Samuel Beckett Questions and Answers

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I need a full analysis and themes for the play Not I by Samuel Beckett.

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Concepcion Cobbs eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Beckett's Not I is a powerful, yet short play. Its only character is a disembodied mouth, which recounts to viewers the tragic story of its life. The voice describes four important events from its life:

  • Lying face down in the grass
  • Standing in a supermarket
  • Sitting on a mound in Croker's Acre
  • And "that time at court"

The mouth describes these events through jumbled sentences, which are uttered at a ferocious pace. Although Not I's dialog is important, much of the play's power comes from the way in which it is delivered. The frantic nature of the voice helps audiences to unearth the play's meaning.

Beckett himself has said that he hoped this play would "work on the nerves of the audience, not its intellect." In other words, his dream for the play is to stir feelings within those who watch it rather than making them think about it on a logical level. Try re-watching the play and focusing on the feelings Not I arouses in you for more clarity on the specific emotions Beckett hoped to inspire.

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Not I is a...

(The entire section contains 4 answers and 638 words.)

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kc4u | Student

Beckett's Not I is a radical play in terms of its stage-image, a spot-light on just a mouth blabbering its way with the rest of the stage in dark. It is a monologue of this female mouth--an act of compulsive confession, a trial of sorts where language is used in terms of excrement. It marks Beckett's absolute precision and a move towards the later works, which are now known as the 'dramaticules' after Come and Go.

The Themes:--

1. Self-alienation, physical reduction is something that informs the minimalist form of the play as well as its protagonist. As the title implies, there is an impossible gulf between the speaking subject and the real self. This fracture can be seen as an evocation of the Freudian unconscious as characterized by Lacan as something like a language. according to Lacan, the Unconscious is also a discourse of the other. Not I points towards that kind of alterity. The schism may also be seen as a post-structuralist problematic of the decentring of the speaking subject through speech.

2. Feminism, especially the French variety has been used a lot in interpreting this play. Beckett continuously highlights the gender of the subject with the repetition of the word 'she' with exclamation. From this theoretical perspective, the play can be seen as a critique of the phallogocentric order of language where the female subject is always alienated as an other and thus the desire to reclaim that gendered feminine self.

3. Not I is a play about torture--the lethal problematic of darkness and a speck of light in it. As Beckett always opined, it is the remainder of light in the dark which makes reality so chaotic.

4. At a visual level, the play is a painting of fear. The movement of the lips dominates the thematic content of the words. There is a desire to stop this torrent of speech but it remains uncontrollable. The moving lips can be seen as a symbol of female genitalia.

5. The play has memory of definite scenes in the random speech of the mouth. Whether it is the lavatory scene or the courtroom scene of trial or the surrealistic scene of the drying teardrops on the surface of the palms on the vast corn-field--there is the working of the uncanny mutability of the self.