Themes

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Last Updated on February 25, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 355

Aging

Mrs. Rooney is a stand-in for all older adults in this play. The various forms of transportation she waits for are each metaphors for passage into a stage closer to death, with each one being a larger and faster vehicle. When they are eventually reunited, she and her husband, who is blind, discuss death and their difficulties at length. The husband's intense irritation with children can be seen as a form of jealousy, a resentment at their spryness and the long futures ahead of them. The title points to this theme as well—people "fall" into nothingness as they age, increasingly undervalued by society and then moved into death.

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The Pointlessness of Life

Much like Beckett's other plays, this play is premised on the existential idea that life is boring, senseless, and full of waiting. Mrs. Rooney waits for the train, and as she waits for the train, she waits for other people. When she interacts with other people who approach her, however, she is irate and has the urge to estrange herself from them. She is constantly moving between wanting connection and wanting solitude, the classic existential debate. As she is without children and alone whilst looking for her husband, her loneliness is especially visible.

Human Agency

The focus on human desire and the struggle to fulfill that desire is central to Mrs. Rooney's journey. She is waiting for much of the play, wondering about the train and demanding answers. Feeling out of control causes her much anxiety and, eventually, rage. She continues on in this way as others approach her and determine the course of her journey, while she continues to wait. Her struggle symbolizes the lack of agency in general for people, who must wait for external circumstances to determine the course of their lives and their deaths. She also does not seem to suspect her husband's role in the death of the child and the lateness of the train, suggesting that she is limited not only by time and space but also by knowledge. In keeping with Beckett's long tradition of absurdist plays, Mrs. Rooney has a void of options available to her.

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 350

All That Fall conveys the idea that existence is accidental and meaning tendentious, much as one finds it to be throughout Beckett’s dramatic writing. In this particular play, Beckett turns the limitations of the radio medium—its confinement to sounds and silence—to thematic advantage: The radio listeners’ functional blindness in respect to the action conveys, in itself, the idea that existence is dependent on the flick of a switch or the twirl of a knob.

More than any of Beckett’s plays, All That Fall is clearly set in a particular place and time: the Ireland of the 1950’s. Yet, for all of its local color, it is designed so as to take its listeners beyond the naturalistic frame of reference suggested by the idiomatic Hiberno-English dialect. The play does not have a conventional “setting” so much as an imaginary environment in which the various spiritual conflicts of the characters are symbolically enacted. The directions, for example, indicate that the various animal sounds do not precede, but follow, Mrs. Rooney’s comments on them—thus implying that the Rooneys’ universe is an environment which they themselves have constructed. At the same time, the play itself bears the marks of its author’s controlling hand: The careful listeners are reminded that they are experiencing an artful illusion. Thus, the leitmotifs of modes of travel, of rising and falling, of sterility and desire, and of debility and death, are woven in rhythmic patterns into a three-part sonata structure. Yet despite these structural constraints, the play has a measure of conventional suspense and rises to a final crescendo.

The tone of the play modulates from pure comedy to bitter pathos, as its bleak existential theme comes more clearly to the surface. Simultaneously, despite her bawdy humor, Maddy Rooney becomes a more sympathetic character. Thus the bitter laughter at the promises of religion does not obscure the audience’s feeling for her suffering. Moreover, by the conclusion, her emotional isolation has become an existential metaphor. At this point, it is clear that the play is an outcry against the silence of God.

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