University of Guilan
Department of English Language and Literature

A Deconstructive Study of Moral/Unmoral and Male/Female Oppositions as Social Conventions in Harold Pinter's The Homecoming

Mahsa Mokhtari

January 2015


Introduction 1
What Are Social Conventions? 2
Social Conventions as Rooms 3
Moral/Unmoral Opposition as a Social Convention 4
Male/Female Opposition as a Social Convention 9
Conclusion 11

Nobel Prizewinning playwright Harold Pinter (b. 1930) is one of the most important literary figures in post war British era. ‘ Pintersque ' is the adjective that was coined to show the mysterious and baffling quality in his plays. This essay aims at reading Harold Pinter's The Homecoming (1965) in terms of challenges it creates for the social conventions and deconstructing two of those conventions which are moral/unmoral and male/female oppositions . The present study calls attention to the nature of social conventions and the ways by which they have affected our lives. Moreover, it examines moral/unmoral and male/female oppositions as two social conventions that are provided with the opportunity of being deconstructed in Harold Pinter's The Homecoming . This study traces these social conventions in the play, unmasks the privileged central term, and then subverts the center by foregrounding the borderline , that results in the dance of the both oppositional pairs in free play of non ‐ hierarchi cal and unstable meanings .

From the early days of The Room (1957) and The Birthday Party (1958), the inability to place Pinter alongside his contemporaries ( followers of trends such as Kitchen Sink drama and Theater of Absurd) baffled critics. Subsequently, Pinter's works were dubbed ‘comedies of menace,' thought to be dealing with "unspeakable terror," or an atmosphere that is "before all else, of terror " (Harman 2008). As Ronald Knowles remarks, "understanding Pinter involves understanding society as the twe ntieth century draws to a close " ( Knowles 1995: 18). Pinter's politics are premised on power-structured relationships and, in particular, how social relations involving authority and power threaten the autonomy a nd importance of the individual or in other words how these power relations and social conventions leave no place for individualism. Pinter's individuals struggle to retain their sen se of self, despite the social and political relations, which is doomed from the beginning although their effort is considerable and in fact they do as Samuel Becket says, " Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.
The critic John Lahr describes the impact o f experiencing this play: "'The Homecoming' changed my life. Before the play, I thought words were just vessels of meaning; after it, I saw them as weapons of defence . Before, I thought theatre was about the spoken; after, I understood the eloquence of the unspoken. The position of a chair, the length of a pause, the choice of a gesture, I realised , could convey volumes" (Lahr 2007). In a sense The Homecoming is about all of these unspoken elements that give rise to the social conventions and about the individuals of this play that are unconsciously in the process of deconstructing them. They fail because their efforts lead to the development of new social conventions but their failure, and all of the other failures of this nature, function as delicate historical movements that form a process, a process that can one day lead to the downfall of the tendency of society toward conventions.
The dichotomy between moral and unmoral has been and will be one of the most controversial concepts. What do we mean when we say that something is moral? A behavior is moral, when it goes in line with the purposes of the social convention that has the power at a specific time, and all other behaviors are unmoral. The power relations through morality, create the concept of ‘self' and ‘other' (to use Lacan's terms) in people, so that people automatically see the person with the moral behavior as ‘self' and try to reach to this ‘self' at any cost even at the cost of sacrificing their own individuality, and the person with the unmoral behavior as ‘other' who should be avoided. The characters in this play (as well as other plays by