The catalyst, if not the lead role, in Pinter
's first performed, (but second written, after The Dumb Waiter
) play, The Birthday Party
Stanley Webber is listed in the very sparse dramatis personae provided by Pinter as 'a man in his thirties' . At the start of the play, the register of language used by Meg to describe him leads the audience into thinking that there is a child in the house; she says things like; 'I'm going to wake that boy! If doesn't get up soon he'll get no breakfast.' When Meg finally goes to fetch him, he enters, clad in pajamas. He sits and is waited on hand an foot by Meg and Petey. He complains that the milk in his cornflakes is off, and when Meg sulks over his refusal to eat 'his first course', he knows exactly how to manipulate her to make her bring out his next course. They first Act continues in this fashion. Stanley indeed appears as though a small child, sulking and wanting his own way. He treats Meg like dirt, and whilst this is not entirely without justification, his disgust for her painfully exposes her simplicity, evoking pathos on her part.
He fantasises about playing the piano again in 'Berlin, a nightclub- a fabulous salary, and all found... then we go on to Zagreb, Constantinople, Vladivostock- it's a round the world tour.' and reveals to an inattentive Meg that he gave a concert, once, 'at Lower Edmonton'. His speech is full of disparities, non sequiturs and former lives, and with Stanley as with other characters, nothing sure is ever known about his past.
Later in the Act, he sees a chance for escape in the form of the visiting Lulu who has come, unbeknownst to him, to drop off his present. See the exchange under Lulu for his desperation to leave this place in which he seems to have become trapped. When she offers him a compromise; 'Won't you take off your glasses?' - the glasses are key in this play, they seem to signify Stanley's resistance and non-conformism - he refuses and so loses his chance of freedom. Lulu leaves, saying 'You're a bit of a washout, aren't you?'
Goldberg and McCann then enter, and are watched by Stanley who had gone to the kitchen for a glass of water. When Goldberg leaves, Stanley emerges and McCann begins to work on him. His first measure is to stop him going out, and by the end of this section, Stanley is getting very worked up. This first climax removes any possibility of Stanley's departure, as his feeble efforts to leave or even to ingratiate himself with the highly sisinster McCann fall flat. Stanley seems to know Goldberg and McCann, (or does he?) and once they've got him seated they remove his glasses and interrogate him. This section is very powerful as the two men tower over this oppressed failed artist, mentally de-constructing him with vigour. Stanley snaps, and kicks Goldberg in the stomach. By the end of this sequence, Stanley has become more introverted and despondant than ever. Despite his protests that 'it isn't my birthday, Meg' when they are alone at the end of the Act, she gives him 'A drum. A boy's drum.' as he puts it, flatly. 'It's because you havn't got a piano.' As he puts it around his neck and begins to beat it steadily, he walks around the table. By the second time around, he is beating it faster and faster, and stops in front of Meg, face contorted and possessed .
Act 2 sees the Birthday Party itself. Goldberg organises proceedings. Throughout, Stanley sits, wordless, at the table. Meg, drunk, insists on blind man's buff, and McCann manages to gives the blindfold to Stanley. McCann takes his glasses, and snaps them. In a moment of horible tension, Stanley staggers around in complete silence for about a minute. Finding Meg, he slowly strangles her. Seeing what he is doing, Goldberg and McCann throw him off her. At this point, there is a blackout, McCann gets his torch, but drops it and it goes out. In the ensuing mayhem, Lulu cries; 'Someone's touching me!' and screams. When McCann finds the torch and looks around with it for Lulu, the beam rests on the table where Lulu is lying, as Stanley leans over her, giggling gently. The Act finishes with Goldberg and McCann aborting this prelude to rape, their shadows converging on Stanley's until they reach him, at which point *blackout* .
In Act 3, Stanley, in ill-fitting but smart suit, ( Pinter's directions ), is gently wooed by Goldberg and McCann, and offered images of conventional success: 'You'll be a statesman, ... you'll own yaghts'. He is limp, and can not/does not speak. Throughout this he simply stares into the middle distance, holding the shattered glasses in one hand. Forced by Goldberg to speak, his attempts at articulation are entirely unsuccesful. The breakdown of language has been achieved, as in The Caretaker. He is taken away 'to Monty' -a doctor, 'the best there is'- and Meg and Petey are left to live out the aftermath.
From this you can draw your own conclusions as to what Stanley 'represents', but one interpretation that I feel is worth consideration is an obvious one; Stanley = non-conformist fringe and Goldberg and McCann = society exacting punishment on threatening minorities. Thus the falseness of society is exposed, whilst the Stanleys of this world are not shown in an unrealistically benign light.