Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Asylum or hospital

Asylum or hospital. Malone does not know where he is or how he got here, and since he is alone, no one else can answer his questions. All he can know for sure is that he is alone, disoriented, and baffled. Most immediately he is reliant on information his senses can provide, but since he is no longer capable of negotiating the world under his own power, what he can tell readers must come first of all from a fixed position. That he is in a room of spare furnishings is obvious enough simply from glancing around, and there is at least prima facie information that this room is in an institution of some kind, most likely an asylum. It is in any case the last stop on the train line, a home for the wretched.

Both the personal experiences Malone recounts and the tales he relates to amuse himself blur fiction with fact. Yet Samuel Beckett’s most careful readers have speculated where Malone is by taking clues from geographical details that his uttered memories contain. Given these memories, one speculation is that Malone is somewhere south of Dublin, Ireland, where Beckett spent time as a boy. For example, Malone recalls listening as a child to the barking of dogs at night in nearby hills. It has been suggested that this allusion is Beckett himself recalling hearing dogs from the hills west of Carrickmine, a pastoral area outside Dublin.

The primary “place” of the novel is inside Malone’s own mind, and that is central to what the novel is about. It is probably futile to expect fully to understand Malone Dies in terms of conventional notions of time and space. Try as Malone does to accept his fate, try as he does to surrender to the way of all flesh, Malone’s mind will not relent. This, above all, is what Malone Dies is about: the relentless struggle of human consciousness to sort through sensory data independent of whether or not that data are reliable, its struggle to organize, to find a pattern that makes sense of experience.

Malone Dies Bibliography

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Binns, Ronald. “Beckett, Lowry, and the Anti-Novel.” In The Contemporary English Novel, edited by John Russell Brown and Bernard Harris. Stratford-upon-Avon studies 18. London: Edward Arnold, 1979. Binns finds that the center of attention is the narrator himself, a garrulous confabulator who undermines confidence in the reality of any world offered by such writing, suggesting that all writing has credibility problems.

Kenner, Hugh. Samuel Beckett: A Critical Study. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968. The definitive work on Beckett. Kenner reads a text like a detective, uncovering not so much clues as a network of references, literary, historical, and personal. He also provides useful figures to help readers imagine what Beckett’s concerns and intentions might be. He places Beckett in relation to James Joyce and Marcel Proust.

Kern, Edith. “Black Humor: The Pockets of Lemuel Gulliver and Samuel Beckett.” In Samuel Beckett Now, edited by Melvin J. Friedman. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970. Kern ties together a number of Beckett’s works by tracing the theme of pockets and the objects they contain. “Yet even the human mind is envisioned by Beckett as a pocket.” She helps clarify passages in Malone Dies by evoking similar passages in Waiting for Godot (1952) and How It Is, Molloy (1951). She also suggests precedents for Beckett’s satirical vision in Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726).

Lorich, Bruce. “The Accommodating Form of Samuel Beckett.” Southwest Review 55 (Au-tumn, 1970): 354-369. Lorich builds his argument around a phrase Beckett stated in an interview: “To find a form that accommodates the mess, that is the task of the artist now.” The “mess” is the postmodern world; Beckett’s plays, novels, and poems are various formal attempts to contain and depict it. Lorich asserts that Beckett’s style counters the absurdity of human beings overwhelmed by technology.

Sachner, Mark J. “The Artist as Fiction: An Aesthetics of Failure in Samuel Beckett’s Trilogy.” The Midwest Quarterly 18, no. 2 (1977): 144-155. Sachner sees Beckett’s trilogy as metafiction. The movement away from plot and toward “the acrobatics of language.” The protagonist-narrators focus on their own need to be telling the story. He emphasizes Beckett’s affinities with Edgar Allan Poe and Fyodor Dostoevski.