The Novels

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

In order to describe and discuss these three novels, collectivelyreferred to as The Trilogy, the reader must set aside all previous conceptions and expectations regarding the novel form, for, like no literature since James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake (1939), Samuel Beckett’s awesome postwar work expands the definition of epic literature beyond all recognizable boundaries. While the first-person narrator (whose name and “habits of mind” may change but who represents the author in ever-contracting modes of existence) may on the surface seem cogent and communicative, the convolutions of his train of thought are so complex and reflexive that the “story” of his journey must be pieced together from the shards of his shattered narrative. Taken separately, each novel is its own perplexing narrative through landscapes and womblike environments and journeys in space and time, from the narrator’s search for his mother, through a dying man’s categorization of what is left of his physical world, to an abstract mind-state in which the narrator has become pure voice without substance. Taken together, they offer the rawest, most philosophically honest portrait of the artist ever undertaken by a modern writer.

The narrator of Molloy opens his story with the words, “I am in my mother’s room.” Thus, the narrator begins the cryptic description of the agonizing journey that brought him there, to “finish dying.” Molloy writes a few pages now and then; a man named Jacques Moran (who becomes the first-person narrator of the second part of the novel) gives him money and takes the pages away. To satisfy them (“there is more than one, apparently,” says Molloy), he begins his story: “It was on a road remarkably bare.” Molloy, having slept in a ditch, now progresses by crutches, by bicycle, by long rests and longer digressions, vaguely toward his mother’s hometown. His misadventures along the way constitute a chronicle of all that can go wrong with any journey, geographical or otherwise: missteps, falls, bruises, beatings by strangers, loss of direction, uncertainty regarding the duration of the journey to date, encounters near and distant with other travelers, interruptions caused by sexual urges toward persons of questionable gender, and a pervading sense of the absurdity and meaninglessness of any journey, any effort, whatsoever.


(The entire section is 969 words.)


(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Abbott, H. Porter. The Fiction of Samuel Beckett: Form and Effect, 1973.

Fletcher, John The Novels of Samuel Beckett

O’Hara, James Donald, ed. Twentieth Century Interpretations of “Molloy,” “Malone Dies,” “The Unnamable”: A Collection of Essays, 1970.

Pilling, John. Samuel Beckett, 1976.

Robinson, Michael. The Long Sonata of the Dead: A Study of Samuel Beckett, 1969.