Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Beckett was a serious student of seventeenth and eighteenth century philosophy, which put a heavy emphasis on epistemology—that wing of philosophy which concerned itself with theories of knowledge, with how things are known. It was legitimate for him to be interested in not only the theories of Descartes but also the minutiae of his life. The interest in philosophic ideas about humankind’s relation to the universe and to God pervades Beckett’s texts, although the position he espouses in his work is generally so pessimistic and negative that he became the finest representative of the “absurd” in the literary arts. He explored, over and over again, in his plays and novels, the simple proposition that life is meaningless in any spiritual sense. That idea is not quite clearly formed in his early work, and it must be remembered that Whoroscope is his first published work.

In the first place, the poem can be seen as a repudiation of the idea implicit in Eliot’s use of the dramatic monologue that sense can be made out of life in the process of the making of the poem itself. Nothing is, in fact, solved in Whoroscope, if indeed there was anything of serious moment to be concerned about. Descartes has an eccentric attitude toward breakfast omelettes, which it was his practice to eat every morning. Getting the eggs sufficiently mature for his consumption is the obvious problem in the poem, and it might be argued that the problem is eventually solved, and Descartes is then...

(The entire section is 616 words.)