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While many authors spend their lives creating their own prosaic style, others focus on drama.  Samuel Beckett, through the creation of his plays Endgame and Waiting for Godot as well as his novel Molloy, was able to spend time adapting his style in these two different types of literature.  In developing his own personal style, Beckett seems to have thrown out most of the rules in conventional writing.  His plays definitely have a simple style that make them his own, and his novels are written with such an unconventional style that almost separates them from the rest of literature all together; however, Beckett’s style, also has some overarching traits found in both his drama and his prose.  It is almost entirely due to his style that Beckett’s works are easily set apart from those of other authors.

The set from "Waiting for Godot" is a prime example of Beckett's use of empty settings in plays

The set from "Waiting for Godot" is a prime example of Beckett's use of empty settings in plays.

Beckett is perhaps best known for his plays, which are written quite differently from many other plays from around his time in how simply they are written.  One feature that sets Beckett apart is his overly simplified settings.  This trait is perhaps most apparent in Waiting for Godot, in which the entire setting for the first act is explained in a few simple lines: “A country road.  A tree.  Evening,” (6).  This description could not be more basic, which is unlike many other authors who include great detail in their first stage directions.  Not only does Beckett create an nondescript setting in appearance, but also in regards to the time and place of the play.  Throughout of the entirety of the play Endgame, Beckett gives a few vague to the setting when Hamm wonders what would happen “if a rational being came back to Earth,” and when he mentions that from a crablouse “humanity might start from there all over again!” (33). From Hamm’s comments, it is determinable that there are no people on Earth, however, the audience members can not be positive why, or when, or how society ended nor where the characters are now.  In these plays, Beckett has stripped his scenes down to the bare basics; whether he does so in order to insure no superfluous details to detract from his message or in order to create a barren and empty atmosphere (or both) is up for debate.

Not only are his plays unique for their vague settings, but Beckett’s short and choppy sentences differ greatly from the great monologues written by other playwrights.  Very seldom does one see any of Beckett’s characters speaking more than a single line of text, and even if they do, sentences are normally spread out with stage directions in between.  One of Beckett’s most common tools for breaking up dialogue and slowing down pace is the stage direction “(Pause).”  Take, for instance, in Endgame, when Nell and Nagg are having a conversation, neither one speaks more than a sentence without the stage direction “(Pause)” between each of their sentences (20).  It is also interesting to note that the longest sentence in that same conversation is merely nine words long.  Indeed, it is quite astonishing that Beckett is able to portray so many of his complex ideas through such short sentences.

Beckett’s prosaic style is a style all on its own, and contains many aspects that not only set his style apart from other authors’, but from his own dramatic style as well.  What is most noticeable about his style is his stream of consciousness writing – what is meant by stream of consciousness is that the narrators in Molloy, Jacques and Molloy, spew forth their ideas continuously, often without transitions between ideas. This stream of consciousness is often extremely apparent in his prose because it the reason that Beckett chooses to disregard many of grammar’s most basic rules. For instance, when writing prose, Beckett disregards the normal rules for tense.  Although Molloy is told from the point of view of Molloy looking back at past events, which would normally warrant past tense, Molloy bounces back to present tense even while describing the past.  Beckett has Molloy acknowledge to the reader that he does indeed disregard tense, simply narrating how it is easiest for him: “I speak in the present tense, it is so easy to speak in the present tense, when speaking of the past,” (26).  In addition to breaking common rules that apply to the tense of writing, Beckett also has a tendency break grammatical rules as well, such as the use of paragraphs. Throughout the first 91 pages of text, there is only one paragraph break; this makes for very little distinguishable transitions between his flowing thoughts. Another result of Beckett’s stream of consciousness is that since most all of the ideas in the book are the thoughts of the narrator, Beckett makes dialogue a minimal aspect in his novels. Just how little Beckett cares for dialogue is apparent in a few different ways: he use very little dialogue, when characters do speak there are no quotation marks or paragraph breaks to indicate a speaker, and finally, every time there is a speaker Beckett always uses the plainest indication word – “said.” Finally, Beckett’s stream of consciousness often results in long run-on sentences that express multiple ideas without transitions between those ideas. Take, for instance, one of Molloy’s thoughts, during which he contemplates what day it is, how bad his day is, where sheep are going, how the sheep will die, and how one properly slaughters a sheep all in once sentence: “That then is how that second day began, unless it was the third, or the fourth, and it was a bad beginning, because it left me with persisting doubts, as to the destination of those sheep, among which were lambs, and often wondering if they had safely reached some commonage or fallen, their skulls shattered, their thin legs crumpling, first to their knees, then over on their fleecy sides, under the pole-axe, though that is not the way they slaughter sheep, but with a knife, so that they bleed to death,” (29). Not only are grammatical errors such as run-on sentences, paragraph breaks, and tense agreement all very uncommon in great literature, but Beckett’s long, dialogue-lacking sentences are quite the opposite of the short and choppy dialogue found in his plays.

Despite their differences, Beckett’s prosaic and dramatic styles do share some aspects that are unique to Beckett. One such aspect is the use of repetition. Often times in Molloy, Beckett repeats words or phrases two or even three times in close proximity in order to make an idea apparent. Take Molloy’s rant on believing you are correct in a situation, even if you are wrong: “And if you are wrong, and you are wrong, I mean when you record circumstances better left unspoken, and leave unspoken others, rightly, if you like, but how shall I say, for no good reason, yes, rightly, but for no good reason, as for example that new moon, it is often in good faith, excellent faith,” (41). Although the exact meaning behind the passage may be utterly confusing, the words and phrases that are repeated (you are wrong, unspoken, no good reason, rightly, and faith) help to emphasize a main point, which in this case would seem to be that when you are wrong for saying things you shouldn’t for no good reason it is probably because you have faith that you are right. Beckett doesn’t only exhibit repetition in his word choice, but in character’s actions as well. An excellent example of this can be found in Waiting for Godot, when Vladimir and Estragon attempt to determine which of three hats are theirs: “Estragon takes Vladimir’s hat. Vladimir adjusts Lucky’s hat on his head. Estragon puts on Vladimir’s hat in place of his own which he hands to Vladimir. Vladimir takes Estragon’s hat,” (46). This cycle repeats two and a half more times. Obviously Beckett intended an audience to recognize the repetition in the characters’ actions. Whether it is physical repetition or rhetorical repetition, Beckett purposefully uses it throughout his works.

Yet another one of Beckett’s stylistic aspects can be found in both his plays and his novels; this is the idea of having characters talk to or allude to the presence of an audience. This is perhaps most prominent in Molloy, in which the character Molloy often narrates in a manner that is conversational with the reader. Just a few things that Molloy says directly to the reader are “I apologize for these details,” (63) and “follow me carefully,” (77). By apologizing and telling the reader to follow him, Beckett is obviously communicating directly to the reader through Molloy, a trick not many authors use. Beckett also references his own audience in Endgame, although he doesn’t have characters talk directly to the said audience. The best example of this is when Hamm makes a comment to himself that is overheard by Clov, and Hamm explains that it was meant to be an aside: “An aside, ape! Did you never hear of an aside before?  I’m warming up for my last soliloquy,” (78). By having one of his own characters make a reference to his own soliloquy and aside Beckett is clearly acknowledging the presence of an audience and is thus breaking the third wall – something seldom done in dramatic works. By referring to his own readers or audience members in his works, Beckett is distancing himself even further from typical authors.

Obviously, many of the stylistic liberties Beckett takes in his works are unconventional to say the least. Very few of the world’s “great” authors would ever choose to use nearly empty settings, disregard basic grammatical rules, and refer directly to their own audiences. However, Beckett’s choice to do what many authors wouldn’t dare to do is exactly what set him apart from other writers.


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