IMAGE Words as Images

All writers fall in love with words. They realise words can do something amazing. Sometimes this love-affair goes on in front of our eyes. In Pinter's plays we sense the writer collecting certain words and phrases out of the mouths of his characters, holding them up to the light, making a display of galleried language even while he's equally interested in two old women, for example, talking in a café late at night, or a husband and wife discussing the strength of the sun on a hot afternoon in London. The writer can be sensed mounting his display of phenomenal words, while the characters talk with no apparent awareness of this exhibiting, no awareness whatsoever of audience.

A fascination with Pinter's language comes about whenever his characters generate images through words. They do this as though they might not be fully aware of what they are doing, which is one reason why his plays have achieved a lasting appeal to audiences as well as to directors and actors. Everyone wonders what these char-acters sense, whether or not they, like the writer, are involved in a kind of expert exhibitor's display— or whether they are simply talking. A half-mocking, verbal imaging shifts in and out of his characters' voices, in and out of the playwright's creative attention. Who is who? Nobody can be certain.

Writers too may talk and talk, but unless they are able to focus our minds through images, much of what they say to us will be lost. Metaphor, icon, symbol; together these words convey the range of meaning attached to image, but we don't need to consider exact definitions at this point. What we do need to think about is impact, resonance, how images work, and, as in the following extract from Pinter's play The Lover, what dramatic function they perform.

In the following scene Richard and Sarah, a married couple in their thirties, are talking about Venetian blinds. Richard has just returned from a day at the office. What has Sarah been doing with her day? (The Lover was written in 1966.)

Richard: What about this afternoon? Pleasant afternoon?

Sarah: Oh yes, quite marvellous.

Richard: Your lover came did he?

Sarah: Mmnn. Oh yes.

Richard: Did you go out or stay in?

Sarah: We stayed in.

Richard. Ah! (He looks up at the Venetian Winds) That blind hasn't been put up properly.

Sarah: Yes, it is a bit crooked isn't it?


Richard: Very sunny on the road. Of course, by the time I got on to it the sun was beginning to sink. But I imagine it was quite warm here this afternoon. It was warm in the City.

Richard: I see you had the Venetian blinds down. Sarah: We did, yes. Richard: The light was terribly strong. Sarah: It was, awfully strong.

Richard: The trouble with this room is that it catches the sun so directly, when it's shining. You didn't move to another room? Sarah: No. We stayed here. Richard: Must have been blinding. Sarah: It was. That's why we put the blinds down. Pause

Richard: The thing is it gets so awfully hot in here with the blinds down. Sarah: Would you say so?

Richard: Perhaps not. Perhaps it's just that you feel hotter Sarah: Yes. That's probably it

During her lover's visit, the blinds were down. Now they are up, but a bit crooked. The sun was strong. Now it has sunk. Sarah and her lover didn't decide to move to another room, possibly a bedroom. ('No, we stayed here.') How 'hot' was the encounter in this living-room? The word 'hot' has become detached from the sun or the light, and might be referring to something else—the activities in the room hidden by blinds. The sun, rooms, heat, the City become an extended topic of conversation, but the reason for such extension is to establish a set of images surrounding an otherwise simple and innocuous object—a blind. As well as an object shutting out light, 'blind', of course, is a word in its own right. Who is blind? Who is blinding who? Does Richard know what he's saying, asking, suggesting? The audience can't be sure.

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