The Elements of Postmodernism in Harold Pinter’s Play “The Homecoming”

Postmodernism is the period in which we live, in which Jean Baudrillard's "simulations" make the processes that Umberto Eco calls "Hyperreal".  This creates the situation, where it is hard to properly evaluate different values, facts, events and even determine them. This is the period, when reality and unreality are combined and they have no margins. On the surface, there are a lot of valuable things for humanity, but they have no meanings. The determined elements such as the time and space are completely broken and everything is collected together. The notion and the meaning of the word "truth" disappeared, because the general determiners broke and lost their meaning in this world. In 2005 in his well-known Nobel Lecture, Pinter noted the following: “There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, or between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false” [Pinter, 2005:3].

This is what Pinter's plays represent. Harold Pinter is one of the famous British writers of the 20th century, whose plays are quite different from the background of the literature of his epoch. In his drama, he presents merged reality and unreality, truth and false. Pinter is considered as one of the postmodernist authors. In his play “The Homecoming”, his characters are connected with relative relationships. They are family members. At first glance, for a reader, this can be easily considered as the reality. During the play, it becomes obvious that this reality is simultaneously unreal, because the relationships do not correspond to the concept of family, the definition of which is tailored in our minds. Periodically you realize that they have a completely false attitude towards one another. In the given play, Pinter represents the same concept simultaneously as real and as unreal.  Derrida’s deconstruction is the phenomenon that accompanies Pinter’s plays. It is hard to understand, who is his main character and here we can search for some elements of Postmodernism. All the determiners are erased and it is not easy to perceive the characters. It is also important that Pinter seems to be quite cynical about some events and facts. People have developed certain attitudes towards these facts during the centuries and have collected some knowledge about them. Pinter offers no coincidences, on the contrary, he eradicates all the previous expectations towards these facts and events. As for the perception of reality and unreality, in one of the interviews, he mentions: “If you press me for a definition, I’d say that what goes on in my plays is realistic, but what I’m doing is not realism” [Burkman, 1971:3].

Indeed everything that happens in the play can be regarded as the reality that exists in the modern world, the reality, in which less important become the values that have once been the determiners of different events. Pinter shows the postmodernist reality in which the elements of a daily life are much more important than different issues that were significant for the humanity, for example, we can discuss the passage in which the brother asks the philosopher to discuss philosophically Shakespearean phrase "to be or not to be". Teddy answers with silence. The brother asks to choose the table as a subject of philosophical discussions, but Teddy says nothing.

“Teddy: I’m afraid I’m the wrong person to ask.”

Lenny: But you’re a philosopher. Come on, be frank. What do you make of all this business of being and not-being?

Teddy: What do you make of it?

Lenny: Well, for instance, take a table, philosophically speaking, what is it?

Teddy: A table.

Lenny: Ah. You mean it's nothing else but a table. Well, some people would envy you certainly" [Pinter, 1965:52].

In this episode, we can confirm some postmodernist basics. The words have lost their meanings and Teddy’s silence can be considered as one of the characteristics of Postmodernism. This is the period when everything is already said about the phrase "to be or not to be". Nothing is left to say or this is not an interesting issue anymore. The society that has seen the World War II is more concerned about the daily problems rather than philosophical issues. In addition, the play itself is started with the simple daily phrase: “What have you done with the scissors?” [Pinter, 1965:7]

There is also an interesting moment, when Teddy says that the table is simply a table and nothing else. A reader/viewer definitely remembers Plato's "Theory of ideas". Plato mentions the existence of the idea before the existence of the material. Teddy is the philosopher, who has been in America for six years and delivered lectures in philosophy. We are expecting from him that he will say the things about the theory of idea at least we have already known, but we only get the silence as the response. In this case, we should conclude that there is no time for philosophical discussions in the modern  postmodernist world.

It is an important fact that Pinter most actively presents the daily elements and gives them ritual meanings. For example, the process of drinking and making tea is absolutely ritualized by the author. This is the only issue of the play, which enables the characters to contact and the dialogue takes place.  

  In general, the title of the play and the change of its perception are very interesting. When in the beginning of the play Teddy's character appears, it becomes clear that the title is dedicated to his return home. However, in the final part of the play completely different sense appears. There comes the suspicion that this title is for Ruth, because Teddy's family becomes close to the foreign character, who has come with her husband. This is the place, where Ruth finds herself and realizes that someone needs her. Here she feels comfortable and unlike Teddy, she does not want to return to America. After his homecoming, Teddy finds out that his family members do not know him at all. They are very different. He realizes that there is something in common between them, but he does not want to be like them and says: “You’re just objects. You just … move about. I can observe it. I can see what you do. It’s the same as I do. But you’re lost in it. You won’t get me being… I won’t be lost in it” [Pinter, 1965:62].

The changes of the perception of concepts may be regarded as Derrida's postmodern deconstruction. The concept "homecoming" is a maker of circle in accordance with the old legends and fairy tales. In almost every story, the main character leaves home, passes the way, gains experience and finally returns home. Making a circle is the most important part of the story, which is crowned by homecoming. Pinter, on the contrary, offers us the deconstruction of this classical model. He starts exactly with homecoming and later he changes a reader’s/viewer’s perception of this concept.  

It is important that Pinter shows the relationships on the background of the simplest dialogues. According to these dialogues, we find out that the relationships between the characters is not entirely true and sometimes they are even quite illogical. It is interesting that Pinter often uses “pauses” and “silences”. He even mentions that sometimes silence is more important: “We have heard many times that tired, grimy phrase, “failure of communication,” and this phrase has been fixed to my work consistently. I believe the contrary. I think that we communicate only too well in our silence, in what is unsaid. And that what takes place is continual evasion, desperate rear-guard attempts to keep ourselves to over selves. I’m not suggesting that no character in a play can ever say what in fact he means, not at all. I have found that there invariably does come a moment when this happens, where he says something, perhaps, which he has never said before. And where this happens, what he says is irrevocable, and can never be taken back” [Burkman, 1971:323].

Therefore, we can conclude that via different ways, Pinter is able to present the world in which the silence is more preferable than words. In general, if there is any idea in our mind, it is always ours. In such a situation, it is real and accurate and by its accuracy, we can stay as true as this idea.

 As soon as we begin to express this idea, we are trying to find the right words. Very often during this search, we cannot express the opinion with perfection and its original meaning. However, if it sounds, it exists. Because of this characteristic of the word and speech, Pinter makes it clear that none of his characters can say exactly what they mean. Accordingly, as we have already mentioned, for this reason, Pinter often uses pauses in his plays.

 Pinter believes that with the help of a language (in this case, the dialogues of the characters), a spectator should understand the characters’ personalities. All these happens despite the fact that he does not offer their biographies or predefined information about them. Pinter also points to the character of  a language that shows that there is something else beyond what is  said, what  should be seen, what was not said.   

Therefore, Harold Pinter can truly be regarded as the author with whom we can find the origins of the world in which we live today. One of the most important from these origins is the disappearance of the determiners. All this is clearly seen in the relationship of the protagonists. Pinter’s characters are not sharply expressed with their characteristics. In general, it is even hard to determine them  -  there are eradicated time and space characteristics. We can suppose that Pinter presents the global reality and the common background that was the characteristic of his protagonists as well as the entire world of that period.

 Undoubtedly, Harold Pinter is the author, whose work is important from literary and dramatic viewpoints. He was able to present those characteristics of the world that are still problematic and relevant.


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