All That Fall Essay - Critical Evaluation

Samuel Beckett

Critical Evaluation

First broadcast by the British Broadcasting Corporation on January 13, 1957, All That Fall is Samuel Beckett’s first and, arguably, most substantial radio play. Quite apart from the insights it provides into this controversial and significant author’s overall output and imaginative vision, the play also represents a comparatively rare conjunction of an avant-garde artist and a mass medium. As such, it represents both a milestone in the history of radio drama—a literary form taken much more seriously in European artistic circles than in American—and in the diversification of Beckett’s aesthetic range.

What ultimately gives the play substance is the same distinctive approach that distinguishes all this artist’s works: the manner in which it challenges—and even satirizes—the medium through which it is being produced. Yet, on a superficial level, the play seems to be a departure for Beckett. Despite its unprepossessing name, the setting of Boghill bears a recognizable relationship to Foxrock, the community in county Dublin, Ireland, where Beckett grew up. This relationship is to some degree strengthened by the proximity of a racecourse in the play. Foxrock is quite close to the premier racing venue of Leopardstown. Although commentators have strongly discouraged neat and exclusive identifications of Beckett characters with real-life counterparts, Beckett’s father did commute to the city by train. Protestantism looms large in a number of the characters’ existences, including the Rooneys’, and Beckett’s background was Protestant.

Another distinctive feature of All That Fall is that it is an uncharacteristically populist work for Beckett. While the range of characters is comparatively narrow, it suggests a more common social world and the roles, mannerisms, and equipment used in order to represent oneself within it. These roles—the stationmaster, the clerk of the racecourse, and so on—are clearly identified. Other nominally realistic features of the play include weather, sound effects, a superficially conventional sense of time, and a marked use of colloquial and idiomatic English as it is spoken in Ireland. Like all Beckett plays, All That Fall also appears to be structured in terms of the Aristotelian unities of time, place, and action.

At the same time, however, the play subverts these ostensibly reliable, and essentially commonplace, elements. The name of Boghill is an oxymoron. Two types of terrain are contained in it, each of which, in its own distinct and opposite way, makes forward movement difficult. While the name may indeed convey Irish resonances, its evocative relationship to the Rooneys’ progress seems more to the imaginative point. This relationship may be further appreciated...

(The entire section is 1134 words.)