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Act 1 Summary Essay - the Birthday Party

In: English and Literature

Submitted By Mschanlouisee
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The Birthday Party , Harold Pinter – Act 1
The Birthday Party by Harold Pinter is a play which explores many themes including binary options like insanity vs. sanity and even the conventions of society. In 1958 when “The Birthday Party” was first performed in London it received a lot of criticism due to the fact that it was very complicate to comprehend and the characters didn’t seem to have the same popular structure as many plays did in that time e.g. Stock characters\stereotypical characters, as a matter of fact the play was infested with characters who were suffering from a serious case of insanity. However as a modern audience of the birthday party people are more open to research into the deeper meaning of what Shakespeare was perhaps trying to portray under the surface of the plot.
In Act 1 of The Birthday Party we are flooded with a wide range of mundane images but the dialogue used in the scene creates a strange atmosphere to what we would expect in an everyday environment. The act begins with the everyday situation of husband and wife sitting at the breakfast table alongside their tenant Stanley who joins them. Shakespeare tries to enforce the idea of realism in this act by using objects such as the tenant Stanley eating cornflakes and talking to the landlady Meg. However Shakespeare turns this around through conversation “Those lovely flakes? You’re a liar, a little liar” This is an abnormal way for a landlady to treat her tenant , the phrase “You’re a little liar” implies that she is treating Stanley as a little boy although they are close in age.
Throughout Act 1 of The Birthday Party Meg is portrayed as the simple minded character that lives in the confines of her mind and also struggles to maintain a normal level of sanity as well as keep up with the normality of everyday life. Upon the arrival of Goldberg and McCann not only does Stanley begun to show signs of anxiety but Meg decided that it is Stanley’s birthday and surprises him with the gift of a boys drum for the reason that she believes Stanley was once a professional pianist. This within itself shows how much of a childlike mind Meg really had. Stanley responds very rather peculiarly to this it’s our first sigh of Stanley’s madness “Should I put it round my neck ?” following this question the stage directions state that he goes on a rampage around the room banging the drum ferociously very loud nonstop . This action does indeed show madness because throughout Act 1 Stanley seems perfectly normal as he makes fun of meg whilst she is unaware of his insincerity, however this scene contradicts all of this and makes Stanley seem like the unease of the unexpected arrival and the gift of the drum when it isn’t even his birthday has surely pushed him of the verge of sanity. This also has the theme of menace because it even makes Meg feel uneasy, the stage directions also state that he is motion is uncontrolled and erratic when things are normally describe in such manor it creates a violent /scary atmosphere. As aun audience watching this scene would have been quite disturbing because is unexpected.
Pinter uses sexual innuendo as one element of dramatic comedy in “The Birthday Party” when he openly flirts with Meg however the category of dramatic comedy this play fits into is a comedy of menace. Pinter noted on the play “More often than not the speech only seems to be funny-the man in question is actually fighting a battle for his life” this displays that a lot of the bizarre things that take place in the play may seem comical to the audience however there is a deeper mining than just humour. Pinter also uses the dramatic device of repetition. Meg and Stanley seem to do this a lot nevertheless meg is partaking in this innocently whereas Stanley is intentionally mocking Meg for her meek state of mind.
Act 1 of the play mainly portrays the husband Petey and tenant Stanley as being pessimistic because throughout the act they seem to behave in a very melancholic manor and their use of dialogue is not only limited but vague too. In the beginning when Meg tries to engage in a conversation with Petey he barely responds to Megs inquisitive questions “Some girl” this is a very simple statement Petey uses but it says a lot, the lack of detail in response to a question suggest that Petey doesn’t want to engage in any conversation at all even if it is his wife, and this sentence is obviously said in a flat non interested tone which reflects his very pessimistic attitude towards things.

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