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Humanistic Concept of Values in Beckett's Plays



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9. Humanistic Concept of Values in Beckett's Plays


As may be apparent from the analysis of Beckett's plays performed above, his work raises a philosophical polemic about human suffering, our existence and the issue of knowledge and cognition of a man, which are one of significant values. The topic of values in general will be brought into a close connection to the topic of needs, since it is possible to claim that the values logically imply the need for their fulfillment. At this point, the subsequent analysis will be based on the hierarhy of human needs suggested by A. H. Maslow in 1943.

A human being has the need to achieve the values he or she professes. In Maslow's hierarchy, the needs are ranked from the most fundamental as follows:

1. Physiological needs
2. Safety needs
3. Belonging needs
4. Esteem needs
5. Self-actualization.

Within this concept, a reproach may occur that in absurd plays there is no place for humanity and therefore, this sociological concept is irrelevant one. On the other hand, in the concept of values, separation of the characters from material ties and their focus on the struggle to find the basement of human existence through the suffering can offer the chance to see the hierarchy of values as generally valid and logically coherent one.


However, in the context of the Theatre of The Absurd, it is possible to detect certain changes within the fulfillment of the needs in this hierarchy as well as the features of their limitation, elimination and weakening.

When the plays belonging to the context of the Theatre of the Absurd are made a subject of analysis, it is possible to claim the lack the fulfilment of all the needs, yet based on (and basically due to) the limitation they immediately reach the highest level of the hierarchy - the self-actualization or self-realization. In Waiting for Godot the protagonists Vladimir and Estragon are deprived of basic needs - they suffer physically (Estragon is being regularly attacked, Pozzo goes blind, Lucky is dumb - physical destruction is separate and crucial topic and subsequently graduates in Endgame, where it is relevant in case of all the characters), issue of safety is quite irrelevant taking into account mutual dependence of characters and uncertainty about their destiny (which is dependent on permanently absent person called Godot). In terms of the analysis of time and spatial setting, the place is torn out of context and limited at the same time - the belonging need is also not fulfilled, since Estragon and Vladimir are wander around, meeting at the end of the day under the tree to wait for Godot, Estragon is sleeping in a ditch. As far as need for self-esteem is concerned, the mutual dependency of the protagonists announces the hierarchy and logically denies the high esteem of protagonists in addition the way they are treated, especially Lucky who is in a form of several allusions and parables compared to a dog. On the other hand, self-actualization is relevant in case of Vladimir, who comes to understanding about the vanity of human needs and gains some detachment from absurdity (a paralel to the myth of Sisyphos), also Hamm's monologue about the system of a world is pronounced at the background of his suffering: Hamm:

One day you'll be blind like me. You'll be sitting here, a speck in the void, in the dark, forever, like me. (Pause.) One day you'll say to yourself, I'm tired, I'll sit down, and you'll go and sit down. Then you'll say, I'm hungry, I'll get up and get something to eat. But you won't get up. You'll say, I shouldn't have sat down, but since I have I'll sit on a little longer, then I'll get up and get someting to eat. But you won't get up and you won't get anything to eat. (Pause.) You'll look at the wall a while, then you'll say, I'll close my eyes, perhaps have a little sleep, after that I'll feel better, and you'll close them. And when you open them again there'll be no wall any more. (Pause.) Infinite emptiness will be all around you, all the resurrected dead of all the ages wouldn't fill it, and there you'll be like a little bit of grit in the middle of the steppe. (Pause.) Yes, one day you'll know what it is, you'll be like me, except that you won't have anyone with you, because you won't have had pity on anyone and because there won't be anyone left to have pity on you. (Pause.) (Beckett, Waiting for Godot)

This is comparable to the insight which Vladimir gained in Waiting for Godot:

Was I sleeping, while the others suffered? Am I sleeping now? Tomorrow, when I wake, or think I do, what shall I say of today? That with Estragon my friend, at this place, until the fall of night, I waited for Godot? That Pozzo passed, with his carrier, and that he spoke to us? Probably. But in all that what truth will there be? (Estragon, having struggled with his boots in vain, is dozing off again. Vladimir looks at him.) He'll know nothing. He'll tell me about the blows he received and I'll give him a carrot. (Pause.) Astride of a grave and a difficult birth. Down in the hole, lingeringly, the grave digger puts on the forceps. We have time to grow old. The air is full of our cries. (He listens.) But habit is a great deadener. (He looks again at Estragon.) At me too someone is looking, of me too someone is saying, He is sleeping, he knows nothing, let him sleep on. (Pause.) I can't go on! (Pause.) What have I said? (Beckett, Endgame)

Another character which reaches this insight is relevant for Pozzo, i. e. in the second act, after his becoming blind: "When! When! One day, is that not enough for you, one day he went dumb, one day I went blind, one day we'll go deaf, one day we were born, one day we shall die, the same day, the same second, is that not enough for you? (Calmer.) They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it's night once more." (Beckett 37)

Based on the quote stated above, human suffering thus becomes the only measuring unit in the flow of time, which is concepted as gradual degradation and closing to death. The absurdity and unpredictability of human suffering intensifies the existential anxiety and vulnerability of a man. Again, a reference is made to the system of society, which is tiring and characterized by a stereotype and repetitiveness. Human existence only fills in the predetermined boxes, which are related to the idea of apocryphal being: "They give birth astride of a grave." The light could be concepted as a symbol for life or cognition in relation to character of Vladimir gained the 'englightment' for a while, i. e. in the field of congition yet immediately after he forgot it. Thus it could be pointed out at the limitation of human knowledge and cognition. The relationships and perception is thus influenced by predetermined scheme of social role. This scheme is related to the idea of repetitiveness, predomination and being condemned to share the same life of this fellow-sufferer, again in connection to Heidegger's idea of apocryphal being, as suggested above within the quote from Endgame. Similar approach may be suggested in Rockaby ("another living soul" is said to take place instead of the protagonist), Breath (with the reference to symbolic of light), Not I (suggesting reincartanion after death "sudden flesh") or A Piece of Monologue ("A birth was a dead of him. Again.").


9. 1. Need for 'Centrum Securitatis'


Based on the aforementioned analyses, world of Beckett's drama may be seen as existential, cruel, absurd and evil. Therefore, the protagonists are often closing in, i. e. mentally, as well as closing spatially. Especially in plays e. g. Endgame, Krapp's Last Tape, Rough for Theatre II, Footfalls, A Piece of Monologue, Rockaby, Ohio Impromptu or Catastrophe, in terms of the spatial setting, the play is situated into interior. In plays Endgame, Krapp's Last Tape and Rockaby this kind of setting may be considered kind of centrum securitatis, in which the protagonist isolate themselves. Paradoxically, they find their security and safety in limitation of their existence and being separated at one place only.

Certain centrum securitatis is displayed in the Endgame: "HAMM: Outside of here it's death. (Pause.)" (Beckett 26). this can be compared to the utterance pronounced by Vladimir from Waiting for Godot "The air is full of our cries. (He listens.) The place was crawling with them." (Beckett 93) In the aforementioned quotations, not only the place is described, but within a critical interpretative point of view at the author, Beckett may be presumed as an extremely perceptive person whose perception of reality bares existential undertone. An idea is pronounced about a man who is stuck at the flow of time and for a limited time he gains the detachment to listen and perceive its numbness. This concept creates the existential nature of the work since it brings on the scene the man who is highly perceive and quite abandoned in his existence which is here previewed as strongly individualized phenomenon.

Considering the concept of space, similar feature is noticeable also in Waiting for Godot. The characters of Vladimir and Estragon are not able to abandon the place: "Vladimir: Well? Shall we go? / Estragon: Yes, let's go. They do not move." (Beckett 126) The reasonable explanation for this could be the understanding that the characters do not have anywhere to go, since the place is an allegory of life and thus the only way out would be death. This concept would be comparable to the spatial concept of Engdame, as stated above.

Similarly to the plays mentioned, the protagonist in Krapp's Last Tape closes himself in old, empty flat, having no possession but the tape recorder. In an enclosed space of interior he is even more closing himself into nostalgia. In a similar way, the play Rockaby is also situated within the interior, the protagonist is said to sit in rocking chair by her window waiting for death. In Footfalls the same approach is noticeable, as well as in A Piece of Monologue.

Therefore, it can be seen as a paradox the protagonists of absurd plays find their security in their limitation at one constant space, which is surrounded by death and suffering. An attitude of a human, towards this closed interior, can be considered as a habit. As mentioned in Vladimir's utterance in Waiting for Godot, "habit is a great deadener" it is possible to deduce Beckett's attitude towards the stereotype and habit, which is considered a feature contributing to dehumanization and growth of apathy. The closing into interior may be a symbol of closing into oneself, moreover, at the beginning of Beckett's dramatic creation it was closing of two people (e. g. Hamm and Clov), yet in his late drama it is often the only (usually old) person who is left alone, often communicating with a ghost or closing into nostalgia and reflection over own life.

9.2. Need for Physical Contact and Power of Gesture


As suggested in Waiting for Godot or Endgame, the display of male characters asking physical contact in terms of friendly or intimate gesture may instigate to feeling the presence of the theme of homosexuality in Beckett's works. The motive of gesture and generally the need for physical contact will thus be a subject of following analysis with the aim to identify the features standing behind the need for physical contact, in which the gesture plays a significant role. The gesture may be considered as socializing act expressing emotions and humanity and denying the apathy or issue of alienation.

In Endgame, the request for this intimate gesture is pronounced by Nagg: "Nagg: Kiss me. / Nell: We can't. Nagg: Try. (Their heads strain towards each other, fail to meet fall apart again.). This could be noticed also in another dialogue of these characters: "Nagg: Could you give me a scratch before you go? / Nell: No. (Pause.) Where? / Nagg: In the back. / Nell: No. (Pause.) Rub yourself against the rim." (Beckett 27). As another example the Hamm and Clov dialogue may sereve: "Hamm: You don't love me. Clov: No. Hamm: You loved me once. Clov: Once!" (Beckett 24)

One of the explanations to be found is the need for a contact with another person. It also could be understood as the proof that the person is not left alone to face the suffering and degradation, in which concept the intimate physical gesture may be considered a comforting feature offering a relief from suffering. In a socializing context, the gesture has a great importance. The communication is often limited and the gesture has the same importance as words, possibly even higher. It is also Beckett's talent to express a lot in a minimal form - this approach called minimalism is thus valid also in the field of gestures which are used as an effective means of communication when its verbal kind becomes a subject to destruction, repeatability and words become empty phrases. Beckett's Act Without Words I and II are proofs about the claim, that gesture may be explicit enough. On the other hand it is difficult to appoint the inner state of mind of the protagonist and thus appoint the level of their cognition, reasoning and mindset.
In Beckett's work it is not a word but the idea and mainly the geture which is significant: "he stressed the importance of "muscular dialogue generated by gesture". Then, several decades later, directing his own plays, he was to discover how powerful it could remain, even when reduced to a few essential, repeated gestures." (Knowlson 56).

For example in Endgame, it is possible to notice that the play opens and finishes with the same gesture of Hamm, who is putting a handkerchief on his face by which the paralel is reached with the beginning of the play. As was previously mentioned, the frienship is one of the features which are decaying - this is emphasized by the growth of apathy and alienation: "Hamm: Kiss me. (Pause.) Will you not kiss me? / Clov: No. / Hamm: On the forehead. / Clov: I won't kiss you anywhere. (Pause.) / Hamm: (holding out his hand): Give me your hand at least. (Pause.) Will you not give me our hand? / Clov: I won't touch you. (Pause.)" (Beckett 33)

The significance of gesture is considered by Beckett in his very first work, i. e. Dante ... Bruno. Vico ... Joyce, where he claims that "When language consisted of gesture, the spoken and the written were identical." (Beckett 17). Based on this quote, the idea is suggested that it is the gesture what is placed at the top in the hierarchy of reliability in terms of communication.


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