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The Dumb Waiter

Harold Pinter

Part Three: After Ben Checks his Gun

Part Two: From the Envelope to Ben's Gun

Part Four: Speaking Tube until End

Summary

Gus returns and says that the gas has gone out, as the meter needs to be refilled with coins. Ben says they'll have to wait for Wilson. Gus says that Wilson doesn't always come—that he sometimes sends only a message—and complains about not having a cup of tea "before." He believes that, as it's his place, Wilson should pay for the meter. Ben denies this, saying Wilson has only rented it. Gus is insistent, arguing that since no one ever complains or hears anything, Wilson must own all the places they go to. He also finds it hard to talk to Wilson, and says that he's been thinking about the "last one"—a girl. When Ben reads his newspaper instead of answering him, he and Gus get into an argument. Gus continues talking about the girl. The job was a "mess," he recalls, as women don't "hold together like men." He wonders who cleans up for them after they leave. Ben reminds him that other departments take care of those matters.

A clattering sound from the wall between their beds interrupts them. With guns in hand, they investigate and find a box on a dumb waiter (a small elevator controlled by pulleys that delivers food or other goods between floors, usually in restaurants or hotels). Gus pulls a piece of paper out, and Ben tells him to read it. It lists an order for food. The dumb waiter ascends. Ben explains that the upstairs used to be a café, the basement was the kitchen, and that these places change ownership quickly. Gus loudly wonders who has moved in. The dumb waiter descends again, and Gus pulls out another order for food. Gus looks up the hatch, but Ben pushes him away. Ben decides that they should send something up, but they have only a little food. Gus keeps revealing more food, however—a cake, and a bag of chips. They put everything on a plate, but the dumb waiter ascends before they can put the plate on it.

They decide to wait until the dumb waiter returns. Gus wonders how it could be a café if the gas stove is so inefficient. The box descends again with another order, this time for "high class" exotic food such as "Ormitha Macarounada." Ben pretends to know how to make the dish. They put the plate on the dumb waiter and Gus yells up the hatch, announcing the brand names of the food. Ben tells him that he shouldn't shout. Ben warns Gus not to lose sight of their job and tells him to get ready and polish his gun. Gus wonders about the possibility of another nearby kitchen, which Ben supports. Gus then discusses, without Ben's answering, his feelings of anxiety about the job and Wilson. Another order comes down the passage for more food with which they are unfamiliar. Much to Ben's chagrin, the packet of tea they sent up has also returned, perhaps because, as Gus suggests, it isn't teatime.

Analysis

The influence of Beckett's Waiting for Godot deepens in this section, in which it becomes clearer that Ben is perhaps not telling Gus the complete truth about their operation—they are certainly in the kitchen of a working café, not merely a basement, and something is odd about their interaction with the person or people upstairs. In Godot, the two men wait around for a man named Godot who never arrives, yet who exercises great power over them. In The Dumb Waiter, Ben and Gus are at the beck and call of Wilson, a mysterious character who dominates the duo even when he's not around—or perhaps especially when he's not around. Ben is more reverent of Wilson, while Gus is wary of their relationship to the mysterious figure. It is therefore not surprising that Gus is the one who looks up and wants to shout up the hatch—investigating the god upstairs, so to speak—and not Ben, who seems fearful of angering the gods and who is anxious to please them. He is noticeably embarrassed when the tea is returned. Gus also seems to hold a greater sensitivity to his job. He is not only disturbed about their murder of the girl, but he wonders who has the task of cleaning up the remains.

The characters' anxiety over their lower-class status hangs over the food sequence. It begins with their inability to pay for the meter, which inhibits their ability to make their own food, or at least to brew their own tea. Their anxiety amplifies when they feel they need to send more food back up the hatch, and then with the orders for increasingly fancy food with which they are not familiar. Much of this class tension is bound up in language. Gus tries to dress up their own standard food by announcing the brand names associated with the items, names that pale in comparison to the exotic names of the ordered dishes, such as "Ormitha Macarounada." Ben noticeably tries to cover up his lower-class status by pretending that he knows how to make the dish. The characters' dialect is also distinctly lower class, abrupt sentences peppered with idiomatic utterances like "Kaw!" Many productions of The Dumb Waiter emphasize Ben's and Gus's different relationships to class by giving Ben an accent of a slightly better-off Englishman, while Gus often speaks in a lower-class Cockney accent. American audiences may not be able to distinguish between the particular accents so readily.

Interruptions and abbreviations continue to play a significant role in this section, as Gus's continuing questions about the nature of their job and the café are twice broken by the sounds of the descending dumb waiter. As of now, Ben and Gus's communication with the upstairs via the dumb waiter has been based on written notes with abbreviated sentences at that. This limited communication will assume a more symbolic form in the next section.

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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.

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