Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Along with William Faulkner’s “unreliable narrator” fiction, the seemingly unstructured narratives of Marcel Proust and Jack Kerouac, and the microscopically detailed and unemotional “new novels” of Alain Robbe-Grillet, Beckett’s trilogy signaled the advent of the postmodern novel, in which the subject of the author’s examination is the act of writing itself. Rather than the carefully structured narrative that dominated the history of the novel since Homer, the postmodern novel looks inward at itself, at the writing process, at the configurations of the human intellect that create literary expression. With such contemporary writers as William Gass and Raymond Federman, Beckett’s self-creating narrators are expanded into subjective consciousness capable of saying anything at any time, freeing themselves from their authors in the very act of being written down.

What is lost, however, in these free-form experiments is the passion and bleakness of Beckett’s vision, the philosophical irony of flinging words at the ontological void. The intellectual world discovered Beckett primarily through the amazing dramatic works En attendant Godot (1952; Waiting for Godot, 1954) and Fin de partie (1957; Endgame, 1958), but The Trilogy stands next to Jean-Paul Sartre’s L’Etre et le neant (1943; Being and Nothingness, 1956) as the most important treatise on existentialism ever written.