Beckett and Eliot

Both “The Waste Land” and “Endgame” critique western society, however I think that they do in different ways.

In the “Endgame” Clov and Hamm go through the same routine, however when it comes to moving forward they speak of being sick of the same patterns but do nothing. What I thought was interesting was Clov’s line on page 2581 when he says “It may end. All life long the same questions, the same answers.” Beckett employs the idea under the common saying that “history repeats itself”. That is how he deals with western civilization: the same thing happens over and over again. However, in this piece the characters do the same routine, even down to the same physical actions. They recognize that life changes as Hamm states on page 2582 “But we breathe, we change! We lose our hair, our teeth! Our bloom! Our ideals!” But just like the society Beckett is critiquing, his characters fall into their same routine, allowing history to repeat itself. What I think is interesting is that many situations repeat themselves in the short one-act. For example, they bicker over Hamm taking his pills multiple times. And even despite the recognizing of changes, it ends the same way it began: with a handkerchief, in a chair, motionless. This is written in the post-colonial era where the empire was falling, and Beckett responded with an absurd play that ended like it began, repeating its history. Was he trying to say that the empire’s history repeated itself and now is stuck for good? I am not positive, but it seems likely.

“The Waste Land” on the other hand treats history in a slightly different way. In lines 19-22 Eliot writes, “What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow/Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man/You cannot say, or guess, for you know only/a heap of broken images…” (2298-2299). What I think he means is that out of the “rubbish” of the British Empire lay pieces with no hope of repairing. The entire piece is slightly depressing and dark in that finding a sense of optimism becomes a lost cause. It is slightly different than Beckett in that no where does the history have the chance to repeat for it is broken–like modernity. 

Both were shedding light on the bleak future of the British Empire, but from what I perceived, Beckett is showing how the history has repeated itself and became mechanical while Eliot has shown that it has been left broken because of what the Empire did in the past. Regardless, they both look upon modernity and what it has become with regards that are not the highest. 

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