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Watt consists of four long chapters, followed by an appendix of addenda. It is virtually plotless as it traces Watt’s separation from a world of naturalistic reality, his arrival at the surreal world of Mr. Knott, his stay in Mr. Knott’s service for an indefinite period, his departure from Mr. Knott’s domain when his indirect replacement arrives, and his later residence in an insane asylum where he meets Sam, a fellow inmate, who narrates such events as occur in the novel.

This narration opens by introducing three minor characters, Mr. Hackett and Mr. and Mrs. Nixon, who are conversing in a public area somewhere in Ireland when they notice a tram disgorging what may be a carpet or roll of tarpaulin but turns out to be Watt, “wrapped up in dark paper and tied about the middle with a cord.” Watt moves on to a railway station from which he takes a train and then a foot journey to Mr. Knott’s house. On his way, he is abused by the train conductor and a porter, assailed by a zealous theologian, and hit by a stone thrown without provocation by a Lady McCann, who is “catholic and military.” One critic has characterized Watt’s journey to Mr. Knott’s house as reminiscent of Christ’s along the fourteen stations of the Cross.

In the kitchen of the Knott house, Watt is greeted by Arsene, the departing servant whom he is to replace in Mr. Knott’s service. Arsene delivers a digressive and pompous speech of more than twenty-five pages, warning Watt of the strange, deceptive Knott-world. In chapter 2, Watt is troubled by the potness or whatness of Mr. Knott’s pots as he investigates the elaborate arrangements for preparing Mr. Knott’s food (incongruous ingredients must be mixed together and boiled for four hours). He employs the many-membered, incestuous Lynch family to raise generations of dogs, keep them close to famine, and supply two of them daily to eat Mr. Knott’s leftovers. He also meets and is often puzzled by several other mainstays of the Knott household: the Galls, a blind father and son, who tune the piano; Mr. Graves, the gardener; Mrs. Gorman, the fishwoman, who calls every Thursday; and Erskine, who serves on the first floor while Watt supervises the kitchen below it.

Early in chapter 3, the reader is surprised to learn that the narrative perspective is not the author’s but that of Sam, an inmate of what must be a mental institution, in whom Watt has confided. The novel never specifies how much later, after Watt left Mr. Knott’s residence, he entered the asylum. Sam concentrates on his enormous difficulties in understanding Watt when they talked, since the latter chose to reverse the logical order of letters in words, words in sentences, and sentences in paragraphs. Consequently, concludes Sam, “I missed I suppose much I presume of great interest touching I suspect the second stage of the second or closing period of Watt’s stay in Mr. Knott’s house.”

In chapter 4, Sam describes what Watt has told him of his departure from Mr. Knott’s house upon the arrival of a new servant, Micks, who will replace Arthur on the ground floor, while Arthur is elevated to replace Watt, who was somehow promoted earlier to the upper floor. Watt leaves, as he came, in the summer. He must spend a night in the railway station’s waiting room, is hit the next morning by a bucket of slops, buys a ticket to “the further end” of the line, and is taken away by the train. How long do Watt’s actions take? The novel remains deliberately vague:Watt was never to know how long he spent in Mr. Knott’s house, how long on the ground floor, how long on the first floor, how long altogether. All he could say was that it seemed a long time.

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