The Battle of Minds and Selves in The Caretaker

‘Pinter presents the mind and self in battle with others.’ How far do you agree?

2020 JC1 Promotional Examination

Throughout the play, Davies is pitted multiple times against Mick and Aston as he constantly struggles to establish his dominance in a place where he clearly does not belong. It is largely borne of a survival instinct that Davies first engages in a very one-sided battle with Aston, before Mick enters and aggressively challenges Davies. The survival instinct that initially puts Davies on his guard and sets him into battle is also what leads him to surrender the battle in the closing scene. In The Caretaker, Pinter presents through Davies’s interactions with the other characters the human need to battle for power and self-preservation, though it may similarly threaten one’s self.

Davies constantly misconstrues Aston’s words as a threat to himself, thus sparking a defensive retaliation. Davies seems to be placing him and Aston in a battle which the latter did nothing to invite and wanted no part of. When Aston confronts Davies about making noises in his sleep, Davies reacts in a defensive manner and insists that he ‘don’t dream. I’ve never dreamed’, ‘I don’t jabber, man.’ The repeated negation and absolute ‘never’ is telling of his desperation to prove his innocence and the additional question ‘what would I be jabbering about?’ seems to challenge Aston to disagree with his claims as he directs the question to Aston, knowing he could not have an answer to it. Davies is so wrapped up in his attempts to ward off these perceived attacks that he does not seem to realise that there were none forthcoming. The pauses that punctuate Davies’s appeals against accusations of his making noise evidently show that Aston was making no move to attack Davies further. He was even hesitant to make his initial accusation as he starts off with ‘You… er…’ and catches himself. The ellipses present his unwillingness to make the accusatory declaration and he rephrases it instead as ‘were you dreaming or something?’ The question allows Davies an excuse for the noises he makes, though he clearly does not take it up and later adamantly rejects the allowance Aston offers to end the argument, insisting ‘I slept in beds. I don’t make noises just because I sleep in a bed. I slept in plenty of beds.’ The repetition of having ‘slept in beds’, coupled with the intensifier ‘plenty’ evinces how Davies took Davies’s suggestion of an excuse for his making noises as a personal jab at his being homeless instead. As a social outlaw, Davies has much experience with poor treatment, resulting in him always being on guard and ready to attack anyone who threatens him. This causes him to misunderstand Aston’s harmless comments and launch himself into a battle with an enemy that retaliates.

However, in Mick, Davies finds an opponent that was clearly against him and the two engage in a series of struggles for power and dominance. On their first meeting, Mick instantly ‘seizes his arm and forces it up his back.’ Mick blatantly employs violence against Davies, this intruder in his home, though Davies does not go easily. The stage directions paint a picture of Mick aggressively ‘forc[ing] him to the floor’ and ‘press[ing] him down with his foot.’ These are violent actions that clearly present Mick as the winning party in this physical battle. This is further emphasised as the audience is positioned to look downwards at Davies, contrasting Mick’s elevated position. Davies does not submit easily as he continues ‘struggling, grimacing, whimpering and staring’. The decreasing intensity of the verbs listed in the stage directions shows Davies’s gradual loss in this physical battle to the younger, stronger Mick. This is evident from the decrease in movements from a frantic attempt to escape, to quiet protests and finally resignation as he simply stares without making a move or sound. Despite this, Mick does not let up on his attacks he later ‘turns swiftly and grabs [Davies’s trousers]’. Mick engages in multiple physical battles in similar ways and proves to be superior to Davies. Therefore, Pinter presents Davies’s retaliation against Mick’s initiation of attacks in a battle not limited to physical violence. With Mick, Davies seems to only be able to fight against losing battles and the shift of power dynamics from Davies’s to Mick’s favour is telling of the final battle Davies would come to lose in the denouement.

In the closing scene, Davies is seen to seek a truce to his battles with the brothers as he finally gives into the hope of a compromise that would allow him to keep his place in the flat instead of being thrown out. Davies is seen to surrender when he admits ‘why I made all them noises, it was because of the draught’. Previously, he was insistent that the noises were not his fault, that it was the Blacks who made them. Yet, when his survival is threatened, he willingly admits to ‘all them noises’. The absolute ‘all’ contrasts the negation of ‘I don’t make noises’ earlier in the play and shows that he has finally given in in his one-sided battle against Aston. Furthermore, the repetition of ‘I don’t mind’ and ‘we’ll keep it as it is’ exemplifies Davies’s willingness to give up on the battles he himself had fueled, that of the rain coming in the window. His final loss of the battles he fought culminates in the ‘Long silence’ that ensues as he makes his final plea as Aston stood with ‘his back to him’. These stage directions present a final rejection of Davies and thus brings to a tragic close Davies’s battle for belonging and shelter.

In conclusion, Pinter presents battles with others through Davies’s actions to ensure self-preservation, though the entrance of Mick further threatens that and the play ends with a resounding loss on Davies’s part as the mind and self are left alone in their battles, and can only lose in a fight with others.

Seah Xinyi (20-A6)