Molloy/Malone Dies/The Unnamable Characters

Samuel Beckett

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Beckett’s works cannot be approached from the tradition of psychological characterization. He is not interested in building from the details of personal actions and reactions a recognizable portrait of an individual human being. Beckett’s reason for writing is singular: All of his efforts to stop doing so have failed. In this lies the essence of all “characterization” in Beckett. The protagonist, invariably the first-person narrator, is telling a story, his story, and it is coming out of him without order or deliberation, but inevitably, inexorably, inexhaustibly. Molloy, sitting at his desk, turning out page after page, is the author himself. Moran, hired to gather the pages, is the author as well, looking at himself writing. Malone, dying in his bed, is the author again, this time sorting out his “possessions” in his head, discovering once again that memories are as tangible and accountable as physical objects perceived through the senses. Even Malone’s apparent body death does not silence the eternal “I” of the author in The Unnamable, parading those characters as additions to the memories of the author who created them. The only psychological characteristics the reader can assign to the characters are an obsessive tendency toward self-examination, a compulsion to catalog, and an inability to stop “going on.”

As part of the incessant remembrances of the narrator, bits and pieces of other characters come to light in the “catalog”: Gaber’s businesslike indifference to Moran’s day off, Molloy’s girlfriend (whose name escapes him) in the garbage dump, Mrs. Lambert calling her chickens in. These fading “frescoes of the skull,” however, have no more substance than the narrator’s inventions (“I have often amused myself with trying to invent them, those same lost events”). Any effort to construct whole characters out of these bare clues will not come to fruition. More valuable is the observation that all Beckett’s characters share the same unromantic view of life, the same fascination with remembering, the same physical ailments of the legs and feet, the same gray landscape through which they wander, and the same attention to the possibility (never realized) of ending for good and all the scratchings of conscious thought on the skull of their unenviable existence.