All That Fall Summary
In this one-act radio play, Samuel Beckett focuses on the character of Maddy Rooney, addressing her relationship to her husband, Dan Rooney. The Rooneys live in a small Irish town. Because the play is performed on the radio, Beckett’s composition prods audiences’ imagination and emphasizes oral qualities: the audience never sees the characters or setting, but they hear the dialogue, music, and other audio effects—many of which are performed by the actors.
The play opens with the sounds of animals, such as sheep and cows, all of which the actors voice. The audience thus understands that the setting is rural. The next sounds are made by Maddy as she walks through the town. The audience hears the sound of her feet dragging and the grunts from her apparent exertions.
As she walks along, Maddy passes houses in the town, which may be identified from music she hears coming from then, and other townspeople pass her. They are often driving horse-drawn vehicles. From the first house, she hears a recording of a Franz Schubert string quartet; it sticks in her head, and she continues to sing it to herself. One vehicle that passes is a dung-cart that her neighbor Christy drives. The actors also voice the horses’ hooves clopping. Mr. Slocum, driving a car, offers her a ride, but she declines.
Maddy keeps walking toward the train station, which is her destination. She muses aloud on her physical and emotional state, using self-deprecating terms: she calls herself a “fat, . . . hysterical old hag” obsessed with her own “sorrow, . . . rheumatism, . . . and childlessness.” She also calls out crudely to people she passes, such as taunting one man about unlacing her corset.
Maddy’s reminiscences turn to the specific date, which she recalls for two reasons: it is the day her daughter died, forty years earlier, and she still misses her fiercely; it is also the birthday of her husband, Dan. He will arrive on the train she is going to meet at the station. Maddy almost loses her resolve to walk there and sometimes refers to herself in the third person or as if the current event is already past:
She simply went back home.
Some of the comments are grotesque imaginings of her own demise, in which Maddy sees herself as “a big fat jelly” plopped down in the road. She also speaks to her absent husband, asking that he give her some indication of his love for her after fifty years together.
When she arrives at the train station, Miss Flite helps her up the stairs. Maddy learns the train has been delayed fifteen minutes as she converses with the station hand. Dan finally arrives on the train, alighting with his guide, Jerry. Dan is blind and walks with a cane. The Rooneys’ walk home is accompanied by the sounds of Dan’s clicking cane and Maddy’s dragging foot. The two argue about public displays of affection, which he spurns; his lethargy; and how to celebrate his birthday, which he emphatically does not want to do. He claims not to know the reason the train was delayed. As they walk, the wind blows, and they pass the house playing sad music.
Jerry catches up with them and tries to give Dan a child’s ball that he had dropped. Jerry tells Maddy that the train delay was caused by a child falling from a carriage and being killed under the train’s wheels. Maddy and Dan exchange only a few more words, then walk without speaking further; from this point, the audience hears only her leg, his cane, and the wind.
It is a fine summer Saturday in Boghill, a community in rural Ireland. In most respects, it is an ordinary day. Trains are expected to run on time. Things have remained unchanged in the enigmatic home of the widow that Maddy Rooney passed on her way to the railroad station to meet her husband Dan, who is returning at midday from work. This is a time when it is customary to work a five-and-a-half-day week. Everything that Maddy learned about the condition of the spouses and dependents of those she encounters on her walk to the station...
(The entire section is 1,290 words.)