A Good Man Is Hard To Find Analysis Ap Language An Analysis of Characters’ Inner Threat in the Caretaker and Grice’s Concept of Implicature

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An Analysis of Characters’ Inner Threat in the Caretaker and Grice’s Concept of Implicature

A particular intended meaning can in fact be conveyed by any number of indirect speech acts. H.Paul Grice claims that people entering into conversation with each other tacitly agree to co-operate towards mutual communication ends, thus obeying the co-operate principle and its regulative conventions. He calls these conventions maxims and suggest that at least the following four obtain:

Maxim of Quantity:1. Make your contribution as informative as required for the current purpose of the exchange.

2. Do not give too much or too little information.

Maxim of Quality:

1. Make your contribution one that you believe to be true.

2. Do not say what you believe to be false and do not say what you lack evidence for.

Maxim of Relevance: Make your contribution relevant.

Maxim of Manner

1. Be perspicuous, specifically (clear)

2. Avoid obscurity and ambiguity, be brief and orderly (Herman, 1905).

The fact that speakers do not always obey maxims in conversation is precisely the essence of Grice’s theory. If an utterance does not appear to conform to this model, then we do not assume that the utterance is nonsense, rather we assume that an appropriate meaning is there to be inferred. In Grice’s terms, a maxim has been flouted, and an implicature generated. Grice (1975) distinguishes between what a sentence means and what someone means by uttering that sentence. Grice argues that conversation as far as the exchange of information is concerned is an endeavor and that what enables conversation to proceed is an underlying assumption that we as conversant have purpose for conversing. There is a relationship between the conversational meaning of an utterance and any implicit meaning it might have. Speakers can convey their intentions by a timeless number of utterances; it is up to the hearer to calculate the speaker’s intention. It would seem from this that the conversational principle is not about making the task of hearer straightforward; potentially, it is quite the reverse. It allows the speakers to make their utterances harder, rather than easier and expect the hearer to do the extra work necessary to interpret it. Grice calls this way of generating meaning an “implicature”. When we draw attention to our nonobservances or flout maxims we encourage our hearers to infer something about the reason for our behaviors, something about our knowledge or beliefs, and what hearers are encouraged to infer is what we implicate. The study of language in The Caretaker by Grice’s cooperative principles gives this chance to me as a writer of thesis to go within character’s mind to find out their inner intentions and their inner identity which is hidden behind their languages as a mask.

It has been noted that at the discourse level there is one to one mapping between linguistic form and utterance meaning. A particular intended meaning (which could be produced via a direct speech act) can, in fact, be conveyed by any number of indirect speech acts. Grice is concerned with this distinction between saying and meaning.

In his paper, “Logic and Conversation”, Grice (1975) argues that in order for a person to interpret what someone else says, some kind of cooperative principle must be assumed to be in operation. People assume, he argued, that there is a set of principles which direct us to a particular interpretation of what someone says, unless we receive some indication to the contrary. The cooperative principle says that we should aim to make our conversational contribution “such as is required, at the stage at which it occurs, by the accepted purpose or direction of the exchange in which we are engaged. Thus, when someone is speaking to us, we base our understanding of what they are saying on the assumption that they are saying what needs to be said. Grice is connected with the relationship between what a particular person meant on a particular occasion, and what a sentence or word means.

Grice said that hearers assume that speakers observe the cooperative principle and that it is the knowledge of the four maxims that allows hearers to draw inferences about the speaker’s intentions and implied meaning. The meaning conveyed by speakers and recovered as a result of the hearer’s inferences is known as conversational implicature. On some occasions, speakers appear not to follow the maxims but expect hearers to appreciate the meaning implied; we said that they are flouting the maxims. They purposely do not observe the maxim, and intend their hearer to be aware of this. Just as with an indirect speech act, the speaker implies a function different from the literal meaning of form. When flouting a maxim, the speaker breaks a maxim in a fragrant way, so that it is obvious to hearer that something is implied in speaker’s utterance. Here, the speaker is intending the hearer to infer some extra meaning over and above what is said. This is what we have been referring as implicature (Cutting, 2008).

A speaker can be said to violate a maxim when s/he knows that the hearer will not know the truth and will only understand the surface meaning of the words. S/he intentionally generates a misleading implicature (Thomas 1995); maxim violation is quietly deceiving. The speaker deliberately supplies insufficient information, this means that s/he breaks the maxim surreptitiously, or covertly, says something that is insincere, irrelevant or ambiguous, and the hearer wrongly assumes that they are cooperating. If a speaker violates the maxim of quantity, s/he does not give the hearer enough information to know what is being talked about, because s/he does not want the hearer to know the full picture. The speaker is not implying anything; s/he is “being economical with the truth”. The elements of uncertainty and ambiguity are the intrinsic parts of the modern and post modern man’s life. Pinter, professionally by means of these two concepts, asks for his audience’s help to find the meaning of his method and the secret of his impact of the stage. He creates his sense of uncertainty and ambiguity by means of “language”. One way of looking at Pinter’s characters’ speech is to say that it is a constant stratagem to cover nakedness. This statement means that, characters of Pinter’s play, The Caretaker, tries to communicate with others so as to overcome the threat and terror which they feel inside. In other words, the characters use language as a weapon to protect themselves against the unknown threat. This is how they use language as a cover to hide their real nature that is fully occupied with threat. Pinter is totally aware of people’s conflicts and complexes within their societies. He is completely aware of this fact that the modern man is in conflicts either with his inner threat which is the outcome of the consequences of two World Wars or search for verification by means of using language that was failed all the time.

Pinter has then, invented a drama of human relations at the level of language itself. He has created his language out of the failures of language that might occur as English is spoken, by frightened or evasive or sadistically playful characters. In Pinter’s dialogue we can always watch the desperate struggles of his characters to find the correct expression; we are thus enabling to see them in the very dramatic act of struggling for communication. Sometimes succeeding, often failing. Always, in Pinter’s world, personal inadequacy express itself in an inadequacy in coping with and using language. The inability to communicate, and to communication in correct terms, is felt by the characters as a mask of inferiority; that is, why they tend to dwell upon and to stress the hard and unusual “educated” words they know.

The Caretaker is one of the best models in which we can apply Grice’s cooperative principles because we see in Pinter’s dramatic language irrationality of everyday conversation, using bad syntax, tautologies, repetitions, pauses and silences and also self-contradictions which, in fact ,shows that real life conversation is not smooth and logically from point to point. His language illustrates man’s existential fear, not as an abstraction, not as surreal bizarre images, but as something real, ordinary and acceptable as an everyday occurrence; and here we can have the core of Pinter’s work as a dramatist. In this way, Pinter shows that the obstacles of establishing everyday conversation. In other words, to discover the language where under what is said another thing is being said. This is what Pinter makes us involve in seeking for underlying meaning of characters’ dialogues, because mostly the characters use language implicitly so as to hide their real intentions. By analyzing the characters’ dialogues from the Grice’s perspective of conversational implicatures and maxims the reason of using language in such way will clarify the inner intention and threat of characters which forces them to use language in this way.

Conversational Maxims and Implicatures in Relation to The Caretaker

Aston’s tolerance of Davies, which reveals his own generosity of spirit, is shown in his acceptance of the many occasions on which Davies breaks maxims, thus failing to uphold the co-operative principle. For example:

Aston. I went to the pub the other day. Ordered a Quinness. They gave it to me in a thin mug. I set down, but I couldn’t drink it. I can’t drink Quinness from a thick mug. I only like it out of a thin glass. I had a few sips but I couldn’t finish it.

Davies. If only the weather would break! Then I’d be able to get down to Sidcup.

( The Caretaker: 17)

In the mentioned exchange, Aston allows Davies’ change of topic though Davies shows his disregard for Aston’s interests and self concern by refusing to respond appropriately to his comment.

In the following exchange Aston violates the quantity and relevance maxim at the same time:

Davies. You getting in?

Aston. I’m mending this plug.

(The Caretaker: 19)

Although Aston accepts that it is a reasonable time to go to bed, must complete an urgent task first, mending the plug. Aston violates the quantity maxim by being economic with words in order to distract Davies and change the topic. Aston tried to treat Davies like a respectable man not a tramp. He tolerates Davies’s complains about his past job and had experiences of his past life. It seems that Aston tried to sympathize with Davies so as to keep him satisfied.

Most of the times, Davies intentionally violates maxims of quantity, quality and relevance to ignore answering Aston’s or Mick’s question when they ask about Davies’ country of origin. He tries to be unknown by others throughout the play. It is through conversational implicatures arising from Davies’ speech that his feelings too are manifested. His fear of Mick, Aston’s younger brother, emerges clearly and his own inferior position is reinforced. For example:

Mick: what’s your name?

Davies: I don’t know you. I don’t know who you are.

(The Caretaker: 20)

Davies flouts the maxim of relevance in answering to Mick’s question and this indicates his unwillingness to reveal his identity to a stranger. His wariness shows his recognition of Mick as a potentially powerful adversary as well as his profound mistrust of others and his desire of self-concealment.

The rising hostility that Davies feels towards Aston and his attempts to dominate him are revealed in his flouting of the quality and relevance maxims illustrated in the following utterance. This is given in response to Aston’s complains about noises Davies makes in his sleep:

Davies: what do you want me to do, stop breathing?

(The Caretaker: 64)

By flouting the quality maxim he says something that is obviously not Aston’s intent. By way of relevance, Davies can be seen that Aston’s requests are extremely unreasonable and not to be complied with.

The attitudes towards the co-operative principles and conversational implicatures that arise are very revealing about the relationship between Mick and Davies. The predatory, territorial instincts of Davies are recognized by Mick. His rejection of Davies and his right to the room is revealed in the following exchange which follows Mick telling Davies that he will share the penthouse with his brother:

Davies: what about me?

Mick: All this junk here, it’s no good to anyone.

(The Caretaker: 59)

The implicature generated is that Davies is excluded from the penthouse. Mick flouts the relevance maxim to distract Davies. He ignores to answer Davies’ question appropriately and this means that Mick indirectly shows his awareness of Davies’ territorial instincts. Davies’s interior motives are sharply perceived by Mick, as is revealed by his flouting the quality maxim in the utterance that follows. He says, with regard to Davies’ working abilities:

Mick: Christ! I must have been under a false impression.

(The Caretaker: 70)

By flouting the quality maxim, we infer that Mick has an ironic intent, his irony conveying and reemphasizing his profound understanding of Davies’s interior motives and his objections to them.

The dramatic significance of the pragmatic inferences arising from the characters’ observation and flouting of conversational maxims is seen in the insights thus gained into their personalities and relationships.


The language is seen to be functioning beyond its semantic form in the pragmatic inferences arising from the conversational implicatures examined. The dramatic significance of these inferences is evident in the insights provided into the characters’ psychological mechanisms. Their motives, fears, strengths and weaknesses are revealed through their treatment of the co-operative principle and manipulation of the other linguistic devices examined. Through this analysis of the linguistic devices and exchanges of The Caretaker, we witness Pinter’s creation of a new dynamic of language. Pinter shows the interrupted minds of people and the threat which cast a shadow on peoples’ life. Every time they try to communicate, the threat interferes so communication breakdowns and they stop more communication to stop more menace.

The threat is the basic reason of each character’s behavior. They all are scared from unknown threat that it might be the outcome of the consequences of two world wars. The years following two world wars were the years of fuel crisis, food shortages and housing shortages. People were not only suffered by mental pressures between two world wars but the threat of incoming next war. In this condition, people lost the real meaning of life. They are searching for their lost identity but every time they try it is failed. They never have true communication.

Aston never flouts or violates the maxim of quality, it means that he never mocks others or tells lies. He is the most generous character of the play who tries for communication so much. On the other hand, Mick treats Davies so harsh. He looks down on Davies and because of this he mostly flouts the maxim of quality. Under the surface of his aggressive behavior, Mick likes to communicates with others but threat reveals itself all the time and by flouting the quality maxim he exercises his power on Davies. Davies is tramp whose mind is completely occupied with threat. Because of his inner threat, he never trusts others, and never communicate with others. Mostly he tells lies in order to hide himself behind the mask of language. This is how the analysis of characters’ inner intention and threat is possible through analysis of characters’ dialogues in the Grice’s framework of conversational implicature.


Grice, H. P. (1975). ‘Logic and Conversation’. In Cole, P. & Morgant, J.

Syntax and Semantics, volume 3. new York: Academic Press.

Grice, H. P. (1981). ‘Presupposition and Conversational implicature’. In

Cole. P. Radical Pragmatics. New York: Academic Press.

Herman, V. (1905). Dramatic Discourse: Dialogue as Interpretation in Plays.

New York: Routlege.

Miller, A. (1998). Philosophy of language. London: UCL Press.

Eslin, M. (1970). The Peopled Wound: The Plays of Harold Pinter. London:

Eyre Methven

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