The Birthday Party

by

Harold Pinter

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McCann Character Analysis

Goldberg’s associate. An Irishman who takes orders from Goldberg, McCann doesn’t know why he has been assigned to locate Stanley Webber and remove him from Meg and Petey’s boarding house. Nonetheless, he carries out his duties, acting as Goldberg’s muscle and helping him to psychologically unhinge Stanley. Like the other characters in The Birthday Party, McCann has a confusing past, such that it’s difficult to know what kind of life he has actually led until now. Nonetheless, Goldberg tells Lulu in Act III that McCann is a recently unfrocked priest, prompting McCann to pressure her into confessing her sins (though she runs away before doing so). And yet, McCann is perhaps more sensitive than he appears, considering that he seems troubled by his final interactions with Stanley. Indeed, when Goldberg asks for an update on Stanley’s mental state the day after the calamitous birthday party, McCann says, “I’m not going up there again,” insisting that he won’t return to Stanley’s room because of the fact that he (Stanley) has gone completely quiet—a fact that seems to unnerve him. Still, whether or not he empathizes with Stanley, McCann doesn’t hesitate to help Goldberg remove him from the house at the end of the scene, carting him away despite Petey’s protests.

McCann Quotes in The Birthday Party

The The Birthday Party quotes below are all either spoken by McCann or refer to McCann. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Ambiguity, Meaninglessness, and Absurdity Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Samuel French edition of The Birthday Party published in 2011.
Act One Quotes

MCCANN. This job—no, listen—this job, is it going to be like anything we’ve ever done before?

[…]

GOLDBERG. The main issue is a singular issue and quite distinct from your previous work. Certain elements, however, might well approximate in points of procedure to some of your other activities. All is dependent on the attitude of our subject. At all events, McCann, I can assure you that the assignment will be carried out and the mission accomplished with no excessive aggravation to you or myself. Satisfied?

MCCANN. Sure. Thank you, Nat.

Related Characters: Goldberg (speaker), McCann (speaker), Stanley Webber
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:
Act Two Quotes

STANLEY. You’re here on a short stay?

MCCANN. That’s right.

STANLEY. You’ll find it very bracing.

MCCANN. Do you find it bracing?

STANLEY. Me? No. But you will. […] I like it here, but I’ll be moving soon. Back home. I’ll stay there too, this time. No place like home. (He laughs.) I wouldn’t have left, but business calls. Business called, and I had to leave for a bit. You know how it is.

MCCANN. You in business?

STANLEY. No. I think I’ll give it up. I’ve got a small private income, you see. I think I’ll give it up. Don’t like being away from home. I used to live very quietly—play records, that’s about all. Everything delivered to the door. Then I started a little private business, in a small way, and it compelled me to come down here—kept me longer than I expected. You never get used to living in someone else’s house. Don’t you agree? I lived so quietly. You can only appreciate what you’ve had when things change. That’s what they say, isn’t it?

Related Characters: Stanley Webber (speaker), McCann (speaker)
Page Number: 34
Explanation and Analysis:

You know what? To look at me, I bet you wouldn’t think I’d led such a quiet life. The lines on my face, eh? It’s the drink. Been drinking a bit down here. But what I mean is…you know how it is…away from your own…all wrong, of course…I’ll be all right when I get back…but what I mean is, the way some people look at me you’d think I was a different person. I suppose I have changed, but I’m still the same man that I always was. I mean, you wouldn’t think, to look at me, really…I mean, not really, that I was the sort of bloke to—to cause any trouble, would you? (MCCANN looks at him.) Do you know what I mean?

Related Characters: Stanley Webber (speaker), McCann
Page Number: 36
Explanation and Analysis:

GOLDBERG. You stink of sin.

MCCAN. I can smell it.

GOLDBERG. Do you recognise an external force?

STANLEY. What?

GOLDBERG. Do you recognise an external force?

MCCAN. That’s the question!

GOLDBERG. Do you recognise an external force, responsible for you, suffering for you?

STANLEY. (Starting up.) It’s late.

GOLDBERG. (Pushes him down.) Late! Late enough! When did you last pray?

MCCAN. He’s sweating!

GOLDBERG. When did you last pray?

Related Characters: Stanley Webber (speaker), Goldberg (speaker), McCann (speaker)
Page Number: 45
Explanation and Analysis:

GOLDBERG. Is the number 846 possible or necessary?

STANLEY. Neither.

GOLDBERG. Wrong! Is the number 846 possible or necessary?

STANLEY. Both.

GOLDBERG. Wrong! It’s necessary but not possible.

STANLEY. Both.

GOLDBERG. Wrong! Why do you think the number 846 is necessarily possible?

STANLEY. Must be.

GOLDBERG. Wrong! It’s only necessarily necessary! We admit possibility only after we grant necessity. It is possible because necessary but by no means necessary through possibility. The possibility can only be assumed after the proof of necessity.

MCCANN. Right!

GOLDBERG. Right? Of course right! We’re right and you’re wrong, Webber, all along the line.

Related Characters: Stanley Webber (speaker), Goldberg (speaker), McCann (speaker)
Page Number: 46
Explanation and Analysis:
Act Three Quotes

All my life I’ve said the same. Play up, play up, and play the game. Honour thy father and thy Mother. All along the line. Follow the line, the line, McCann, and you can’t go wrong. What do you think, I’m a self-made man? No! I sat where I was told to sit. I kept my eye on the ball. School? Don’t talk to me about school. Top in all subjects. And for why? Because I’m telling you, I’m telling you, follow my line? Follow my mental? Learn by heart. Never write down a thing. No. And don’t go too near the water. And you’ll find—that what I say is true. Because I believe that the world…(Vacant.) … Because I believe that the world…(Desperate.) … BECAUSE I BELIEVE THAT THE WORLD…(Lost. He sits in armchair.) Sit down, McCann, sit here where I can look at you. (McCann sits on the footstool. Intensely, with growing certainty.) My father said to me, Benny, Benny, he said, come here. He was dying. I knelt down. By him day and night. Who else was there? Forgive, Benny, he said, and let live. Yes, Dad. Go home to your wife. I will, Dad. Keep an eye open for low-lives, for schnorrers and for layabouts. He didn’t mention names. I lost my life in the service of others, he said, I’m not ashamed. Do your duty and keep your observations. Always bid good morning to the neighbours. Never, never forget your family, for they are the rock, the constitution and the core!

Related Characters: Goldberg (speaker), McCann
Page Number: 72
Explanation and Analysis:
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McCann Character Timeline in The Birthday Party

The timeline below shows where the character McCann appears in The Birthday Party. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act One
Order, Chaos, and Sanity Theme Icon
Lulu leaves, a knock sounds on the door, and Stanley exits as Goldberg and McCann enter carrying suitcases. “Is this it?” McCann asks, and Goldberg tells him not to worry.... (full context)
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As Goldberg continues to reminisce about his uncle’s advice, McCann grows increasingly worried that they haven’t come to the right house. “What is it, McCann?... (full context)
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After complimenting Goldberg, McCann asks him if “this job” will be “like anything [they’ve] ever done before.” In response,... (full context)
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Meg enters the living room, and Goldberg tells her that he and McCann spoke to Petey about staying in the boarding house. “Very pleased to meet you,” Meg... (full context)
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Meg tells Goldberg and McCann that she wishes Stanley could play the piano tonight, since it’s his birthday. “His birthday?”... (full context)
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After showing Goldberg and McCann their room, Meg comes downstairs again and speaks to Stanley in the living room. “Who... (full context)
Act Two
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That evening, McCann sits at the table and slowly tears a newspaper into “five equal strips” while Goldberg... (full context)
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“Excuse me,” Stanley says, moving to leave. However, McCann doesn’t let him pass, saying, “Why don’t you stay here?” Giving up, Stanley sits at... (full context)
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Stanley reiterates to McCann that he intends to return home, saying that he “used to live very quietly.” He... (full context)
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Recognizing that McCann is Irish, Stanley invites him to a nearby pub that serves Guinness, but Petey and... (full context)
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...too much for granted.” To him, though, birth is a wonderful thing to celebrate. When McCann enters with an armful of bottles, Stanley tells him to get the alcohol out of... (full context)
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Stanley refuses to sit, so Goldberg tells McCann to force him to do so. When Stanley holds his ground, McCann repeats the command:... (full context)
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...wore the previous week, and why he left “the organization.” “Why did you betray us?” McCann chimes in. They then ask who Stanley thinks he is before inquiring as to when... (full context)
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“You betrayed the organization,” McCann says. “I know him!” In response, Stanley shouts that McCann doesn’t know him, but McCann... (full context)
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Finally, Goldberg and McCann ask Stanley to answer whether the chicken or the egg came first, and Stanley screams... (full context)
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...to the side. “Switch out the light and put on your torch,” he says to McCann, ordering his associate to point the flashlight into Stanley’s face while everyone else stands up... (full context)
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...she concludes her speech, she starts crying, and Goldberg pronounces her words “beautiful” and orders McCann to turn on the lights. At this point, Lulu slips in and meets Goldberg, who... (full context)
Isolation, Freedom, and Independence Theme Icon
...world,” he says to Stanley. “It’s a lonely pillow to kip on.” He then tells McCann to turn out the lights, and they all drink. (full context)
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When the lights go on again, Meg and McCann fall into conversation while Goldberg and Lulu flirt with one another. As each pair converses,... (full context)
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...that she likes older men and that Goldberg looks like her first true love—Meg and McCann also become rather friendly. Reminiscing about their childhoods, they lose themselves in their memories without... (full context)
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Walking blindfolded through the living room, Meg finds McCann, who—when he plays the blind man—finds Stanley. All the while, Goldberg and Lulu fondle one... (full context)
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Just as Goldberg and McCann get Stanley to let go of Meg, the lights suddenly go out, leaving everyone in... (full context)
Act Three
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...she has run out of cornflakes and has nothing to feed him because Goldberg and McCann have eaten all the fried bread. Still, Petey sits and reads his newspaper as always,... (full context)
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...know that.” She has, she reveals, already been upstairs to give Stanley his tea, but McCann opened the door and informed her that “they were talking.” “Do you think they know... (full context)
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When McCann comes downstairs with two suitcases, Goldberg says, “Well?” but McCann doesn’t respond. Finally, when Goldberg... (full context)
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Goldberg informs Petey that he and McCann will most likely leave before Meg returns. Accepting this, Petey goes to check on his... (full context)
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Goldberg tells McCann to look in his mouth, saying he wants his “opinion.” As McCann peers into his... (full context)
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“And don’t go too near the water,” Goldberg tells McCann. “And you’ll find—that what I say is true. Because I believe that the world …... (full context)
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Isolation, Freedom, and Independence Theme Icon
...taught him while dying. “All the same, give me a blow,” he adds, looking at McCann. “Blow in my mouth.” Obliging this request, McCann stands, bends over, and blows into Goldberg’s... (full context)
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Sensing that Lulu wants to speak to Goldberg in private, McCann steps out. “I’ve had enough games,” she says, and then accuses him of taking advantage... (full context)
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After Lulu leaves, McCann goes upstairs and fetches Stanley, who arrives dressed in “striped trousers, black jacket, and white... (full context)
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...in the car” for him, but Petey remains rooted where he stands. As Goldberg and McCann take Stanley out the door, Petey screams, “Stan, don’t let them tell you what to... (full context)
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When Meg comes home, she doesn’t know that Goldberg and McCann have taken Stanley. Sitting at the table, she asks if the two guests have already... (full context)