All That Fall Essay - Critical Essays

Critical Context

Since Waiting for Godot, Beckett has written numerous dramatic texts for stage, radio, and screen, and fictional works of progressive conciseness. Throughout his creative career, he chose to write many of his works in French, preferring the detachment and spareness it gave him to the emotional topheaviness of his native English. These works reflect his wide reading in Western philosophy, religion, and literature—Dante, Rene Descartes, Arnold Geulincx, Arthur Schopenhauer, Carl Gustav Jung—as well as his affinities with modern film and theater—Charlie Chaplin, Antonin Artaud, and the anti-commercial French art theater. Beckett’s plays, in turn, have had wide influence on the serious drama of postwar Europe, in the existential Theater of the Absurd.

On the naturalistic level, this play has a strong Irish flavor. Boghill is Beckett’s native Foxrock, with its suburban railway station and Leopardstown Race Course. The outlook of Dublin middle-class Protestants is reflected in the mental habits of the Rooneys and the unconscious bigotry of Miss Fitt. The bawdy and black humor, the extravagant language, the cheery mix of references to weather, sports, religion, and the contemptuous familiarity of village life all add up to a humorous impression of an Irish scene. In these respects, All That Fall is much less austere than a typical Beckett play.

When Samuel Beckett was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1969, the committee praised “a body of work that, in new forms of fiction and the theatre, has transmuted the destitution of modern man into his exaltation.” His major original contribution to modern drama is his bold forging of a unity between the medium, the method, and the meaning of each work. Beckett has a disciplined, subtle, and educated imagination, which takes a radical view of the relationship between the sounds, gestures, and symbols of drama. Beckett’s art arises from the conflict between the prospect of metaphysical nihilism and the refusal to be dumbfounded: His successive works continue to generate provisional meaning out of experience which is at bottom absurd. In this way, despite the grim spiritual suffering which is its constant subject, Beckett’s work—for its brilliance, its intellectuality, its humor, and its utter sincerity—is a defiant vindication of the human soul.