Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

In the course of his career, Beckett’s name has become virtually synonymous with certain themes and with the absence of absolute, definite meanings. Among his themes are the absurdity of human existence, the difficulty (if not impossibility) of communication, the dissonance inevitably produced by attempts to harmonize thought and deed, heart and head. Such themes, together with the author’s predictably mocking misgivings about anything as localized and specific as a theme are once again present in Ill Seen Ill Said. Nevertheless, in the case of an author as philosophically sophisticated and aesthetically adventurous as Beckett, themes are at least as important for the way in which they are presented as for what they say, and may not be abstracted from the work without defacing it.

A preoccupation of Ill Seen Ill Said which forces itself upon the reader with particular emphasis concerns matters of completeness and finality. The novel’s insistence on a closed setting, and on the apparent singularity of its protagonist, does not, paradoxically, negate the depiction of totality. Instead, Beckett sets up an ostensibly self-sustaining presence—the old person engaged in mindless though absorbing routines of time-killing is used here, as elsewhere in both his fiction and drama—which Beckett then proceeds to consider problematically. The noncharacter is a tissue of abstractions, knowable primarily because of its existence within the...

(The entire section is 461 words.)