Skip over navigation

The Dumb Waiter

Harold Pinter

Important Quotations Explained

Part Four: Speaking Tube until End

Key Facts

"He might not come. He might just send a message. He doesn't always come."

Gus says this in Part three in reference to Wilson, for whom Ben says they must wait. Wilson is similar to the god-like Godot in Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot, who also keeps two characters in suspense as they wait for his arrival. Wilson's power is greatly derived from his very absence, similar to the way silence functions in the work in terms of the absence of language. Wilson is a mystery to both of them, and Gus, particularly, feels uncomfortable around him. The fact that Wilson sometimes sends messages indicates that the later messages through the dumb waiter and the speaking tube may be from him, or at least through one of his henchmen.

"…you come into a place when it's still dark, you come into a room you've never seen before, you sleep all day, you do your job, and then you go away in the night again."

Gus laments the boring repetition of life in Part 1. For him, life is a dead-end of routine. He recognizes that he and Ben will never escape from their lower-class roles, yet he cannot help but be a creature of habit—he constantly goes to the bathroom, and he always needs to replenish his dwindling supply of matches. Ben, on the other hand, thinks they are "fortunate" to have their jobs, which only requires them to work once a week (though they have to be ready at all times). He embraces routine and likes nothing better than to read the newspaper and scoff at the same outrageous stories each day (an action that opens and closes the play). To break up his routine, he diverts himself with hobbies, which he urges Gus to take up, but these are only temporary methods to distract himself from his static position in life.

"THE KETTLE, YOU FOOL!"

Ben screams this as he chokes Gus in Part 2. It is the culmination of their debate over the phrase "Light the kettle." More important than the actual debate is the way Ben's language gradually becomes more menacing as he insults and intimidates Gus, challenging him to remember when he last saw his mother and calling attention to his own seniority. The act of choking physically cuts off Gus's ability to speak, making Ben doubly powerful, as his voice grows in power and Gus's diminishes. Ben may also harbor some resentment about Gus's lower- class phrase, and perhaps his hostility springs forth from this. Ben later expresses delight when the more sophisticated man upstairs uses the phrase, "Light the kettle," just as he does.

"Do you know what it takes to make an Ormitha Macarounda?"

Ben says this in Part three during the dumb waiter sequence, when the men receive several orders for increasingly fancy food from upstairs. Ashamed of his own poverty and his lack of refinement, Ben pretends he knows how to make the foreign dish to save face in front of Gus, even though he later concedes ignorance for even the simple preparation of bean sprouts. Gus, too, feels he has to prove somewhat his sophistication for the upstairs people, announcing the brand names of the working-class food they send up. In both cases, language is tied to class, and most productions of the play augment the characters' working- class dialect with appropriate accents, such as Cockney, which a British audience would identify as lower class.

"BEN: If there's a knock on the door you don't answer it. GUS: If there's a knock on the door I don't answer it."

This exchange occurs near the end of the play, in Part four. Ben states a series of instructions to Gus (who repeats each line) as to how they will carry out their job, which ends with their cornering the target with their guns, be it a male or female victim. Pinter directs the actors playing Ben and Gus to deliver their lines with a mechanical detachment, and the effect is that the ghastly deed of murder becomes drained of human emotion and sympathy. Gus is merely an echo, and the echo is much like silence, reinforcing Gus's status as a human "dumb waiter," manipulated and without any voice of his own. In the directions, Ben also has a lapse when he forgets to tell Gus to have his gun ready. Gus reminds him of this and he corrects himself, but it is a clue that Ben, or Wilson, intends the instructions to mislead Gus.

More Help

Previous Next
Dumb Waiter's Ben

by ArtIzar, August 26, 2013

I don't agree about Ben's knowing that he was going to betray Gus, I think he is a poor puppet who can only follow orders literally, so if they tell him "shoot the man who comes through the door", he simply does it. In my opinion, that's the essence of the last silence, the finding out and the inevitability of the task. I don't find any clue in the characterization of Wilson that he would have any need of giving that information to his inferior.

0 Comments

3 out of 4 people found this helpful

Follow Us