What is a summary of the play Footfalls?

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dmahesh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Performed first in 1976 at the Royal Court Theatre, London, Footfalls, one of Beckett’s recent plays, is yet another classic addition to the theatre of the absurd. Before discussing a summary of Footfalls, it is necessary to keep in mind that Beckett was influenced by the French novelist Albert Camus on the concept of the absurd. Camus wrote that "the feeling of absurdity" arises because of the "divorce" "between man and his reality, the actor and his setting." Thus in the absurd world of Beckett, we find seclusion along with physical and psychic void. Beckett’s characters continue to do their work unobstructed though there is "nothing to be done." This is clearly demonstrated by characters like Vladimir, Estragon and Clov.

Footfalls is a monologue with layers of meanings. Human life has been compressed into a single extraordinary visual and auditory image. We encounter a variety of characters in the play engaged in various activities that are symptomatic of their discontent, familiarization, reliance and deprivation. We see an old man listening to the tape made in his youth though he fails to understand its meaning. There is a woman whose red lips become a source of verbal deluge. A daughter tries to demystify the moribund state of her mother and her own life. All of them are captivated by the ambience of the gloomy boxlike stage which works as a metaphor for the restricted life. But in spite of this, there is humanness in whatever the characters do.

The meaning of the play is conditioned by the stagecraft. There are four segments of the light and sound. At the end of each segment, light fades away into darkness and becomes dimmer. This signifies the transience of both time and life. May’s dialogue with his dying (or dead?) mother is probably a mental projection which reflects on topics like desolation, infirmity, birth, sorrow and reminiscences.
Footfalls thus is a vision of human experience. It questions life, its survival and insufficiencies. Like the footfalls of May and the voice of her dying mother, we all live mechanically, experiencing time, memory and loss in our own idiosyncratic ways and ultimately getting transformed into poor imitations of our own persona.

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