Molloy/Malone Dies/The Unnamable

by Samuel Beckett

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Themes and Meanings

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The four sections of The Trilogy (Molloy is in two parts) are in fact four monologues by the same person, the author/creator. Beckett’s themes are the themes of the existentialist: One is born, one suffers, one dies. Life is a very brief journey through an unremarkable landscape that provides painful encounters despite one’s best efforts at avoiding them. Sleep is a trick, because one must awaken to oneself once again. Notions of some supernatural Maker with a Master Plan are nothing more than devices to pass the time, to divert one momentarily from the realization of one’s ontological loneliness. Yet amid all the evidence that life is meaningless, hopeless, full of despair, anguish, and forlornness, one must go on. Beckett stated his obsessive theme in a dialogue with Georges Duthuit: “that there is nothing to express, nothing with which to express, nothing from which to express, no power to express, no desire to express, together with the obligation to express” (emphasis added). That “obligation to express” is what moves The Trilogy forward, despite fatigue, anxiety, and an overpowering desire to become “still.”

The most startling observation regarding The Trilogy is the humor to be found in it. Not only does Beckett manage to express the inexpressibility of his universe but he also does so with wit and compassion. His wry observations demonstrate a remarkable attention to detail and an Irish infatuation with the pun. The fortitude of the characters, moving what might be called forward despite all impediments, causes the reader to cheer them on in their pointless marathon. Without reference to Beckett’s personal past, the novels convey a sense of abandonment, of childhood neglect, of parental indifference, that gives the entire narrative a mood of infinite sadness. Beckett’s style is unique: a combination of terse, telegraphic shortcuts, vague antecedents, and sudden elaborations of simple statements, daunting to the careless reader but a source of delight to those who puzzle it out.

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