Matters of the Heart: The Poetics of Trauma in Harold Pinter's Ashes to Ashes

Matthew Roberts

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Harold Pinter’s Ashes to Ashes, comprising an extended dialogue between two protagonists, Rebecca and Devlin, repeatedly returns to a “guide” who steals babies from their mothers at a railway station. This image has led Pinter scholars to interpret the play as a representation of the Shoah and its impact on Pinter’s life. However, during the play’s conclusion, Rebecca assumes the position of one of the mothers and, while ventriloquizing her, disavows the existence of her child at the very moment when another woman asks her to confirm the infant’s whereabouts. Rather than maintaining the customary position that Ashes to Ashes represents a specific historical atrocity, I read the play’s engagement with trauma through the figure of this abducted, but ultimately disowned, infant. Specifically, I attend to how the infant’s disappearance informs the poetic qualities of Ashes to Ashes as its heartbeat figures prominently throughout the play, resonates in its dialogue, and organizes its rhythmic structure. By examining how these poetic features situate Rebecca’s mode of listening as an exemplary ethico-political response to suffering, I propose an alternative to the interpretation of Pinter’s use of dramatic speech in terms of referentiality or language games.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)311-329
Number of pages19
JournalModern Drama
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2020


  • Affect
  • Deconstruction
  • Psychoanalysis
  • Telepathy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Literature and Literary Theory


Dive into the research topics of 'Matters of the Heart: The Poetics of Trauma in Harold Pinter's Ashes to Ashes'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this