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Throughout his works, Samuel Beckett creates characters that are so similar that it is almost as if they could be interchangeable.  In his works Endgame, Waiting for Godot and Molloy, the characters share many of the same traits.  Since Beckett is an author that focuses more on ideas than plot and characters, his characters are often similar and lack specific roles.  These predominantly male characters are often unbelievably degenerate in their physicality and overpoweringly pessimistic.  Since many of the ideas Beckett conveys in his works are pessimistic, it makes sense that his characters would mirror the feelings he puts in his works.

One literary aspect of Beckett’s works that set him apart from other authors is the function of his characters.  Rather than progressing the story, his characters are used instead as symbols to reveal his ideas; as a result, he loses many of the normal aspects of what characters ought to have (for further information on characters as symbols, refer to “symbols” link).  For instance, throughout all three of his mentioned works, there is not a single protagonist or antagonist; Beckett has removed ideas such as plot in order to better highlight the ideas, and thus without a plot, the roles of the antagonist and pessimist would not be necessary to progress a story line.  Also, since Beckett seldom discusses topics pertaining to gender, such as gender relations, sexism, or roles in society, he has very little reason to use characters of different genders. As a result, nearly all of the characters in his works are male.  In fact, in Waiting for Godot, not a single female character is mentioned.  While having all male characters and no protagonists or antagonists may be strange traits in literature, it makes complete sense when considering how Beckett uses his characters.


Beckett's characters, such as Vladidimr and Estragon from "Waiting from Godot" are often portrayed as poor and degenerate.

In addition to their common function, many of Beckett’s characters share common traits.  A prominent trait that nearly all of Beckett’s characters (specifically main characters) possess is that of a poor and degenerate demeanor and lifestyle.  Perhaps an excellent example of the typical physicality of a Beckett character can be found in the character Molloy.  In his novel Molloy, Beckett spends much time elaborating on the diminishing health of this main character in gruesome detail.  As Molloy continues on his journey, he begins to realize a number of his physical weaknesses:  “I had barely left the shore…with my two legs as stiff as crutches…My toes, I thought they were in excellent fettle, apart from a few corns, bunions, ingrowing toenails, and a tendency to cramp…And the urethra.  And the glans.  Santa Maria.  I give you my word, I can not piss,” (80-1).  Characters with similar pitiful conditions can be found throughout other works as well.  In the play Endgame, both of the two main characters are plagued by some sort of physical suffering.  Clov admits his physical condition is diminishing: when Hamm asks, “how are your eyes?…how are your legs?” Clov merely replies, “bad,” (7).  Hamm too has a pitifully decrepit appearance, having a horrid attire of “a large blood-stained handkerchief over his face…and a rug over his knees,” (1).  In addition to his attire, Hamm spends his days waiting for his daily pain killer unable to get out of his arm chair.  However, not all characters in Beckett’s works have a degenerate demeanor as a result of physical ailments, but from an undesirable lifestyle.  In most productions of Waiting for Godot, the two main characters – Vladimir and Estragon – are depicted as impoverished men.  Perhaps directors often obtain this picture of the men from a brief dialogue in which Estragon admits to Vladimir that he has spent the previous night sleeping in a ditch, and that he was beaten by a gang of men the night before (7).  Whether it is due to their horrifying health or their pitiful standing in life, all characters in Beckett’s works share traits that would seem sub-standard to readers or audience members.

Yet another common trait amongst Beckett’s characters is a pessimistic or hopeless outlook on life.  This character trait is apparent in the character of Molloy.  During his journeying, Molloy often loathes going through the motions of life in his poor and often painful state of health.  As a result, Molloy often looks forward to his moment of death, even saying that “that will be a relief, a welcome relief, when that moment comes,” (45).  Characters form other works toy with the hopeless idea of death as well.  In Waiting for Godot, Vladimir and Estragon try to entertain themselves while they wait for Godot, and hanging themselves is one of the first ideas they develop.  Indeed, when Vladimir asks what they ought to do, Estragon’s reply is almost immediate: “What about hanging ourselves…Let’s hang ourselves immediately,” (12).  All of these characters that accept death so easily obviously must have a negative outlook on life if they see no reason to keep on living it.  Some characters, however, express their negative attitude towards life in a more direct manor.  In Endgame, Clov expresses his negative outlook to Hamm after Hamm asks his opinion on what “all” is: “What all is? In a word? Is that what you want to know?  Just a moment.  Corpsed,” (29-30).  Clov’s vague response to an already vague question would lead many audience members to believe Clov’s outlook is that all aspects of life are similar to that of a corpse: decaying, decrepit, and dead.  This is very pessimistic indeed.  The dilapidation of life is a common theme in many of Beckett’s works, so it makes sense that most of his characters are strong believers in this pessimistic belief of Beckett’s.

To many, Beckett’s characters may seem poorly constructed: would readers or audience members really want to pay attention to impoverished, pessimistic old men throughout an entire show when these characters are neither protagonists nor antagonists?  After further analysis however, it becomes perfectly obvious that Beckett actually must have spent much time crafting his characters to portray exactly the ideas that he wanted them to.


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