Beckett, Samuel (Vol. 1)

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Last Updated on July 3, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5546

Beckett, Samuel 1906–

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Nobel Prize-winning playwright and novelist, Beckett is a transplanted Dubliner who has lived in Paris since 1937 and has written almost exclusively in French. His absurdist comedy focuses on solitude, silence, meaninglessness, and despair. Waiting for Godot is his best-known work. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.)

Even though Samuel Beckett as a dramatist has frequently taken critical precedence over Beckett as a novelist, it is in his six novels that his originality is demonstrated; the plays merely add a footnote to what the novels indicate with greater range and force. The plays themselves—Waiting For Godot, Endgame, Krapp's Last Tape, Act Without Words, for example—are fragments of the novels, episodes submerged in the larger context. The real Beckett—if one presumes to define him—is the novelist who almost arbitrarily broke off segments of his fiction and labeled them tragicomedies, monologues, mimes, et al….

Beckett is a Joyce gone completely sour, a Joyce who went underground after Ulysses. Had Stephen Dedalus failed at everything he tried and consequently become a bum, a tramp, or an aimless writer, he might have fitted into one of Beckett's novels, nearly all of whose protagonists are writers chronicling their own weary odysseys. Their aimless tales—the very point is their aimlessness—are egoistic ventures to note whatever keeps their past before them, for their present brings with it no pleasures. Even their past, however, is painful, an unrelieved string of misadventures and lost opportunities, of relationships forced upon them they never sought, of jobs and families and strangers bobbing up to torture them. In all instances, they become increasingly aware of the absurd difference between their small expectations and their even smaller fulfillment.

The use of the existential absurd becomes for Beckett, as much as it did for Camus, a metaphysical device to explore existence, and it takes many shapes. The "reality" of a Beckett novel is an exaggerated dream, a nightmare extended to cover past and future, a fluid manifestation of something seemingly preconscious….

A Beckett hero is always in conflict with objects around him, for only he himself has reality…. [He] has long ago refused complicity with objects. Or else, objects have remained outside his attainment. In every instance, he is divided from the rest of the world, a stranger to its desires and needs. The dichotomy between his own mind and body finds an analogy in the outside world in the dichotomy between people and objects. Thus, Beckett's world operates in halves, and the dialectic of any given novel occurs when these halves conflict, when tension is created between mind and body, on one hand, and people and objects, on the other….

In quest of an identity which is cosmic in its scope, a Beckett protagonist leaves the everyday world far behind. For Beckett, moreover, the quest is not melodramatic or tragic, but comic, the quest for a self that even the protagonist knows cannot be recovered….

The bum for Beckett is a metaphysical entity, a person so far outside "normal" society that his actions and behavior take place almost cosmically…. Inhabited by bums, tramps, misfits, and cripples, this world is a collage of surrealistic images pinned together less by narrative force than by states of individual feeling. Nuances of feeling have to resolve everything, and here Beckett suggests the central philosophical conflict that permeates all his work.

If states of feeling, or mind, or thought are the only ascertainable facts, then how does one account for the existence of things?… The only way, according to Descartes, that one could make mind come to terms with bodies was through God…. What happens, however, if one removes God from the...

(The entire section contains 5546 words.)

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Beckett, Samuel (Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)


Beckett, Samuel (Vol. 10)