldberg talks to Lulu about having played piggy-back or pop-goes the weasel and pontoon, names which are totally unfamiliar to her. Goldberg’s taming of Lulu continues not always in gentle terms. Still she enjoys being singled out by Goldberg and confesses that she has always liked older men, since they can calm her down. When the party is over Lulu becomes aware of the trick played on her. She is unlike Meg, who is ignorant to the point of stupidity, and she regrets the fact that she has believed whatever Goldberg said and has let him get close to her:
Lulu: You didn’t appreciate me for myself. You took all those liberties only to satisfy your appetite.
Goldberg: Now you’re giving me indigestion.
Lulu: And after all that had happened. An old woman nearly killed and a man gone mad – How can I go back behind that counter now? Oh Nat, why did you do that?
Goldberg: You wanted me to do it Lulula, so I did it.
McCann: That’s fair enough. (Act III, page: 736)
Not only Stanley, for whom the birthday party is organized, but also Lulu, the lively, energetic, young character who has hopes for the future is exposed to violence. She is betrayed by Goldberg and punished due to her unreserved trust in him. Goldberg’s unexpected and sudden appearance affects Lulu’s calm and undisturbed life. There is not only verbal and physical violence in the play, there is sexism, as well, which has been revealed through Goldberg’s treatment of Lulu. As the lights go off while the birthday party continues, Lulu faints and is laid on the top of the table by Stanley. Goldberg and McCann search for Lulu till McCann finds a torch on the floor, shines it at table and finds Lulu lying spread-eagled there. Stanley giggles as the torchlight hits him. His satisfaction signified by his giggling and his stooping position over Lulu imply rape.
Verbal violence is depicted in various ways, not only with harsh questionings of the victim, but also with the heavily loaded words of the stronger party in the duel of utterances. Goldberg’s satisfaction in finding Stanley is revealed through his speech just before the birthday party takes place. His words are assertive, ironic and full of enthusiasm:
Goldberg: As a matter of fact, every single one of my senses is at its peak. Not bad going, eh? For a man past fifty. But a birthday, I always feel, is a great occasion, taken too much granted these days. What a thing to celebrate – birth! Like getting up in the morning. Marvellous! Some people don’t like the idea of getting up in the morning. I’ve heard them. Getting up in the morning, they say, what is it? Your skin’s crabby, you need a shave, your eyes are full of muck, your mouth is like a boghouse, the palms of your hands are full of sweat, your nose is clogged up, your feet stink, what are you but a corpse waiting to be washed? Whenever I hear that point of view I feel cheerful. Because I know what it is to wake up with the sun shining, to the sound of the lawnmower, all the little birds, the smell of the grass, church bells, tomato juice – (Act II, page: 724)
Goldberg’s self confidence is exposed in his speech as he can foresee his victory over Stanley in the birthday party. He describes an able man who presents an opposite case to Stanley’s situation. The corpse-like man he refers to in his speech is actually Stanley himself. In Act II, a violent but comic effect is achieved through the absurd cross-examination of Stanley by McCann and Goldberg. They push him into a corner with the question:
Goldberg: Which came first?
McCann: Chicken? Egg? Which came first?
Goldberg and McCann: Which came first? Which came first? Which came first?
(Stanley screams). (Act II, p: 726)
Although Stanley lives in his illusionary haven, menace comes from outside and his long-lived period of silent waiting comes to an end. He refuses to go out, rejecting Lulu’s advice of going out to get some fresh air. Without openly mentioning his fear of being found out by anybody he waits hopelessly for the approaching threat. After hearing that Meg has received two new lodgers he becomes tense and treats Meg crossly. The menace reaches a climactic point with the birthday party. Stanley cannot escape from his own birthday party, during which he finds himself in the game of “blind man’s buff” as the blind man and he accidentally comes to the point of almost strangling Meg and then raping Lulu. Meg recovers shortly afterwards but Lulu feels the unbearable burden of this unfortunate event for some time.
As a modernist playwright Pinter depicts violence with all its facets through his characters in The Birthday Party. In addition to violence, Pinter’s style creates a unqiue effect of uncertainty too, by suggesting that the characters have secrets that neither the others nor the reader can discover. The characters fail to comprehend the reasons, the meaning or the significance of the lack of clarity in their past and present states. Stanley’s blindness at the end of the play symbolizes his loss of power and position. His glasses are broken, yet he wears a businessman’s suit and gets ready to be taken away by the two impostors. These two homeless, ganster-like characters have stil not revealed their identity clearly. McCann’s ignorance about Goldberg’s name or the various names used by Stanley, McCann and Goldberg exemplify the deliberate confusion in names.
In The Birthday Party, Pinter adds uncertainty to violence when Stanley is pursued by McCann and Goldberg because of his presumed betrayal of the organization. What Stanley has done previously to deserve Goldberg’s and McCann’s cross-examination and punishment is not known to the audience:
McCann: Why did you leave the organization?
Goldberg: What would your old mum say, Webber?
McCann: Why did you betray us?
Goldberg: You hurt me, Webber. You’re playing a dirty game. (Act II, page 725)
Stanley’s past life is shrouded in uncertainty. The menacing strangers, one Jewish and the other Irish, perform a series of interrogations which turn out to be both scary and exhilarating. Neither in Stanley’s nor in Goldberg and McCann’s cases does the experience of guilt pave the way to the sense of neurotically haunted and paralysed guilty people by the cries, yearnings and even looks of the victim. (Keane, John Reflections On Violence, p: 183-184) A difference between these three characters’ sense of guilt can be suggested as: Stanley’s decision of taking refuge in Meg’s place refers to the idea of his passivity till the two new characters appear. Whatever he has done previously as implied in the text as something treacherous, is traced by the organization and Stanley disappeared in a concealed place for a period of time. As part of the uncertainty that lies in the past life of Stanley violence prevails as suggested in the interrogation:
Goldberg: Where was your wife?
Stan: In ---
Stan: (turning, crouched) What wife?
Goldberg: What have you done with your wife?
McCann: He’s killed his wife!
Goldberg: Why did you kill your wife?
Stan: (sitting, his back to the audience) What wife?
McCann: How did he kill her?
Goldberg: How did you kill her?
McCann: You throttled her.
Goldberg: With arsenic.
McCann. That’s your man. (Act II, page 726)
Stanley is treated as a potential victimizer and criminal in this speech. In explaining the reason for taking away and punishing Stanley, the two imposters refer to violence practiced on Stanley’s wife, whose existence is questionable.
The end of The Birthday Party is also ambiguous. Stanley leaves Meg’s boarding house with McCann and Goldberg who carry him to the car in a wheelbarrow. Stanley’s well tailored suit in the final scene is puzzling, since it could easily be interpreted as good treatment of Stanley by the two gansters. However, it is more likely that he has been dressed in this way to get prepared for the long awaited appointment with the “leader of the organization.”
With the presence of uncertainty and violence, and with the close bond between the two, the very texture and tone of The Birthday Party reflects the reality of the world we live in today. Violence as seen in the play does not always take the form of physical violence. Pinter achieves the scary and exhilarating effect of verbal violence through the peculiar use of language, as his own style requires. Uncertainty prevails in many plays by Harold Pinter, and The Birthday Party is a good example of this with its many references to the ambiguity and obscurity surrounding Goldberg and McCann’s identities, their multiple names, their bizarre relationship and their mysterious connection with Stanley. Pinter successfully maintains the enigma throughout the play, as a modernist playwright. The impossibility of finding truth and reason behind the discourse and action in The Birthday Party parallels the vain attempt to provide meaning for the existence of human beings and clarity about their past and present states. The dictates of surrealism and nihilism are present in The Birthday Party.
1. The setting described at the beginning of the play reminds the reader of the stage directions of Ibsen’s realistic plays, even the play can be categorized as resembling the naturalistic plays of Chekhov and Strindberg, thus it provides a good example of modernist drama that follows the realistic period and precedes the post-modern period.
2. Pinter makes use of disabled and/or blind characters in several plays. In A Slight Ache the blind match seller is called Barnabas by Flora. Communication problems exist between Edward and Flora, as they do between Meg and Petey. Flora projects all her hopes and desires from her spouse on the blind man. Likewise, Meg fills in the gap in her married life with Stanley.
3. In Reflections on Violence, Keane describes the relationship between guilt and shame as: “Those who are rendered guilty by the act of witnessing violence against others are sometimes gripped by the feeling that they could easily disappear down a hole, chased by the anger, resentment or indignation of the violated. Even though their actions do not directly cause the suffering of the violated, the guilty feel the way they do because an inner voice tells them that they are indeed responsible. The guilty are haunted by the sound within themselves of the voice of judgment. They feel permanent unease at what they have done to others. That is why they themselves often fear retaliatory punishment or even inflict it upon themselves, for instance by means of permanent guilt.” (London: Verso, 1996), 183.
4. Stanley’s passivity before the appearance of the newcomers and even after learning Meg’s plan to organize a birthday party for him ceases when he faces the threat caused by Goldberg and McCann. Although he cannot prevent Meg’s warm invitation of the strangers to her house and to Stan’s birthday party as guests of honor, he still does his best to defend himself during the interrogations.
“An Introduction To Modernism & Postmodernism” in Engl2265/unit4/Modernism [database online]. [cited 12 March 2009.] Available from http://vc.ws.edu/engl2265/unit4/Modernism/all.htm; INTERNET.
Begam, Richard. Samuel Beckett and the End of Modernity. Stanford, California: Stanford U.P., 1996.
Clark, J.C.D. Our Shadowed Present: Modernism, Postmodernism, and History. Stanford, California: Stanford U.P., 2004.
Cahoone, Lawrence E. From Modernism to Postmodernism: An Anthology. Malden, MA : Blackwell Pub., 2003.
“From Modernism to Postmodernism” in Visual and Cultural Studies [revised 10 November 2007]. [cited 2 February 2009.] Available from http://homepage.newschool.edu/~quigleyt/vcs/postmodernism.pdf; INTERNET.
Harold Pinter, The Birthday Party, in Types of Drama: Plays and Contexts, ed. Sylvan Barnet, et al., Seventh Edition (New York: Longman, 1996.)
Holmes, Stephen T. Violence: A Contemporary Reader. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, c2004
Hulme, T.E., Speculations: Essays on Humanism and the Philosophy of Art. London: Routledge and Paul, 1987.
Jencks, Charles. Critical Modernism: Where is Post-Modernism Going? England: Chichester, 2007.
Keane, John. Reflections on Violence. London: Verso, 1996.
This paper is presented in the12th International Cultural Studies Symposium organized by Ege University (April 29th-May 1st 2009) in Izmir, with the title “The Limits of (Un)Certainty in Pinter’s The Birthday Party.”
* Written by Dr. Gül Kurtuluş, Acting Chair, Bilkent University, Department of English Language and Literature.
The portrayal of Hester Prynne’s predicament against a Puritan community depends largely on Hawthorne’s historical, moral and psychological background. The concept of sin occupies a considerable amount of space in people’s lives in the base time of the novel, and this concept is skillfully handled by Nathaniel Hawthorne, who was brought up in a community similar to that presented in The Scarlet Letter. Hawthorne’s imagination mingled with his biography gives life to four major characters in the novel, who are in one way or another sinful. It is not possible to list the characters’ names in order of importance. Yet, what we can call the traditional triangle of a woman, her husband and her lover exists in the novel. However, what makes their situation rather outstanding is the common opponent which they all have to confront one by one, and that is Puritan society.
All four characters are equally indispensable and equally important. They act and speak for themselves which means there is no character who is introduced in the novel for the sake of subordinating the other. However, if one tends to declare Hester as the chief figure among them, it is because of the perpetual misgiving and pity that arouses in the reader while witnessing her predicament.
Hester Prynne is depicted as a strong character in almost all the scenes -- from her portrayal in prison to the market-place where she stands on a high platform holding her illegitimate child facing her secret lover, Arthur Dimmesdale, her long absent husband, Roger Chillingworth, and also the puritan society, whose religion and law are almost the same. In her silence, she voices her reaction to the assembled community who act and decide harshly even at their most merciful moments. Hester becomes a total stranger, not because she detaches herself, but because she is detached by the society who put on blinkers given to them by the Puritan rules. After she is set free, she moves to a deserted house on the outskirts of the town. This is a sterile place, the earlier owner of which abandons it, as the soil is not convenient for cultivation. Hester starts a new life with her unlawful child in such a place, but earns her living on her own, without making futile complaints which will make everything worse for her. Instead, she makes ample use of her art – the needlework – which fascinates everybody and becomes the fashion among members of the society who punish Hester severely for her sin, and make her wear “the scarlet letter.” On the other hand, for Hester the scarlet letter is only the sign of her sin which she maturely accepts as a reality, just like Pearl. With her artistry she tries to survive; moreover helping those who are in poverty, and in desperate need for help keeps her busy. Hester continues to live with the sin she committed and never looks for an escapist solution, like going to another European country or declaring Arthur Dimmesdale as her fellow-sinner.
Arthur Dimmesdale is incapable of such bravery and act of loyalty like his lover. He cannot be so courageous as to tell the truth, and prefers to live a life of hypocrite. The most significant moment in Hester’s life, when she faces the crowd with her baby in her arms on the pillory is marked by Arthur Dimmesdale’s words who ironically demands Hester to reveal the baby’s father. His words carry pathetic overtones of a man who is torn between his sin and his honorable position as a minister in a Puritan society. “Wondrous strength and generosity of a woman’s heart” (Murfin 68) saves the poor man’s life, but causes his eternal suffering. Arthur Dimmensdale hides his secret in his heart till the last day in his life, only confessing his sin just before he dies. Hester’s passive role in Arthur Dimmesdale’s punishment is given to her by old Roger Chillingworth, who seeks revenge and avenges himself on Dimmesdale no harsher than the Puritan society that punishes Hester because of her sin.
Chillingworth finds no fault in Hester and if he finds her guilty he knows that she is already punished by the society. He approaches Hester first as a physician who merely thinks of helping his patient, and as her old husband who puts Hester into his heart’s “innermost chamber” (72). Hester never breaks her promise and does not tell Chillingworth the name of the baby’s father, upon which Chillingworth takes on oath to find out the man, whom he thinks has wronged both Hester and him. He also makes Hester promise not to recognize him when he shows up. His words scare Hester who feels helpless and alone. Chillingworth makes one thing clear before he leaves Hester and her child alone in the dungeon they are imprisoned: While giving a soothing message to Hester that he will not give any harm to her and the child, he makes some threatening remarks for “someone” whose soul will be ruined by him. Chillingworth’s vindictive thoughts and later deeds make him the greatest sinner. Acting like an omnipotent being he committed one of the deadly sins – pride. Thus, he becomes the most tragic character in the novel. Both Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale come to recognition in the end, and they undergo a kind of change. Both of them become aware of what they did and achieve individuality at the end of the novel; however, Chillingworth carries his revenge till the end.
Pearl, the fruit of the unlawful relationship between a man and a woman, is also worth mentioning, as she is created by a wrong done by two adults. This extraordinarily clever girl later becomes an elf child. Although she is the product of a potential sin, she is doomed to be a sinner herself. Her reactions towards the scarlet letter that her mother wears, her surprisingly wise questions and her outstanding physical appearance with her dark eyes distinguish her from the other children brought up in the same community.
The Puritan society Hawthorne presents in The Scarlet Letter is the one he does not approve of. He shows the prejudices of a society which cause the downfall of a man and a woman who act according to their instincts. Hawthorne gives a lesson to this readers by taking this society as his example. After all, they are created by the norms of a Puritan society and have to live according to the strict rules set by puritanism. Hester is presented like a flower that is cultivated in a barren soil, and her child becomes a creature in between her mother and the society around her. Pearl, the precious stone, as her name suggests, becomes a totally strange being who cannot even be recognized by her own mother.
The desirability of the Puritan society is questioned by Hawthorne, through Hester Prynne. Although the greatest sinner seems to be the society, all the characters discussed above are sinful in one way or another. They are the products of the Puritan society, but still with their individual responses to various situations, they differ from each other, also from the people living in society. Hester’s sin is sexual, as she becomes pregnant out of wedlock. The child grows up to be an independent, an unsociable person. Insociability is also considered to be sin by the Puritan society. Like her mother Pearl is isolated. She does not have friends except the doll that is made by her mother and used by Pearl in a kind of witchcraft in one of her solitary moments. Her striking independence as a little girl and surprising questions about her father and the letter “A” on her mother’s breast alienates her from society. According to the Puritan society she inherits her mother’s sin, and most probably will become a person like Hester.
As for Arthur Dimmesdale, his sin is twofold: Apart from his act of adultery, his withdrawal like a coward when Hester faces the harsh society whose prejudices turn the life of all four characters into tragedy, adds to his crime. He pays the debt of being a hypocrite very bitterly, both to Roger Chillingworth and to society, but Hester and Pearl are the most injured characters. The decision of Chillingworth's hiding his secret and living a life of a hypocrite causes no pity or fear on the side of the reader. He commits another crime by keeping quiet.
Roger Chillingworth, on the other hand becomes the most tragic character by committing one of the Seven Deadly Sins — pride. He acts like a judge and using the authority of a judge punishes Arthur Dimmesdale severely, just like the society punishes Hester Prynne. His obsession of taking his revenge as the ex-husband of Hester Prynne turns him into a god-like figure as he carries his vindictive thoughts and deeds till the end. Therefore, the concepts of sin and the sinner are handled in The Scarlet Letter, yet in different forms. The four main characters are sinful and they encountered the Puritan society, which seems to be the greatest sinner in the novel.
BibliographyAll references to the text of The Scarlet Letter are from Ross C. Murfin, The Scarlet Letter (Boston: Bedford Books, 1991)
Dr. Gül Kurtuluş