Searching for the Meaning of Life: Beckett’s Dystopia in “Endgame”
“The absence of action is intrinsic to Beckett’s vision of despair” Show how inactivity is linked to Beckett’s portrayal of a dystopia.
Hamm’s realisation of the futility of the search for a meaning to life leads him to a state of satisfaction in the pursuit itself. Inaction is a word which connotes restriction of both the physical and the mental aspects of a person. Without either of these aspects progressing, humanity will, in Beckett’s view, be trapped in a state of dystopia.
As Absurdist theatre, Endgame is a play which reveals to the audience the futility of the search for a meaning to life. Hamm’s realisation of this fact instead allows him to find meaning in the pursuit itself. However, pursuit connotes constant movement, a direct contrast to inaction. This cements Hamm’s reason for rejecting the very prospect of inaction. His longing for a constantly changing state is shown through his passion when he exclaims “we breathe, we change! We lose our hair, our teeth!” It is interesting, then, that Hamm longs for a state of nature which hasn’t changed and is “still green”. Rather than the constantly moving pursuit, the land free from physical confinement “down in the hole” is the final destination which Hamm hopes to achieve – the land “beyond those hills” is the metaphorical representation of the meaning to life, an area which the characters long to go, but never reach throughout the entirety of the play.
Furthermore, Hamm speaks of using the “current which will take us far away”; the “current” is constantly moving, symbolising the character’s pursuit for meaning, but being a “current”, it will never stop and thus the character’s will never reach their final destination. In a physical sense, Hamm’s entrapment in the wheelchair is a state which Hamm refuses to accept due to the limitations of movement. At the introduction of the play, Clov’s dramatic unveiling of Hamm reveals to the audience a somewhat pitiful character due to his blindness and disability, highlighted by Clov’s “brief laugh”. The motionlessness of Hamm indeed reveals a certain aspect of the play addressing despair and dystopia, however, the many times which Hamm attempts to move in the wheelchair throughout the play in fact evokes a sense of admiration at Hamm’s determination to remain in a state of motion. When Hamm is unable to move despite using the gaff, he bids Clov to “oil the castors”. Hamm refuses to acknowledge his state of inaction despite failing using the gaff; instead, he seeks to try again. He realises that “the end is the beginning” yet “you still must go on”. Also, the scene when Hamm asks Clov to move him to the centre involves constant movement. Rather than accepting the fact that he is in the middle, Hamm continues to ask Clov to move him “a little to the left”, then “a little to the right”. Consequently, the effect achieved due to Hamm’s request for constant action achieves a comical effect in the view of the audience, which is a contrast to the dystopia which Hamm speaks of.
The character of Hamm can be seen as Beckett’s authorial voice – a voice which reveals the view that action, whether physical or mental, is a requirement to prevent the entrapment of the soul in a state of dystopia. Endgame is written in a post-World War II era; a time, for some, when all hope has been lost, causing a stagnant condition. Being Absurdist theatre, Endgame is written not to allow the audience to have a night of entertainment to escape from their own despair, but rather to ask the audience to face despair and overcome their dystopia by overcoming inactivity. Beckett uses the character of Hamm as an example. While physically immobile, Hamm advances mentally through his forceful “bottling” of the representatives of his memories, Nagg and Nell. Instead, Hamm tells stories which refer to action, even in a state of suffering, such as the man “who came crawling towards me”, the sun “sinking down among the dead” and “dragging the madman to the window.” In order to be relieved from the state of dystopia, one must be in constant motion, even if one is in despair. It is interesting, then, that Hamm forcefully represses Nagg and Nell, his memories even though their speech consists largely of high mobility, such as “crashing on our tandem”. Hamm sees this as a revisiting of the past, something which will hinder his mental progression. Therefore, Hamm’s discard of his memories in the literal “garbage bins” in which Nagg and Nell reside is a revelation of Hamm’s determination to not only keep in motion, but to move forward, rather than being mentally trapped in the past. When reflected upon reality, what Beckett is attempting to portray is perhaps that the war is over, and dwelling in the past will only cause a sense of stagnancy which will inevitably keep us in a state of dystopia.
The reason for the futility in the search for meaning is partially due to cycles, an important aspect of Absurdist theatre. A dystopia, by definition, is a state of absolute despair. It is a condition that Beckett hints at, one that does not only comprise the characters on stage, but everyone, shown through Hamm’s “throwing the whistle into the audience”. Along with despair however, comes hope, a piece of the infinite cycle. Being in a cycle, resonance between the two intricately fused elements of despair and hope is possible. For example, Clov rejects Hamm’s hope “will you not kiss me?”, “will you not give me your hand?”, but proceeds to fulfils the rat’s hope of dying – “If I don’t kill it, it’ll die”, meaning that if Clov does not “finish it”, then the rat will continue to be suffering. However, if the characters are caught in a position of inaction, they will forever be trapped in a single state of despair.
Cycles indeed remove the possibility of reaching a destination, but the characters are able to discover meaning in the endless search for meaning itself. In fact, the cycle of day and night is seemingly blurred throughout the play. Time has been removed and yesterday has simply become “that bloody awful day before this bloody awful day” – a set of “endless routines” which is inactive and meaningless, as portrayed by Beckett to be the ultimate dystopia. Whenever Clov is told to look outside the window, the scenery would always be “nothing” and “zero”. The meaning of “nothing” and “zero” most probably doesn’t mean that there is absolutely nothing outside, as Hamm still asks Clov to look “at the ocean”. Instead, Clov’s reply is to reveal that there are no changes outside their room. In their view, nature has taken a form of inaction, thus clinching Clov’s despairing comment that “there’s no more nature.”
However, Clov’s despair is accompanied by hope, as Hamm reveals. Nature has reached a standstill, but “we breathe, we change! We lose our hair, our teeth!” and the cycle continues on, not in their surroundings, but in the characters themselves. Clov’s despair is compounded by Hamm’s hope and vice versa. What is revealed by Beckett is that if the surroundings seem stagnant, as long as one continues to advance, then one can avoid a dystopia. Hamm’s remark that “I’m afraid that it will soon be the end of my story” is countered by Clov that “you’ll make up another.” If the stories of Hamm is a representation of Hamm’s desire for a utopia created by constant movement and pursuit for meaning, then the fact that “you’ll make up another” reveals that as long as one avoids inaction, then hope will continue to exist, thus erasing the idea of dystopia.
The idea of a dystopia is linked with the idea of stagnancy and inaction. It is a state, as viewed by Beckett, which is achieved when there is neither physical nor mental progression. Even though the theme of Absurdist theatre is that any search for meaning to life will be utterly futile, as long as the cycle of searching remains moving, either physically or mentally, then hope can be evoked and the sense of dystopia can therefore be avoided.
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“The absence of action is intrinsic to Beckett’s vision of despair” Show how inactivity is linked to Beckett’s portrayal of a dystopia. Hamm’s realisation of the futility of the search […]