Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
If Waiting for Godot recalls France during the Nazi occupation, where people waited in desolate spots for others who might or might not appear, Endgame recalls a bizarre bomb shelter in the wake of Hiroshima and worse disasters, or perhaps the post-Freudian human skull. In the center, at his own request, sits Hamm, a ham-actor or failed Hamlet, often confusing himself with King Lear, now blind and immobile, confined to a makeshift wheelchair that more closely resembles a throne mounted on casters. Downstage, contained in trash cans, are Hamm’s parents Nagg and Nell, left legless after a tandem-bicycle accident years earlier in the Ardennes. The only character left standing is Cloy, who suffers from an ailment that keeps him from sitting down and who may or may not be Hamm’s son.
In many ways, Hamm recalls Pozzo of Waiting for Godot. Used to the exercise of power, turning blindness to his own advantage as he spins his dreams and memories into delusions of grandeur, Hamm rules his shrinking domain with the endless “mind games” alluded to in the play’s title, drawn from the game of chess. “Me to play,” says Hamm in the first line of the English version, delivered after nearly five minutes of illuminated stage business on the part of Cloy. Using his own French original, Beckett might better have translated the line as “It’s my turn, now,” to be delivered in a childish, churlish tone.
(The entire section is 526 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
The world is nearing its end when Clov begins another day. He carefully surveys his employer’s unfurnished living space, then with the aid of a ladder looks out each window. With a single laugh, he seems to sum up what he sees. He then moves on to uncover two trash cans, one at a time, and looks inside each. With a brief laugh once again, he sums up what he sees within and then replaces the lids. He goes to remove the sheet that is covering the man he is caring for, Hamm, who sits in a makeshift wheelchair made of a wooden armchair on casters. Hamm is dressed in a housecoat, socks, a felt hat, and dark glasses to cover his sightless eyes.
Hamm awakens slowly and pulls off the bloodstained handkerchief that has been covering his face. Then, Clov says “it” is nearly finished. Hamm talks briefly to himself, ending his little monologue by saying that it is time to play the game. The two men talk about their daily routines, about each day being filled with the same questions and the same answers.
Clov, although able to stand and walk, is unable to sit down. Through habit, he has learned how to parry Hamm’s orders and insults by talking back and by taking his time about doing as he is told. More than once, Clov threatens to leave Hamm for good, yet he continues the repartee with Hamm until interrupted by Hamm’s father, Nagg, who lifts the lid on his trash can to beg for pap, food that is commonly given to the elderly or to infants.
Nagg pounds on the lid of the other can until his wife, Nell, pokes her head out. He asks her if she wants to make love, but because they are both in trash cans and have no legs, this is quite impossible. From their conversation, it becomes clear that Nagg and Nell lost their legs years earlier in a tandem accident and are now forced to live in the trash cans. Hamm, supposedly trying to sleep, tells his parents to be quiet, yet Nagg rambles on, regaling Nell with a long, involved joke that she has heard from him...
(The entire section is 810 words.)