The Kafkaesque theme of menace in Harold Pinter’s plays

Toprak, Elif
Harold Pinter is deeply intrigued by Franz Kafka’s fiction. Both writers’ works are imbued with ambiguity or mystery, and the feelings of disintegration, evasiveness, and domination. The atmosphere of menace and terror permeate their works. Kafka’s fiction is characterized by the existence of an invisible guilt, a prevailing sense of ambivalence and the impossibility to obtain knowledge from the omnipotent sources. The mainspring of menace in Pinter is usually the outside forces, which are latent and invisible. In Pinter’s violent dramatic world, the individuals are subjected to an unreasonable treatment of torture, imprisonment and dehumanization. His recurrent theme of torture is in fact traceable to Kafka’s themes of punishment and execution. The characters can find comfort neither in their physical surroundings nor in an understanding relationship with others, and finally they are driven into a state of disintegration of self-image. Man’s predicament is reflected in a layered manner, embarking on his relationship with the outside world, and then moving towards his inner anguish about the self. This study focuses on the common aspects of the two literary figures in terms of the concept of menace. The sense of menace is reflected in certain human feelings like fear, insecurity and hopelessness. Menace may appear in a number of ways including physical, psychological and mental ways. However, the characters, in both Kafka’s and Pinter’s works, make use of some defense mechanisms to cope with menace. Evasiveness and inaction are efficient in situations where the dominant character exerts his power by means of the information obtained through questioning the victim. Pinter’s characters also remain silent to protect themselves from the torture and violence exerted by the mechanism. The characters also question the system to gain insight to its true nature. Lastly, the individuals seek relief in self-delusion and denial of reality as the reality itself is essentially ruthless. All these coping strategies, however, prove fruitless in the end, and both Kafka’s and Pinter’s characters become a victim of unspecified menace.


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Citation Formats
E. Toprak, “The Kafkaesque theme of menace in Harold Pinter’s plays,” M.A. - Master of Arts, Middle East Technical University, 2008.