Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman is a realist play which criticizes modern society; Harold Pinter’s The Birthday Party is an absurdist play that examines human existence and language through deformed realism. There is apparently nothing common between the two plays; however, there is a similarity: contradiction and ambiguity are shown in the language of both plays. As I look into this issue, differences in the features and purposes of contradiction and ambiguity are found.
By contradiction and ambiguity, I mean that many details in the plays are contradicting according to different conversations in different scenes. As a result, no real happening can be obtained.
In Death of a Salesman, we cannot determine if Willy Loman was once a successful salesman or not. In Willy’s imaginary past, he described himself as a well-liked salesman who had opened up the market in New England. Later, when he talks with Howard, he claims that he averaged one hundred and seventy dollars a week in 1928, but Howard says that he never achieved that. Both of them are unreliable since Willy lives in dreams whereas Howard just wants to walk through the conversation, leaving an unclear answer to the question. Linda affirms Willy’s words by telling her sons that when Willy was young, his buyers were glad to see him and he was a pioneer of new territories for the company. Yet, her words are as well not trustworthy because Linda always backs up Willy’s fantasies. Just as she admits to Biff, she will do everything to keep Willy happy and bright.
There are even more equivocal points in The Birthday Party. As stated by Dukore (1962), “each piece of knowledge is a half-knowledge” (p. 44). McBride (2012) also observes that “the only truth of The Birthday Party is that there is no truth”. Although the play is titled “The Birthday Party”, we remain uncertain whether it is Stanley’s birthday or not even after we have finished reading. Meg determines that it is Stanley’s birthday and she is hiding the secret that it is his birthday from Stanley; she also insists that though Stanley denies it. Azizmohammadi and Kohzadi analyze that the distinct versions from different characters enable various interpretations (2011). Another example is the interrogation scene, in which Goldberg and McCann keep forcing accusations on Stanley, who appears to be ignorant of the charges. For example, when McCann asks why Stanley left the organization, Stanley seems to have no idea of what they are talking about. As they contend that Stanley has killed his wife, it seems that only Goldberg and McCann understand what has happened and Stanley doesn't even know that he had a wife. What’s more, readers know very little about the intruders Goldberg and McCann. It is implied that they come from an organization which is somehow linked to Stanley, but we are not informed the background of the constitution and the reasons for Stanley’s treatment. Neither can we get any clue of what they are going to do with...