Endgame – Samuel Beckett
**Please assign same writer from previous order #686951**
4 separate class discussion posts (#9, #10, #11, #12):
Discussion Post #9
Beckett’s One-act play, Endgame, begins at the end:
“Clov: Finished, it’s finished, nearly finished, it must be nearly finished.”
This first line is a direct allusion to the words of Jesus as he gives up his “ghost” at the crucifixion. Throughout the play, Clov and Hamm play the roles assigned to them, leaving the viewer of the play to try and grasp their dilemma. But the symbolism is so obvious that audiences often have a hard time recognizing the seriousness of the business at hand. The post-Modern audiences (that’s us) often laugh it off as an “absurdist” play, something more akin to what they understand as comedy today (think The Big Labowski, Fargo, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Stepbrothers).
But in the lines, there is a great debate going on. Hamm (representing God? Our consciousness? The mind speaking to the consciousness represented by Clov?) begins his “day” debating whether it’s time to “end”: “And yet I hesitate, I hesitate to . . . to end. Yes, there it is, it’s time it ended and yet I hesitate to–”
What exactly are we talking about ending here? Life? And if so–whose life? What life? One life that ends early in the play is that of Nell, Hamm’s “mother.” After listening once more to Nagg’s tale and “silenced” by Hamm, she speaks her last words: “You could see down to the bottom,” “White,” and “Desert” as Clov presses her back into her place and announces: “She has no pulse.”
Getting “down to the bottom of things” is a way of understanding the truth of a thing. And virtue is often represented by white (white dove, white wedding gowns, the bright white light of the halo).
1. So how do we read the symbolism of Nell’s use of “Desert” here as her last word?
2. And seeing Nell as a representative of mother (mother nature?), what is her relationship to the other characters?
3. And where does she fit into their search for a reason to “go on”?
Discussion Post #10
The failure of words to save us from the horrifying realization that there may not be any good answer to those greatest of all questions is one of the main themes of Beckett plays. Silence, it seems, is where we’re headed–yet we can’t stop. We keep telling the stories, over and over, “Grain upon grain, one by one, and one day, suddenly, there’s a heap, a little heap, the impossible heap,” of words. Words that, in and of themselves, have no intrinsic meaning. Words that utterly fail us in the desire to find the “truth.”And no matter what you may think of Hamm’s seeming utterly ugly, mean spirit, he says to the “younger” Clov: “One day you’ll be blind, like me. You’ll be sitting there, a speck in the void, in the dark, for ever, like me.” Pause (silence). Then later, Clov, in exasperation, says to Hamm’s query “Yesterday! What does that mean? Yesterday!”
Clov: That means that bloody awful day, long ago, before this bloody awful day. I use the words you taught me. If they don’t mean anything any more, teach me others. Or let me be silent.”
This need for silence–for the quietness of mind, the escape from the questions that won’t stop, but that will seemingly never be answered, is at the center of the late-Modern dilemma.
1. Compare and contrast this Beckettian late-Modern anxiety to our own post-Modern solution that seems awash in mass media, social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.), where information overload and the constant narcissistic, self-referential communication is our response to the dilemma.
Discussion Post #11
As we move to the play, we are constantly reminded of the looming “end.” On page 50, Hamm repeats Clov’s opening line: “It’s finished, we’re finished. (Pause) Nearly finished. (Pause) There’ll be no more speech.” Followed by “Something dripping in my head.” And then, he goes on with another story–which he doesn’t finish. The story we constantly tell ourselves, but can never complete.
And despite such an unhappy predicament, Hamm and Clov seem to have a true affection that shines through, here and there (for how can you hate yourself if you are going on?). But there is grief, mostly. “You weep, and weep, for nothing, so as not to laugh, and little by little . . . you begin to grieve.”
1. How do we grieve our current post-Modern circumstance?
2. Or, if we don’t grieve, is it because we’ve new answers–or have we decided to ignore those same questions that have “nagged” us for centuries?
3. And, if we have decided to ignore those questions, then what does that ignorance say about our “humanity”?
Discussion Post #12
As we move (finally?) to the end of the Endgame, and look back at where we’ve come from, we see that Hamm and Clov have really been discussing/debating/arguing the history of the philosophy of humanism–the almost evolutionary path from God to rationality, nature, science, psychology, etc.
Some might argue, though, that this kind of debate/argument/study of the human condition only leads us (maybe inevitably) to a mere nihilistic end–to the belief that there’s really nothing to believe in (at least when we approach the question logically). And if so, then what are we to do about ethics–questions of right and wrong?
Why, for example as Eric Dobson proposes in Nihilism Reconsidered, should we treat each other well? In other words, if one accepts the nihilistic premise, is these any way to live an ethical life, or are we each saddled with the false hope that there is such a thing as right and wrong, good and evil, but we’ll never really know for sure.
But even in the stripped-down, barren world of the Endgame, we might still find some evidence of ethical behavior in the action and thoughts of the characters.
With this in mind, identify scenes and passages from the play that show us evidence of these ethical, humanistic qualities:
1. compassion for our fellows
2. living more fully in the present
3. letting go of desires/possessions
4. courage to change