Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Described by one critic as “that rarity in modern fiction, a completely successful novel of ideas,” Murphy is a very large idea indeed. Beckett has said that he is spending his life “effing the ineffable,” as singularly absurd and yet pointedly accurate a statement as could ever be made about his work. For Beckett, writing is an action he simply cannot avoid—not something he seeks to do, but rather an involuntary “tic” or “hiccup” that interrupts his attempts at doing nothing at all. Life is a meaningless collection of accidental facticities, according to Beckett: “We give birth astride a grave,” says a character in Beckett’s most famous play, Waiting for Godot (1952). The theme of every Beckett work, then, is essentially that man’s existence on earth is not only meaningless, but filled with anguish, isolation, the pains of a deteriorating body (many of Beckett’s characters suffer from lameness and pain in the legs—an objective correlative to the suffering of “walking” through life itself) and the incessant annoyance of mind to body and body to mind.

Murphy is an antijourney; the main character seeks to stop seeking. The other characters engage in journey without purpose, since finding Murphy will in no way alleviate their own anxieties, despite what they think. Thinking itself is to be avoided in the best of all of Murphy’s worlds: The chess game he plays with an inmate at the Magdalen Mental...

(The entire section is 449 words.)