There is a reason why I read Pinter week in, week out. There is a reason why I think everyone should read Pinter. This social structure that we live in speaks of oppression – we as oppressor and us as oppressed. When oppressed, we vent out. A Night Out is as Pinter as Pinter could be. It is all about venting it out, life is about venting out the negatives one way or the other. Ushnish Das writes…
“You’re all I’ve got…” – have we not often felt extreme pleasure and complete when addressed by another in lines similar to that effect? I have, personally. I have felt my ego burst out like a severely kicked football, its bladder on the brink of shirking life, a sense of responsibility forming itself brick by brick, succumbing to the childhood fantasy of being the ‘man of the house.’
Pinter (my dear, dear Pinter) grabs this statement and turns its inherent sentiment upside down to present to us an emotional outburst through Albert, his protagonist. However offensive one may find his reaction to his almost deranged mother’s constant nagging and perpetual dependency (and indeed it is offensive, quite literally), one is bound to accept Albert had enough reason and we end the play feeling sad for Albert.
As Albert comes back home from an office party, Mrs. Stokes resumes her complaint: why wasn’t he quite well-dressed, why did he not have dinner at home, was he “mucking” around with womenfolk, how was he going to respect his father’s good name by leading such a life, why could he not fix the bulb in his Grandma’s room (who has been dead for ten years), all in the same breath. I say Mrs. Stokes ‘resumed’ her complaint because these were exactly the points she was grumbling upon before Albert left for the party. Does she love Albert well? She does. She asserts this by saying, “You’re all I’ve got, Albert” (try reading this without the “And Brutus is an honourable man” tone, please) and bitterly complains about Albert’s declining expression of love for her.
Pinter plays on dependency right from the very beginning where he gradually builds an atmosphere of claustrophobia that Albert is caught up in – Albert is the shy young man who is yet to take flight as he is anchored to his mother. We sense his mood dropping below positivity as the play progresses. He is stuck to a variety of things and is a constant comparison to his dead father. Albert is bullied and harassed at the party, which dampens his mood even more. Later in the play, when he meets a girl and goes to her home to spend the night, he is already on the verge of a mental breakdown in his fight against the world.
Pinter is a master craftsman— the way he builds up the tension and leads to the dramatic ending. Pinter not only creates a nagging mother but also has Albert harassed in a public space to stifle his breath, even more, just to let the readers stifle and cringe a bit more because we have already aligned ourselves with Albert. Our lives are no better than his. Throughout our lives, of all the spaces we occupy, there are two we assume with no great difficulty but with bitter experience – the oppressed and the oppressor. We are the Alberts of the world, Albert is everyone in existence. We might not be oppressed by our families – it might be our jobs, it might just be our fiancé, it might just be our expectations, and there is no end to this list at all. Pinter forces us to realize our status in life, how oppressed and stifled are we in the real world.
The final act shows Albert in his violent best. He harasses the girl he met, manhandles her, all in a fit of rage. All this violence stems from the constant dependent mother and his ill-treatment at the party. Recognised initially as a shy character, Albert’s transformation towards the end is almost a shock for the readers as they are left imagining themselves in his situation. Would we have done the same if we reached our boiling point? Would we attack our mother and harass another person? I am inclined to believe that we would. We would go to any length to save ourselves from ‘achieving’ insanity, even to ruin another’s life. We only need to be pushed to that state. Violence is an inherent characteristic one simply needs to unlock. Colloquially referred to as venting out – it is the truest form of expression that can be, reflecting the deep-seated anger that cannot be erased from memory. Venting out is what results in the transformation as seen in Albert – the oppressed becomes the oppressor.
Even though we sympathise with Albert throughout the play, we realise what is happening is not what it should be. This is not what society demands of her children. This uncivilised battleground that has become Albert’s life. Having aligned ourselves with Albert and realising his sense of being oppressed and oppressor is similar to what we feel every passing day, one might imagine his inherent violence that might erupt. That is when one would realise the uncouth nature of such actions and banish them from scope. Pinter’s plan thus acts as remedy and vent, which allows us to recognise our oppressors and at the same time allows us to sympathise with our state and not act as horrid grounds which might have terrible consequences in life.
Pinter is not simply a dramatist – Pinter is a method of sanity, of maintaining society and a method of restricting psychological warfare, emerging victorious in life by letting the dramatist perform his work and sway in the emotions he paints. If Pinter does not survive in literature, society dies a painful death.
“You’re all I’ve got…” – its beginnings are warm and tempting but it ends cold and hard. It isn’t the best of feelings, is it? Never.
Title art by Paramita Routh Roy
Next post on 21st August