What are the common themes of Eliot, Joyce, and Beckett?
These three post-modern writers were, as Beckett puts it, “trying to eff the ineffable.” In this period of literature, writers were past the realistic, socially-oriented, plot-driven prose of previous eras. Eliot, in “The Love-Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” abandoned any pretense of order or form, choosing instead to give images to the reader’s imagination of the very state of human existence, its triviality, its convoluted self-importance, its limitations built into our self-consciousness, its “Time for you and time for me,/And time yet for a hundred indecisions,/And for a hundred visions and revisions.”
Joyce did roughly the same thing – dismissal of the real, the now, the meaningful -- by reexamining the limitations of language, by inventing new combinations, new possibilities, outside the “historical” dictionary that merely recorded “frozen” signifiers. Finnegan’s Wake thumbed its nose at all the normative expectations of plot, character, development, etc. that had taken the life out of prose.
Beckett’s work, especially his plays, broke apart the connection between motive and action, between purpose and existence. In his short stories, too, he re-examined the nature of the first-person narrator and the reader; for example in “How It Is” (in French a clever play on words – Comment C’est – (Commencer”, “to commence”), he omits the traditional punctuation, so that the reader can supply it without “rules.”
So the common theme among these three writers is: “What has been done is done, and now it is time for literature/language to free itself from all the artificial, history-imposed limitations, because Man himself has moved from “essence precedes existence” to “existence precedes essence.” Which is essentially the definition of “post-modern.”