How is Samuel Beckett's novel Watt a comedy?
Samuel Beckett's writings are without peer in terms of the apparent incomprehensibility of "plots" and dialogue. His most well-known and performed work is, of course, "Waiting for Godot," the plot of which involves two tramps speculating about the impending arrival of the mysterious "Godot." That particular play presents a lengthy dialogue between the two main characters that meanders about without arriving at any particular resolution. Watt, similarly, cannot be appreciated through excessive attention to plot and dialogue, both of which seem to exist in a vacuum. Beckett's writings, however, are appropriately classified as "comedic" or "satirical" insofar as they emanate from the theater of the absurd. Watt is humorous because it is completely illogical and surrealistic. The humor lies in the expectation that there is a certain profundity lying beneath its absurd veneer. The ultimate joke, of course, is that there is a deeper meaning in Beckett's work than the indefinable subject matter would have us believe.
Watt involves the very strange journey of the title character from a train station to the home of Mr. Knott, his presumed new employer, for whom Watt will work as a servant. A large portion of the book's first half involves a protracted monologue by the individual whom Watt appears to be preparing to replace. Whether there is a deeper meaning in the following statements, however, is left for the reader to decide:
"It is useless not to seek, not to want, for when you cease to seek you start to find, and when you cease to want, then life begins to ram her fish and chips down your gullet until you puke, and then the puke down your gullet until you puke the puke, and then the puked puke until you begin to like it.”
"Of all the laughs that strictly speaking are not laughs, but modes of ululation, only three I think need detain us, I mean the bitter, the hollow and the mirthless. They correspond to successive… how shall I say successive… suc… successive excoriations of the understanding, and the passage from the one to the other is the passage from the lesser to the greater, from the lower to the higher, from the outer to the inner, from the gross to the fine, from the matter to the form. The laugh that now is mirthless once was hollow, the laugh that once was hollow once was bitter. And the laugh that once was bitter? Eyewater, Mr. Watt, eyewater. But do not let us waste our time with that. . . ."
Beckett's novel is considered a brilliant "black" comedy in that it defies convention and draws its humor from its absurdity. No real person speaks like the characters in Watt, but it is hilarious (to some) to witness or read dialogue that is so far removed from reality and so lacking in apparent meaning that is defies ready categorization.