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While many modern authors, such as J.K. Rowling or Stephen King, are known for the entertainment value of their stories, it use to be that many authors wrote to express their perspectives and opinions. After reading the works Molloy, Waiting for Godot, and Endgame, it becomes apparent that author Samuel Beckett belongs in the latter group. Throughout these works, Beckett attempts to convey his deeply philosophical observations about topics we encounter in everyday life. Beckett touches on everything from the daily passage of time, to the way humans communicate, to the overriding uncertainty that is part of every aspect of life. These themes are not only strong in one work, but Beckett touches on each idea in every piece in his catalogue of great plays and novels.


Time is a common theme in Beckett's works. He touches on ideas such as the passage of time as well as the end of time

One of Beckett’s most prominent themes throughout his works is something that easily pertains to all humanity, as no human can escape it: the passage of time. There are many different aspects of time that Beckett explores in his novels, such as its inevitability, its end, and the overlap of past and present. In Waiting for Godot, Beckett makes the point that time will always move, no matter how you use it. When the characters Vladimir and Estragon are looking back at how they passed the time during the day Estragon points out that, “It would have passed in any case,” (31). This observation that time will always pass is quite relevant to the play, which is about wasting one’s own time by waiting. The passing of time is just a single aspect of time that Beckett ponders; in his novel Molloy, Beckett defines the fine line between past and present. Despite having the common literary framework of a story within a story, as Molloy is telling of his past from his bedroom, the character Molloy still uses the present tense during his narration, which he makes note of: “I speak in the present tense, it is so easy to speak in the present tense, when one is speaking of the past,” (26). Through Molloy’s observation, Beckett is obviously making a point that the line between what is the past and what is the present for a person is sometimes closely related, so closely related that some could argue that people often presently choose to live in the past, like Molloy. Not only does Beckett touch on past and present times, but also what is to come: the end of time. In his play Endgame, Beckett once again uses time as a heavy theme, but expresses slightly different observations than in other works. Endgame is a play that deals with endings – ending life, ending relationships, and yes, ending time. The play even begins with the opening line “Finished, it’s finished, nearly finished, it must nearly be finished,” (1). As the play draws to a close, Hamm ponders many things, including the ending of the time he has: “Moments for nothing, now as always, time was never and time is over, reckoning closed and story ended,” (83). This vague proclamation could be interpreted in many ways, however, it is obvious that Hamm is referring to the end of either his own time or time in general by stating “time is over.” Thus, one may interpret the phrases “moments for nothing” and “time was never” as Beckett’s own implications that when time is finished nothing that happened matters; it will be as if time never existed. Although time is obviously a theme in all three of these works, it would seem that Beckett uses these themes to promote different ideas. What can be gathered through the synthesis of all of these ideas, however, is that although time is constantly passing, the past or present is all perspective, yet it all matters little in the end.

Perhaps Beckett’s most prominent theme in many of his works is his humanity’s use of words and language. For example, Beckett often expresses his opinions about language in Waiting for Godot, specifically how society abuses it. First of all, Beckett shows how people use language without expressing any real meaning with their words. The greatest example of this is when Pozzo orders Lucky to “think,” after which Lucky proceeds to rattle off what can only be considered pages of incoherent babbling (28-9). Clearly Beckett is making the point that people often try to express thought with language, but often just babble to create the appearance of true thought. Later on in the work, Bekcett brings up the topic of language again, but rather than claiming that talking doesn’t warrant thought, he suggests that humanity actually uses language to block out thought all together. When Vladimir and Estragon are brainstorming ways to occupy themselves, Estragon suggests they talk, since they “are incapable of keeping silent,” which he believes they have “so [they] won’t think,” (40). Beckett could not have stated any clearer that people choose to talk as a way to keep them from thinking.

Beckett suggests in his works that language is meaningless.

Beckett suggests in his works that language is meaningless.

Whereas in Waiting for Godot Beckett refers to language in society, in his novel Molloy, he attacks the effectiveness of language directly in attempts to show how any language at all is a waste. First, Beckett makes the claim that words themselves can not portray ideas because sounds themselves don’t mean anything. This idea is made apparent when Molloy claims to often have trouble with conversation because he himself can not extract meaning from sound: “the words I heard, and heard distinctly, having quite a sensitive ear, were heard a first time, then a second time, and often even a third time, as pure sounds, free of all meaning, and this is probably one of the reasons why conversation was unspeakably painful for me,” (50). Although Molloy may be considered mentally unstable by many, he nonetheless brings up a good point that sounds themselves really carry no meaning. Later on, Molloy expands on this idea, claiming that even when words produce meaning, the choice of words actually produces an inaccurate recreation of what a person means: “And every time I say, I said this, or I said that…or find myself compelled to attribute to others unintelligible words…I am merely complying with the convention that demands you either lie or hold your peace. For what really happened was quite different,” (88). “That convention” that Molloy refers to is undoubtedly is the English language, which Beckett obviously claims forces people to misconstrue the truth due to a narrow choice of words and strict grammar rules. Together, the ideas that words are meaningless and that they misconstrue ideas make up Beckett’s ultimate thesis on language: that it is useless. This idea is summed up by Jacque Moran, another character, very precisely during an overly wordy conversation with his maid: “It seemed to me that all language was an excess of language,” (116). The idea that language is ineffective and ultimately useless is so overriding in Molloy that it was obviously meant to be a theme, which is yet another use of the theme of time in his works.

Beckett was an author with many strong ideas, thus it is understandable that he would have yet another theme that is apparent in all three of the three previously mentioned works. Throughout all three works, Beckett touches on the idea of uncertainty either in the past, present or future. His or her own past is often something that a person can be pretty sure of, which is why it is so unexpected when, in his play Waiting for Godot, Beckett questions people’s abilities to remember their own pasts. Beckett expresses this idea through Vladimir and Estragon, who, at one point, disagree over where they have been in their past – a detail that one would not think is easily forgettable: “Vladimir: But you were there yourself, in Macon country…Estragon: No I was never in the Macon country!” (40). After further discussion, Vladimir seems to have forgotten other details of his past as well: “But we were there together, picking grapes for a man called…can’t think of the name of the man, at a place called…can’t think of the name of the place,” (40). This is quite obviously Beckett’s representation of how uncertain one may become of their past. Beckett also moves onto the uncertainty of the present. In Endgame, the character of Clov questions why he does many of the things in his life, specifically why he serves the needs of Hamm: “there’s one thing I’ll never understand…why I always obey you,” (76). Beckett is prodding his audience to examine why they do what they do in there lives; he is showing just how uncertain people are of themselves and the world around them. To complete the cycle, Beckett also touches on the uncertainty of what is to come in life. Molloy, a man who never stays in one place for very long, is “used to not knowing where [he] was going, what [he] was leaving, what was going with [him], all things twisting and turning confusedly about,” (44). Clearly, Beckett is pointing out how the path before us lies confusingly twisted, just as it does for Molloy. By pointing out how humanity’s past, present, and future are encompassed with uncertainty, Beckett has shown how uncertainty is inescapable for humans.

Beckett was not an author known for his winding story lines or riveting plot twists; in fact his works often contain very little of a linear plot or story. This is because Beckett was a man of ideas, and rather than weave his ideas in and out of plot driven stories, he often chose rather to weave traces of what we consider a story in and out of his theme driven works. It is obvious that the themes Beckett chooses to write about – themes that are deeply philosophical, yet pertain to every day life, such as time, language, and uncertainty – are meant to be the highlight of his works.


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