The Dumb Waiter


Harold Pinter

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Themes and Colors
Class Anxiety and Power  Theme Icon
Absurdism and Meaninglessness  Theme Icon
Obedience to Authority  Theme Icon
Conformity vs. Individuality  Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Dumb Waiter, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Class Anxiety and Power

The Dumb Waiter follows two hitmen, Ben and Gus, as they wait in a windowless basement room for their target to arrive. From the start, the play’s dismal setting makes it clear that Ben and Gus’s status as low-level criminals places them on a lower rung of the social hierarchy than the people they work for—and this low social position leaves them vulnerable to suffering, mistreatment, and exploitation. Their boss, an unseen man named…

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Absurdism and Meaninglessness

The Dumb Waiter, first performed in 1960, contains elements of absurdist theater. Absurdism is a genre of fiction in which characters experience situations that call into question the fundamental meaning of life and point to the ultimate futility of the human condition. Works of absurdist fiction typically focus on the existential anxiety characters experience as a result of these experiences. Characters often must perform purposeless, repetitive tasks that demonstrate their lives’ meaninglessness. The Dumb

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Obedience to Authority

The Dumb Waiter tells the story of Ben and Gus, hired assassins who spend the entirety of the play awaiting word from their superior (Wilson) that it’s time to carry out that night’s hit. Throughout the play, the men receive coded, often incomprehensible instructions from their higher-ups about the hit. For instance, they receive an unmarked envelope from an unseen, unknown source containing 12 matches—and no accompanying note of explanation. Midway…

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Conformity vs. Individuality

As hitmen Ben and Gus sit waiting in a windowless, sparsely decorated basement room for the arrival of their target, Ben passes the time by reading a newspaper. He describes the stories he reads to Gus. One story is about an old man who, unable to find a way to walk across a traffic-congested street, decides to take an unconventional risk: he crawls underneath a lorry (a truck) in an attempt to pass underneath the…

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