Student Question

In Samuel Beckett's Endgame, what do the characters' names reveal about them?

Quick answer:

The characters's names in Samuel Beckett's one-act play, Endgame, are symbolic of a failed effort to rebuild society. The character names of Nell, Nag, and Clov represent "nail" in English, German, and French, respectively, and the name Hamm is a short form of "hammer." The character's names are symbolic of their relationships in the play.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Samuel Beckett's four-character, one-act play, Endgame, originally written in French as Fin de partie, was first performed in French in London in 1957. An English translation was later made by Beckett himself. The French version of the play was adapted as the libretto of a one-act opera by György Kurtág, commissioned by the Teatro alla Scala, in Milan, Italy, and performed there in 2018.

Endgame expresses the same philosophy of the meaningless, repetitive absurdity of life which is represented in Beckett's earlier and more famous play, Waiting for Godot, which he wrote in 1948-1949, and which was first performed in Paris in 1953.

The names of the four characters in Endgame symbolically represent their roles in the play and their relationship to each other. Hamm is an elderly blind man who is unable to care for himself, and who is confined to a wheelchair throughout the play. His name is a short form of "hammer" in English, but his name is also related to the Latin word hamus, which is a type of nail. Hamm is symbolically both a hammer, who controls others, and a nail, who is essentially controlled by his own servant on whom he relies for his existence..

The name "Hamm" can also be considered a pun on "ham," particularly in relation to the character named Clov, representing the spice clove, which is often paired with ham, as are the two characters, Hamm and Clov. Clov is Hamm's servant, who Hamm took in as a child. Whereas Hamm is unable to stand during the play, Clov is unable to sit. Clov's name is a slight variation of the French word clou, which means nail. Although Hamm is wholly dependent on Clov for his day-to-day existence, Hamm acts like Clov's master in the way he orders Clov to take care of him, and in the way that Hamm attempts to control—or hammer into submission—Clov and the other characters.

Nagg is Hamm's legless father who lives in a trash can. His name is related to the word nagel, which is German for nail. Nell is Hamm's legless mother who also lives in a trash can. "Nell" represents the sound of "nail." "Nell" is also a homonym for the word "knell," meaning a death knell, which portends the death of Nell in the play.

The characters have a contentious relationship with each other—as do hammers and nails—but they are nevertheless dependent on each other for their existence, no matter how repetitive and meaningless that existence might be.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial