Through the detachment from history and absence of time Beckett establishes in his play Endgame, Beckett is able to illustrate the meaninglessness found across Western Civilization post World War II. Just as Eliot’s poem, “The Waste Land” emphasizes meaninglessness and numbness, Beckett’s play profoundly demonstrates that life post-world war no longer holds meaning. Both Beckett and Eliot’s works demonstrate that society found their means of coping with the emptiness left by the war through the mechanical routine of day to day life. Beckett’s characters’ actions and dialogue are almost painfully mechanical and minimalistic; yet it is so to exemplify the mechanical, numb routine society had fallen into. The play begins and ends with Hamm in the exact same position, “motionless,” demonstrating the play’s theme of stagnation and meaninglessness.

Beckett’s use of time or rather, his purposeful lack of time and place in history is a different approach than Eliot took in “The Waste Land;” yet both works equally communicate the futile sense of existence that hung over society due to the world wars. Beckett’s characters lack purpose and meaning in their lives to the extent they are looking forward to death, “finished, it’s finished, nearly finished, it must be nearly finished” but the future as well as the past is illusory (2579). The past, present, and future is illusive because of the absence of time, making it impossible for the characters to find hope in their present state or in the future because death is taking so long to come.


Chess is a major motif in Samuel Becket’s play “Endgame” that serves to illustrate a sense of meaninglessness about life. The chess motif lends a type of dissonance that reduces people to chess pieces or “pawns”, which is actually the weakest piece on the board, which symbolizes the fact that we are all powerless in life. What ever is going to happen, is going to happen.

The Endgame of a chess match usually determines the winner, so whoever has the upper hand at this point will be victorious. This adds to the feelings of meaningless because it feels like our previous decisions mean absolutely nothing and any random event can change everything.

A World Devoid of Meaning

 Both Beckett and Eliot write of a world that is now devoid of meaning. Neither of the worlds presented had always been so gloomy. The misery is recent, but not so new that the characters haven’t come to terms with it. Clov describes yesterday as, “that bloody awful day, long ago, before this bloody awful day”. This indicates that the world has been like this for some time. But how long? The reader does not know this and throughout the play is not given any clues as to the time, place and premise of events. Setting the play “outside of history” helps set up the major theme of the poem, the meaninglessness of life. One of the few clues given to the reader about the setting is when Hamm looks out at the ocean and describes what he sees as “gray”. Even outside of the room, there is no life, no happiness, no nature. There is also a lack of evil, anything black. The world is meaningless, gray.

Beckett and Eliot both write of a post apocalyptic world. One that has been destroyed and left empty. Everything people had previously known was proven wrong, leaving the world meaningless. The worlds described are similar, but the authors set up the scenes differently. 
“The Waste Land” is heavy with allusions. It is difficult to keep up with all the people and events mentioned. Eliot’s purpose in doing this was to contrast the past from the current world. Beckett’s play has only four characters and exists outside of time in order to show that life by itself has no meaning. It is merely empty.

All of Samuel Beckett’s writings focus primarily on the ideas of existentialism, or the theory of emphasizing the existence of his an individual as a free person responsible for his or her own will. Both The Waste Land and Endgame display this sense that there is no meaning behind our actions or the way in which things fall into place throughout our existence, which leads to the conclusion that what occurs throughout one’s lifetime ultimately happens by random chance.

Throughout Endgame we are able to gain the sense that the actions which occur seem so routine that they are done without giving much thought, therefore lacking meaning. Beckett’s short and direct sentence structure allows the reader to conclude this. In the play, Clov states “All life long the same questions, the same answers” (2581). This statement reflects the idea of existentialism in the way in which the only true meaning in life is found below the surface.


Endgame alludes to a chess game.  Just like it is had for someone who doesn’t know the game to understand what is going on so seems this literary work, where sometimes is confusing to follow what is going on.

Beckett is talking about the Western civilization as if it were a game of chess.  Eliot’s The Waste Land speaks of people as if they were machines who continue their lives as with their “traditional actions” as much as they can even though these actions no longer had a meaning.  In the Endgame, Beckett does away with these actions and instead presents people to show the world as a place that has no meaning.

Past vs. Future Catastrophes

Samuel Beckett and T.S. Eliot both use their works to critique the history of Western civilization and do so in similar fashion.  However, Beckett does this by portraying possible catastrophe in the future whereas Eliot uses past events from World War II.  In Endgame, Samuel Becket describes the aftermath of a fictional nuclear war where everything is gray and dreary.  When asked what is on the horizon, Clov responds, “What in God’s name could there be on the horizon?”  The war has taken a toll on the characters as each of them has multiple disabilities.  Clov cannot sit down and is losing his site, Hamm cannot stand and is completely blind, and Nag and Nell are both blind and can barely hear one another.  Clov wants to leave his companions behind to find a better world but knows he must stay behind because without him, the others would surely die.  Hamm knows there is nothing for Clov at the house and realizes eventually he must leave: “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.”  Their situation is analogous with ideas expressed in the T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland.

The first section of The Wasteland is called “The Burial of the Dead” where the dead is the world as we know it.  It is a very dreary section of the poem that relates to the events of World War II, a very real incident as opposed to the imaginary war the Becket describes.  The characters in Endgame experience emotions similar to the themes represented in The Wasteland which symbolize an in-between state of being dead and alive where the soldiers of World War II want to die but cannot.  Both of these authors use their stories in similar ways to show the faults of Western civilization.  The difference is Beckett relates these faults to a possible future nuclear war whereas Eliot relates them to the past events of World War II.


Endgame is named for the moves used to end a game of chess.  Beckett seems to suggest that the moves taken by Western Civilization are leading it to its grave.  This idea of death is seen in the play’s setting.  It takes place outside of history giving the play a post-apocalyptic feel.  The play seems to take place when Western civilization has ended. The room has bare interior and grey light as if it had been abandoned.  When looking through a telescope, Clov claims that “The light is sunk” and that he sees only “Gray” suggesting that there is no hope left in the world.  Endgame depicts the West as a hopeless place with only death in its future. 

The Endgame’s method of criticizing the West differs from that used by “The Wasteland.”  “The Wasteland” contains several historical and literary allusions.  It jumps around different time periods and different characters.   The Endgame focuses on the same characters in the same setting throughout.  The Endgame does not make frequent use of allusions.