Dr. Sunita Rani
Assistant Professor, Punjabi University College of Engineering and Management
Assistant Professor, Baba Banda Singh Bahadur Engineering College
Human life is an incomprehensible phenomenon. Beneath the blissful appearance of harmonious human subsistence, there lurks the unremitting traumatic veracity of inescapable suffering, pain, violence, expulsion, terror, loss, misfortune, dishonour, oppression and mortality. Hopelessness, anguish and dejection have become the most illustrative experiences of modern man in contemporary era. Samuel Beckett’s Endgame (1957) brings to light this trauma of destabilized human existence which remains inhibited and veiled under the false pretensions of society and its norms. The present paper studies the unprecedented dynamics of shattering traumatic experience of absence of the human other in Beckett’s Endgame. The four characters of the play, Hamm, Clov, Nagg and Nell put up with their deformed bodies and mental agonies. They witness each other struggling on their own. Beckett shows how the trauma repercussions originate in their bodies, haunt through memory and pass to a stage where there remains no longing to live. The most traumatic experience is the absence of the human other in the drama called ‘Life.’ Becket conveys that there is no dissimilarity between ‘being present’ and ‘being mute witness’ because in both conditions it is the absence of the human other. In Endgame, Beckett’s artistic vision gives a compelling view of futility of human life and the inevitable frustration inherent to it. This analysis of traumatic repercussions takes its hypothetical context from the insights of trauma theorists Cathy Caruth, Susan J. Brison, Kai Erikson, DoriLaub, Judith Herman; and literary critic Martin Esslin.
Keywords : Trauma, Void, Alienation, Death, Absence.
Human life is an incomprehensible phenomenon. Beneath the blissful appearance of harmonious human subsistence, there lurks the unremitting traumatic veracity of inescapable suffering, pain, violence, expulsion, terror, loss, misfortune, dishonour, oppression and mortality. Hopelessness, anguish and dejection have become the most illustrative experiences of modern man in contemporary era. Samuel Beckett’s Endgame(1957) brings to light this trauma of destabilized human existence which remains inhibited and veiled under the false pretensions of society and its norms. The present paper studies the unprecedented dynamics of shattering traumatic experience of absence of the human other in Beckett’s Endgame. This analysis of traumatic repercussionstakes its hypothetical context from the insights of trauma theorists Cathy Caruth, Susan J. Brison, Kai Erikson, DoriLaub, Judith Herman; and literary critic Martin Esslin.
Esslin argues that absurdist drama has two characteristics, first, there is an integration of content and form; and second, it does not simply describe the absurdity of the human state but rather demonstrates it in actual form (Esslin 25). Beckett’s Endgame fits flawlessly into this genre of theatre of absurd becausefirstly, the interrelation between its content and form is discernible as there are recurrent narrative repetitions, thematic discontinuity and linguistic collapses in framework of the play (Georgiades 22).Secondly, the play presents a poignant picture of meaningless human existence seeking salvation from unrelenting desolation and the hopelessness. This amalgamation of form and content is knotted with the fibre of trauma. All the four characters of the play; Hamm, Clov, Nagg and Nell are haunted by the trauma of their futile existence. Their life is confined in the four walls of a room where they spend time discussing about their declininghealth, deteriorating world conditionsand the climate. Nell’s statement “Nothing is funnier than unhappiness” (Beckett118) reveals passive acceptance of her traumatic existence. Hamm, Clov and Nagg live the same experience.
Susan Brison’s views shed new light on theory of trauma. According to her, the distinctive feature of traumatic memory is that itis more attached to the body than its narrative recollection. The fusion of mind and body is evident in proliferation of traumatic memoryin the whole body. It extends its influence in all the five senses of the body, mind and skin. The slight remembrance of traumatic past or external stimuli fuels its impact and becomes a reason of its re-emergence. This phenomenon keeps on resurfacing (Brison 42). In Endgame, none of the four characters has fitbody. Hamm is blind and paralysed; his servant Clov is unable to sit. Hamm’s parents Nagg and Nell have lost their legs in an accident and live in dustbins. The play depicts an extreme form of traumapossible in human sensibility and physicality. For a blind and crippled man like Hamm, life is double torture. His inner pain is visible in conversation with Clov: “One day you’ll be blind, like me. And when you open them [eyes] again there’ll be no wall any more. [Pause.] Infinite emptiness will be all around you” (Beckett109).
Although Hamm, Clov, Nagg and Nell share single room, yet the presence of void space of absolute absence of the human other remains evident in their relationships. Seeing no possible escape from the impenetrable trap of nonbeing, Hamm, Clov, Nagg and Nell are seen silently waiting for their deaths in a world which has lost its meaning for them. Even their existence has reached the level of nothingness. For Hamm, the “whole place stinks of corpses…outside of here it’s death” (Beckett 114, 126).Hamm’s comparison of living beings to ‘corpses’ signifies his recognition of growing emotional sterility among humans. Becket suggests that this world has two linear dimensions; inside and outside, the former has become a desolate stinking place of suffering, torture and isolation; and the latter, occupied by ‘death,’ can only deliver escape to man. Nagg’s story about the tailor and the buyer reveals this paradox of creation again:” Look at the world—and look at my TROUSERS” (Beckett107). The tailor sarcastically weighs world [creation of God] against Trousers [creation of man].
Kai Erikson equates trauma to a form of shocking recognition that the society has turned out to be an unproductive source of assistance. Though ‘I’ and ‘You’ have managed to maintain their remote and dented existence, but the bond of ‘we,’ the principle of unified existence does not exist anymore in the society. Erikson explains that the connection between an individual and the society has been shattered leading to an adverse influence on the individual identity (Erikson 154). In Endgame, Beckett highlights anexcruciatingimpactof disintegration of human relations and conduct on human beings. Hamm is blind and crippled, whereas, his servant Clov cannot sit. Mutual dependency binds them in this compulsive and selfish relationship. Clov serves Hamm because the latter provides him food and shelter.He believes that love and companionship are just beautiful words in this superficial world of stern emotions. Clov’s apprehension of ephemeral human relations is evident from his following declaration to audience: “That order! They said to me, Come now, you’re not a brute beast, think upon these things and you’ll see how all becomes clear. And simple!”(Beckett131-2)
The secluded living of Hamm’s parents Nagg and Nell in the dustbins is symbolic illustration of deprivation of human empathy and concern. Hamm, Clov, Nagg and Nell struggle to sustain their isolated and shattered lives, but the bond ‘we’ has nowhere to be found. The scale of their relation lingers on the simple level of “I’ and “no one else” (Beckett 95).Clov discerns that he should learn to endure suffering inflicted upon him by others. He is internally conscious of the fact that there is no redemption for him from his inner turmoil, exploitation and isolation. Clov’s monologue highlights this dilemma: “Then one day, suddenly, it [suffering] ends, it changes, I don’t understand, it dies, or it’s me, I don’t understand that either. […] I say to myself that the earth is extinguished, though I never saw it lit. (Beckett132)
Cathy Caruth defines trauma as a delayed response to an overpowering incident. According to her, since there are various forms of an individual’s persistent response; such as recurring illusions, dreams, feelings or behaviours stemming from the event, the pathology is not eventually determined by the event itself but lies in the constitution of its experience or acquisition (Caruth 4). Caruth’s views help us to understand the disparity in Hamm’s behaviour. His external response generally seems dominating outwardly, but a traumatic repentance looms in his mind as a spectre of shame. Hamm’s memories fill his inner consciousness with remorse for his egocentric temperament: “All those I might have helped. [Pause.] Helped! [Pause.]Saved.[Pause.] Saved! [Pause.] The place was crawling with them!” (Beckett 125)
Sometimes traumatic experience constantly reiteratesitself in subconscious memoryin such a way that it overturns victim’s resistive ability and renders him inexpressive of his inner turmoil. Silence, defiance, inner conflict and oppression are other underlying impediments. The distressing past enclosed in the impermeable shell of memory isolates itself from the present and leads to involuntary amnesia. The conversation between Hamm and Clov highlights this memory collapse:
HAMM: Absent, always. It all happened without me. I don’t know what’s happened. [Pause.] Do you know what’s happened? [Pause.]Clov! […]
CLOV: When? Where? (Beckett128)
Nagg occasionally remembers his happy time spent together with Nell. But Nell, on the contrary, tries to keep the reappearance of her happy memories away from her conscious mind because it perturbs her mind immensely. Judith Herman explains that normal reaction of most of the human beings to turmoilor tragedy is to drive the depressing reminiscence out from alert mind (Herman 1). For them, this is an escape way from emotional turmoil and breakdown. This may be rationale when once Nagg asks Nell if she remembers the time when they has crashed on their tandem and lost their shanks, the latter simply denies to memorize. Later on, Nagg again shares with Nell their trip to Lake Como where they had enjoyed rowing. Nagg’s motive is to make Nell cheerful and relieved of their traumatic present. On the contrary, grave disparity between their present situations (derogatory confinement in a dustbin) to past happy events fills Nell’s memory with resentment and unconscious withdrawal to such an extent that she is unable to bear the trauma of her disparaging existence. This mental repression and shock ultimately leads to her death to which Clov finally confirms: “She has no pulse” (Beckett102-3)
Hamm and Nell’ negligible concern and forgetfulness are the signs of their helplessness to escape fromtheir physical detention and mental torment. For them, any recollectionof past is not sufficient, because it is disorderly and lacking in nature. It no longer provides anyentrance into “one’s past but only return, involuntarily, to remind of one’s absence” (Georgiades 121). Traumatic experiences have brought Hamm, Clov, Nagg and Nell to a limbo state of ‘being and non-being,’ a state where ‘Sense of Self’ neither stays alive, nor dies fully. This is the extreme level of ‘victimisation’ as the sufferer is double entrapped without any possible escape except death.
DoriLaub argues that this inner traumatic pressure remains ineffable because there are no sufficient and precise words to express it. Sometimes, according to Laub, due to non-availability of right time or the listener, the enunciation of the narrativeis not “fully captured in thought, memory, and speech” (Laub 178). Clov’s statement in the opening of the play brings to light this inexpressible dilemma: “Finished, it’s finished, nearly finished, it must be nearly finished Grain upon grain, one by one, and one day, suddenly, there’s a heap, a little heap, the impossible heap” (Beckett93). Repetitions in his proclamation become the evidence for his failure to find suitable words to articulatehis inner mayhem. Beckett employs the repetition of words ‘finished’ and ‘heap’ to emphasize the inseparable merger of every beginning and its end.Every beginning [heap, grain upon grain] of existence also substantiates the certainty of its extinction [finished] in this mortal world. Becket’s philosophic vision finds solitary certainty in final and eternal moment of life i.e.‘Death.’ In Endgame, Hamm, Clov, Nagg and Nell anticipate‘Death’ as their eventual salvation from physical deformity and mental agony. When Clov glances out from the window, he finds not greenery but barren earth, a symbol of his resting place after death. Clov dreams for a place “where all would be silent and still and each thing in its last place” (Beckett120). In another incident Hamm reprimands Clov for not replying properly to his question. Hamm is asking Clov about which previous day the latter is referring to. Clov reminds his master that all the days of their lives are appalling and disgusting; no matter entitle them ‘today’ or ‘yesterday.’ Clov replies aggressively: “I use the words you taught me. If they don’t mean anything any more, teach me others. Or let me be silent….” (Beckett113).
Through Clov’s statement, Becket suggests that human race is destined to never-ending suffering since the beginning of civilisation. Thus, the real schismexists between Beginning and End, and not between Past [yesterday] and Present. Here ‘silent’ signifies death which permanently brings an end to this unfathomable traumatic drama of Beginning and End called ‘Life’.
To conclude, Beckett’s Endgame displays traumatic experience of humanity seeking deliverance from void, alienation and suffering since time immemorial. The four characters of the play; Hamm, Clov, Nagg and Nell are trapped in an agonised existence with no possible escape. Trauma manifests in their cynicism, intentional self-denial, unrelenting and obsessive desire for the death. Beckett shows how the trauma repercussions originate in their bodies, haunt through memory and pass to a stage where there remains no longing to live. The most traumatic experience is the absence of the human other in the drama called ‘Life.’ Hamm,Clov, Nagg and Nell put up with their deformed bodies and mental agonies. They witness each other struggling on their own. Becket conveys that there is no dissimilarity between ‘being present’ and ‘being mute witness’ because in both conditions it is the absence of the human other. In Endgame, Beckett’s artistic vision gives a compelling view of futility of human life and the inevitable frustration inherent to it, as Hamm’s comment in his story, “You’re on Earth, there’s no cure for that!”(Becket 125).
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