Ben’s newspaper symbolizes his struggle to exert power over Gus and also the broader link between power, violence, and intimidation. The Dumb Waiter opens with Ben reading a newspaper, as he does sporadically throughout the play. From the start, Ben’s newspaper establishes him as the more educated, refined, and competent of the two characters (as Ben reads the newspaper, Gus struggles to tie his shoelaces), and this suggests that he is the pair’s “senior partner”—the one with the higher social status. The newspaper’s symbolic resonance comes from the way Ben uses it as a prop to exert his dominance over Gus. Throughout the play, Ben repeatedly “slams” the newspaper onto his bed or lowers it so that he can stare at Gus whenever Gus does or says something that Ben perceives as a threat to his power. For instance, after Gus suggests that a story about a young boy who watched his sister kill a cat is wrong—that it was actually the boy who killed the cat and lied that his sister did it—Ben agrees with Gus, and then he violently slams the paper onto the bed. Ben seems intimidated by Gus’s perceptive take on the story, perhaps believing that Gus’s insight jeopardizes Ben’s status as the smarter and more powerful partner—or that Gus is intentionally trying to undermine Ben. To ensure that Gus remembers that Ben is in charge, Ben slams the paper onto the bed in a violent gesture that warns Gus that there will be consequences—potentially violent ones—if Gus inadvertently challenges Ben’s authority again.
Ben’s Newspaper Quotes in The Dumb Waiter
BEN. It’s enough to make you want to puke, isn’t it?
GUS. Who advised him to do a thing like that?
BEN. A man of eighty-seven crawling under a lorry!
GUS. It’s unbelievable.
BEN. It’s down here in black and white.