What does Winnie think about words? (Happy days)

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Winnie, a middle-aged woman, is inexplicably buried in a mound in the play Happy Days. In Act 1 we see her buried up to her waist. She whiles away her time cataloging the contents of her bag and peering at the words printed on her toothbrush. A startling development takes place in the second act when we see Winnie buried up to her neck and all she has is her words. Her partner, Willie, is buried in a hole behind her and speaks only a few words during the play.

In an uninterrupted monologue, Winnie reflects on language and its meaning, the pleasures of repetition, the reassurance of habit, and the desire to be heard. She recalls half-forgotten quotations, traumatic events from childhood, early sexual encounters, and all the while laments on "how words fail."

Happy Days is symbolic of failed reciprocation. It compels us to re-examine the validity of our responses to life's situations.

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Remember that Winnie is not a “character” in the modern sense of the word – not a psychological entity who “thinks” (that is, has an opinion or intellectual awareness). Winnie’s  words are utterances with a simple motive: to utter; they exist as spontaneous verbal reactions to the extremely limited outer world (things in her bag, her parasol, etc.); that is, to assign any other motives or speech acts to them is to mistake her function as a representative of the human ability to think.  Granted, she prays, and seems to think that prayers are effective, “not for naught,” and she refrains from complaining (“mustn’t complain”), and she reads her prescription bottle, and she addresses Willie, and envies his ability to sleep, but nowhere does she comment on the fact that she is speaking.  For Beckett, speech is the involuntary act of  the mind, which “passes the time” (Waiting for Godot) but is basically devoid of content (see Lucky’s monologue in Godot as an exemplary model).  

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