Summary

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Existential questions of the unknowable nature of life dominate Samuel Beckett’s play. It has neither conventional characters nor a conventional plot. The Unnamable is both the title and the main character, who lacks specific gender, age, race, nationality or other markers of identity. The character often expresses doubt about their existence. Questions of agency, such as the authorship of the words they speak, combine with questions about their appearance and physiology. The physical attributes of a typical human being are in doubt. Has someone put words in their mouth? Do they even have a mouth?

The Unnamable’s age is also in doubt, as they muse about lessons and punishments meted out at school, but the audience cannot know if these are memories or references to contemporary events. They mention a character by name, Mahood, but then it becomes uncertain if that is the same person as the Unnamable. The occasion referenced includes a Parisian café setting with a woman who feeds Mahood, but this woman appears only in the dialogue not onstage.

A third possible manifestation is the Worm, a lender being with a sole eye; again, we cannot know the source of this being. At the play’s end, the Unnamable remains in the same state at the beginning, and the audience does not know if they will move out of that position. In addition to an existential meditation, the play calls into question the nature of author and character, as in any play, the character only exists on stage and in the situations into which the author places them.

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