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Ben is the more dominant of the two criminals. As such, they resemble the various couples in Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot, who also complement each other with submissive and dominant traits. Ben broods and reads his newspaper, and his silences are as much a feature of his character as his dialogue. Whether Gus is asking him about the job, Wilson, or if he ever gets bored with life, Ben refuses to enter into a meaningful discussion. Part of the reason, of course, is that he does not want to reveal the purpose of the job: to execute Gus. The other reason is that Ben's chilling silences are laced with a defensive violence. Harold Pinter has defined speech as a strategy designed to cover the nakedness of silence, and Ben is a prime example. He compensates for his naked silences with a constant aura of violence and intimidation. And just as he frequently checks his gun to maintain his potential for violence, his often-venomous speech further obscures his naked vulnerability. In the argument over the phrase "Light the kettle," the marriage of violent speech and violent action seems appropriate when Ben chokes Gus while screaming "THE KETTLE, YOU FOOL!"
Ben's language denotes other parts of his personality, especially his shame over his lower class. He feigns understanding the names of the orders for exotic dishes sent down via the dumb waiter (where upstairs, presumably, someone of higher standing, physically and socially, presides). When they run of food in the basement, he tells Gus (who yells up the hatch) to observe decorum, then strains to make a formal apology. He is also immensely pleased when the person upstairs uses Ben's phrase "Light the kettle." Like Gus, Ben is a slave to the organization (one with several "departments"), but he does not have the same class-consciousness as Gus; his partner is more aware of their unfortunate lot in life, while Ben considers themselves "fortunate" and diverts himself with hobbies. He also accepts whatever Wilson tells him to do, making him as much a manipulated mute carrier of actions as Gus is to Ben—a human "dumb waiter." His betrayal of Gus at Wilson's behest is an unsettling reminder of what workers will do to gain the acceptance of their superiors.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Dumb Waiter!