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.
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.
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.
I found it rather entertaining that Endgame is the last work we’ll blog about in this class, though I wish we could have ended on a happier note. It’s rather depressing and hard to grasp at times, though it certainly follows in step with Eliot’s The Waste Land. Both examine the Western World after the devastation of WWI, and both find a bleak, uninviting, and meaningless place.
The Waste Land was about the degradation of Western society, where people were more machines than humans, where traditional actions have no meaning. People act out their lives because that’s how they are supposed to go; they eat their canned food, and one is “glad” for things to be “over” (line 252). Endgame makes use of the same premises (I question the use of the first, however), though it is more concerned with the after-effects of The Waste Land; for example, while in Eliot’s poem people still perform these “traditional actions” that no longer have meaning, Beckett does away with them all together, to bring light into a world without any meaning. Nothing means anything in Endgame.
While Beckett’s world seems to be after Eliot’s, there is no indication of a time-line. The past is simply “yesterday” (p. 2586), though “yesterday” is confused with all the other “yesterdays” that exist. As Clov says, “[yesterday] means that bloody awful day, long ago, before this bloody awful day” (p. 2597). There is no real past in Endgame, there’s only what “was before,” but what “was before” is never expressed. There is no time, there is no past, there is no future, and thus we realize that the world (the Western world, anyway) is devoid of all of these things, and everything is devoid of meaning.
Endgame exists in a world devoid of meaning, in a world devoid of fertility (the death of Nell, the only female in the play), in a world that exists but yet does not exist, an eternal place that was once something else, but will never be something else. The Waste Land gave us an understanding of why, and a suggestion that we may be able to fix it; Endgame leaves us hopeless.
In Endgame, Samuel Beckett uses bizarre dialogue and characters to critique Western Civilization. Though the overall absurdity of the piece is very jarring, a few specific points stick out that seem to provide a particularly harsh critique of history. The character Hamm is responsible for these moments, in phrases that he says over and over. For example, he asks repeatedly, “Is it time for my painkiller?” Though it’s hard to be sure, perhaps Beckett is commenting on the constant desire for comfort and pleasure in the West. After having been through two World Wars, this desire for comfort is understandable. However, a painkiller does not just provide comfort; its primary purpose is to numb. Hamm repeatedly asking for his painkiller resembles the West’s desire for numbness after several decades of extreme pain. In a similar vein, Hamm also asks, “Will it never end?” (2588). Perhaps this question mirrors the hopelessness that Beckett sees in the West. Because of the overall mocking tone of the play, he seems to be also mocking the hopelessness.
Endgame is extremely different from The Waste Land, in that it doesn’t rely as much on historical and real life events. Yes, there are a few allusions to geographical places, but for the most part, the play remains focused on an otherworldly, absurd setting. Because of the absurdity, it is even more difficult than The Waste Land to comprehend, a piece which at least used concrete examples from humanity to make its point.
Endgame by Samuel Beckett takes place outside of history, without a real setting. It critiques the history of Western Civilization by revealing the potential future of the world after it is destroyed by war. The characters are in a state of being that is not alive, but not quite dead. Clov goes back and forth between the windows, gazing out of them at the grayness and laughing because humanity is so close to ending that life has become a joke. There is nothing left, and although it isn’t night all Clov can see is gray. “Light black. From pole to pole” (2592). After Clov says that “There are so many terrible things,” Hamm realizes that “it’s a day like any other day” (2598). In this way Beckett critiques the way that history continues to repeat itself while Western Civilization makes the same mistakes over and over again.
In The Waste Land Eliot makes frequent allusions to history which is completely unlike Beckett’s work which is nearly devoid of allusions. The Waste Land has much more context than Endgame, even referencing the time of year and different parts of the world. While Endgame is all one Act, showing how the bleak future will be all encompassing, The Waste Land is broken up into parts making various arguments. The Waste Land does end on a hopefully note, however both works express the depressing state of Western Civilization.
Samuel Beckett’s Endgame critiques the senseless use of nuclear weapons in the world by presenting a hellishly empty world as a result of a nuclear holocaust—a future scenario outside of history, edging towards the near end of humanity. When Hamm orders Clov to describe their surroundings through the telescope, he describes the scene as “light black from pole to pole” (2592). They live in a world where “nature as forgotten them” (2583). There are no real indications about when or where the play takes place, primarily because it doesn’t matter anymore. The critique of Western civilization is the triviality of humanity as a whole, even to a humorous degree: as Nell says, “Nothing is funnier than unhappiness” (2586).
T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land is very different in its critique of Western civilization, focusing on many references and time periods to make the ideas more relatable to the reader. In “The Burial of the Dead” Eliot puts a strong focus on the seasons, and even mentions races and nations. He writes about religions and even mixing them in “The Fire Sermon,” giving all of his references value and worth. In the first part, Eliot specifically chooses a setting, London, when describing the “living dead,” while Beckett prefers to create a nameless void to prove his point.
Beckett’s Endgame gives a dismal view of Western Civilization. One of the critiques he makes is the futility of any individuals to have meaningful connections. He demonstrates this through the uselessness of words to depict anything meaningful.
The characters in Beckett’s Endgame speak past each other. There is a futility attached to words and the use of words. This is part of Beckett’s critique of Western Civilization: there is no connection and no meaning in anything that anyone says to anyone else. When Nagg begins to pray aloud, Hamm interrupts him, yelling “Silence! In Silence!” (2602). Hamm, who has lost the use of his eyes and his legs, has only his speech and his hearing as a means of communicating with anyone. Yet, he cannot even share his story. He has to lie to his own father, promising sugar plums that don’t exist, in order to get anyone to listen. Clov says that his story is: “The one you’ve been telling yourself all your days” (2603), implying that all he has ever said in an attempt to tell a story is meaningless because it has touched no one.
In addition to the lack of meaning and connection, Beckett examines the fragmentation that words cause in the isolated individual. During one of his monologues, Hamm says: “Then babble, babble, babble, words, like the solitary child who turns himself into children, two, three, so as to be together, and whisper together, in the dark” (2607). Because words can give no meaningful connection between individuals, they act within the individual, fragmenting him so that he does not feel alone. Denied a true dialogue with others, he begins a destructive dialogue with himself that leaves him “in the dark,” incapable of finding anything outside of himself. This is very reminiscent of Eliot’s The Waste Land. Throughout the poem, Eliot uses different voices and different languages to depict the confusion and lack of cohesion in individuals coming from the tradition of Western Civilization. Both authors are aware of the harm that words can bring through meaninglessness, isolation, and fragmentation, for the individual.
A major theme in Endgame is death. Or rather, the living dead. Much like Eliot in The Waste Land, Beckett uses the dead with an entirely different meaning. Endgame is a story without time, without a story really, so the characters could be anyone or anything. Clov and Hamm seem to be alive, but Nagg and Nell are questionably so. They have “very white face[s]” (Beckett 2582). It also seems that Nagg is Hamm’s father, and since Hamm is on the brink of death, the two ashcan occupants must be some kind of ghostly creatures who do not seem to be aware of their absence from the world of the living. This parallels Eliot in the very beginning of The Waste Land. The first stanza (at the least) is narrated by the dead, who calmly discuss the circumstances of their decomposition. Although they differ in knowing they are dead, they share a distinctive indifference to the fact.
The Waste Land and Endgame also both take place in undefined historical periods. They both have great meaning and serve as critiques for their (and all) times, but remain ambiguous. Endgame’s setting in a gray room in a gray world is certainly not confined to one civilization, but Western seems appropriate, being the one with which Beckett is most acquainted. By not using a specific time period, he also takes no prisoners in accusing the world of repeating the same mistakes over and over. “Ah yesterday!” Nell repeatedly moans, and she is joined in the sentiment by the rest of the characters as they repeat phrases and conversations over and over, until Hamm finally says, “Ah the old questions, the old answers, there’s nothing like them!” (Beckett 2586, 2595). Repetition demonstrates the brick wall in the way of progress created by nostalgia. The quick pace of the discourse also demonstrates the churning repetition of human misery and folly, just like the wild, scattered, tumbling nature of The Waste Land.
In reading Samuel Beckett’s Endgame there are several obvious ways in which the text engages with the history of Britain while still existing outside of a specific historical timeline. Then, when one compares the play to The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot one does not immediately see the correlation between the two pieces but later realizes that Hamm and Clov are living imprisoned in a wasteland of their own making. Their dead, mechanical lives along with the sad, pathetic lives of Nell and Nagg clearly align with Eliot’s assertion that man, “each in his prison, thinking of the key, each confirms a prison”. These correlations eventually lead one to conclude that both Eliot and Beckett wanted their readers to see the hopeless, mechanical state of western civilization post-war, however, even as I saw their primary points, the main correlation that I saw between the two pieces was the message of hope.
In Endgame we see that Beckett views existences as circular things, where every end is also a beginning. While Hamm and Clov are stuck in the endgame of their actual lives, they cannot help but wonder if they are “not beginning to mean something”. The way in which Beckett constructs the play also lends itself to the idea of new beginnings with its numerous allusions to Christ, whose death gave birth to a new religion and the killing of the flea from which humanity may be reborn. In Endgame it would seem, death related endings are synonymous with new beginnings. In The Waste Land, while hopelessness definitely takes center stage, the end of the poem changes the scope of what Eliot was saying with the simple word “shantih”. This Sanskrit word means peace or calmness but the way in which it was used in the poem means “the peace which passeth understanding” and the use of this word allows the reader to finish the poem with some idea of a hopeful beginning. I think that Beckett and Eliot, even as they were consumed with the idea that western civilization was a wasteland, still chose to end their works with a message of hope because despite their cynicism, they knew that life could not – and would not – remain hopeless forever.
The way that Beckett uses Clov’s house in “Endgame”, is different than that of “The Waste Land” because the messages are less direct in the way Beckett uses them. The war has created a sense of disparity among individuals, and Beckett portrays this message through a different setting. The way that Beckett portrays the horrors of the war are through a single outcome of one individual’s experience. The experience portrays one perspective of how the war affects the world.
“Hamm: But you might be merely dead in your kitchen
Clov: The result would be the same”
Beckett’s use of dialogue portrays a similar message as “The Waste Land” does, only in a more subtle way. “The Waste Land” and “Endgame” both explore the disasters of the war and corruption of the Western civilization. T.S. Eliot’s messages in “The Waste Land” are much more direct in the critique of Western civilization’s history. It appears that Beckett’s subtle way of creating a critique requires a reader to look deeper past the dialogue in order to view his critique of the history of Western Civilization
Samuel Beckett’s “Endgame” portrays the empty lives of Hamm and Clov, living in a barren wasteland with gray skies, “CLOV: Light black. From pole to pole” where nothing will grow, “CLOV: If they were going to sprout they would have sprouted. [Violently] They’ll never sprout!” The play is set outside of history. It is independent of a known timeline, and we only know that Hamm and Clov’s world was not always this way.
T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Waste Land” is somewhat different, but it does convey the same message. “The Waste Land” focuses on the details of normal life after the war, depicting snapshots of individual lives emptily going through their daily motions. They have their routines, but their actions lack meaning. They have become mechanical, functioning in the wasteland through necessity.
The deadness that is present in both works—through the meaningless and mindless actions of people in “The Waste Land” that lack passion or emotion, and the barren and dead landscape through the windows of Hamm’s home in “Endgame”—mirror the emptiness present in Western Civilization after the war. The people were filled with melancholy, many numb to real life, and the future seemed bleak.
In “Endgame” by Samuel Beckett, the bleak setting of Hamm’s home parallels the bleakness of Western Civilization after the war. Through Hamm’s character, who is blind and thinks that there “cannot be a misery loftier than his” Beckett illustrates the hopelessness and sense of defeat that many experienced after the war. This is also represented in the barren landscape, which we see through Clov’s descriptions of the land when he looks out the two windows. The attitude of defeat and apathy that most embodied after the war is exemplified through Hamm and Clov’s conversation where Hamm asks:
Hamm: What time is it?
Clov: The same as usual.
Hamm: [gestures towards window right] Have you looked?
Just as the “Endgame” engages with history, “The Waste Land” by T.S. Eliot also does so but in a more direct and less abstract way. Beckett used the repetition of Hamm and Clov’s daily routine, as well as a cynical outlook on life, to represent the modern world after the war. Eliot’s poem, on the other hand, portrays these politics on the surface and it functions like an archive of culture. This is most likely a result of Eliot’s own involvement in the war. Despite this difference, however, the two works explore similar ideas and convey the same message: the deadness of war is responsible for the deadness in modernity. They suggest that humanity is divorced from nature and the desire to reproduce and bring humanity forward is dead. Both works also imply that humanity has become more of a game, chess in particular, where some individuals become pawns who are being mechanically moved around by others who have taken on the roles of kings and queens.
“Our Society at Cranford” and Darwin’s theories are very unalike in many ways, but there are still some parts of the fictional story that can be compared to Darwin’s writings. One part of Gaskell’s story that is very different from Darwin’s beliefs is that women are thought to be superior to men, according to the narrator, “she would have despised the modern idea of women being equal to men…she knew they were superior” (1440). Darwin does not think of women to be superior and points out that the men are responsible for choosing their wives, and compares this choice to picking out “his horses, cattle, and dogs” (1282).
They both speak of poverty in similar ways. The idea that poverty is shameful in Cranford is seen also in Darwin’s theories, he says, “poverty is not only a great evil, but tends to its own increase by leading to recklessness in marriage” (1282). In Cranford when Captain Brown openly admits that he is not wealthy the women are appalled and think that he is being inappropriate. Both narrators are hesitant to accept outsiders or newcomers, and the ladies of Cranford and Darwin are all quite judgmental. Darwin believes that Jemmy and the others should take on the ways of life that he thinks are acceptable and that he himself adheres to, just as the ladies of Cranford believe that Captain Brown should follow their rules. For example when Captain Brown wants to introduce them to more modern literature Miss Jenkyns will not allow it and does not leave any room for compromise. They are stuck in their ways and unwilling to accept anything different.
Both Frankenstein and Robinson Crusoe are written in the first person. In both stories the narrator is trying to explain a personal experience that is very rare and unique. Robinson Crusoe is describing various parts of life after being shipwrecked. He is alone at first, and in the paragraph at the bottom of the handout he is living within a new society. Dr. Frankenstein also has a feeling of solitude. He is working long hours and driving himself mad attempting to bring this creature back to life. Both stories are similar in that they show the narrative of someone working hard to reach a goal, but the goals are incredibly different. Crusoe is merely trying to survive, but Dr. Frankenstein is attempting to use science to bring back a life.
Frankenstein seems to be more emotional and unrealistic, whereas Crusoe is just telling a factual account of his journey. For example Dr. Frankenstein’s description of himself, “my cheek had grown pale with study, and my person had become emaciated with confinement,” (692) seems to be more dramatic than the words of Crusoe. Crusoe uses lists and definite factual language instead of exaggerated dramatic language like Dr. Frankenstein. Daniel Defoe shows that he is more concerned with reality, facts, and the present than Wollstonecraft characterizes Frankenstein to be. Defoe writes that “by stating and squaring everything by reason” man can learn how to craft or create basically anything. Frankenstein talks about his constant hope throughout his process that he will succeed, but Crusoe (at least in this selection) does not mention the hope of being rescued or helped.
The idea of culture is Eliot’s poem is hard to understand, because the characters in his poem are very different from one another. “The Wasteland” kind of skips around between different subjects and is very “difficult” to understand. The subject matter at first seems very broad, and it is hard to understand the meaning. He speaks from the point of view of dead soldiers amongst other voices, and this shows how death is a major part of the current culture. Eliot’s culture is dark and related to death. Arnold’s culture is focused on “sweetness and light.” T.S. Eliot’s view of the future seems to be much more vague and unknown than the future that the culture from Matthew Arnold is working toward. Eliot speaks of “cracked earth” (line 370), and “falling towers” (374), which describes the way that the world’s cities are falling apart. He mentions cities from the past and present “Jerusalem Athens Alexandria Vienna London” (lines 375-376). Eliot shows that culture is universal. It is not only in one place and it is not only from one time. It is a mixture of different places and different times that is affecting the culture of his time. He also includes multiple cultures by using multiple languages throughout the poem.
Arnold states that “culture hates hatred” (1596), but there is a lot of hatred at the time that Eliot is writing “The Wasteland” as a result of the First World War. The world was very divided at this time, and it was not one of Arnold’s “happy moments of humanity” (1596). On the other hand, most of the world was going through similar situations trying to rebuild whatever they had before the conflict. Eliot asks questions such as “Are you alive or not? Is there nothing in your head?” (line 26), “What shall I do now? What shall I do?” (line 131), “what shall we ever do?” (2302), to show that the culture was confused and they had no real common aim for the future. The people of this time were confused and lost.
The picturesque is said to be something that is not perfect, but that
is full of imperfections and irregularities. Unlike beauty,
picturesque images should not be smooth and symmetrical. They should
be rough and interesting to look at. William Gilpin describes Tintern
Abbey as an “awful piece of ruin.” This description is exactly what we
talked about when describing the picturesque in class. Gilpin also
talks about the “novelty” of the structure. It is more interesting and
unique to see a structure with rugged lines, overgrown moss, and
missing windows than to see a painting of a brand new skyscraper with
straight lines and shiny even walls.
William Wordsworth uses the term “wild” to describe the surroundings
of Tintern Abbey. This is an appropriate word for a picturesque scene,
because something that is picturesque should not be something well put
together or perfectly organized. Tintern Abbey is full of different
shapes. It is not just one perfectly smooth looking building
surrounded by concrete, and this makes it look more interesting and
picturesque when painted or sketched.
In To The Lighthouse, Woolf uses narrative perspective to portray her unique style of storytelling all throughout the book. “Time Passes” is a short section that definitely sums up a lot of the happenings in a short amount of pages. Disillusion is one of the most intoxicating side affect for many people during WWI. Woolf changes the perspectives throughout “Time Passes” in a surprisingly brief and shallow manner. The perspective comes upon Mr. Carmicheal, lying in his bed reading reflects the war affected view. She writes of his war-like dehumanizing, “Nothing, it seemed, could survive the flood, the profusion of darkness, which creeping in at keyholes and crevices, stole round window blinds…” (Woolf 126). In this section, Woolf uses symbolism to create an even more intimidating face for the war that is going on during this period. By characterizing the wind as a reason to the war’s momentum, Woolf produces a viewpoint for the reader that implicates that a lot of fear and destruction is building inside of them. Again, we see the downfall to these characters as “Time Passes” continues.
Time is truly passing during this short section of the novel, not only in the actual sense of time but also in the downhill progression of the weakening of the minds of people affected by the war. I noticed this immediately in the change that is seen in Mr. Ramsay’s character. During the beginning of the novel, Ramsay is described by Woolf as “lean as a knife, narrow as the blade of one” (Woolf 4). He stands as such a definite and strong figure throughout “The Window”. She writes “But alas, divine goodness, twitching the cord, draws the curtain; it does not please him; he covers his treasures in a drench of hail, ans so breaks them, so confuses them that it seems impossible that their calm should ever return..” and continues on later in the passage ,”no image with semblance of serving and divine promptitude comes readily to hand bringing the night to order and making the world reflect the compass of the soul” (Woolf 128). Through this incredibly solemn scene viewed through the eyes of Mr. Ramsay, the implications of the war are greatly noted. Ramsay, a once unbreakable man, unexpectedly becomes a product of the war filled with confusion, sadness and emptiness. Mr. Ramsay stood out to me as the greatest example of the use of narrative that Woolf utilizes to produce the discomforting truth that WWI had produce in the way of the characterization of the Ramsay and the others.
The narrative perspective in “Time Passes” invokes feelings of dissonance, or detachment towards the characters that we have come to know. The personification of the wind and darkness is also successful at describing post war feelings that many people went through. Everything being shrouded in darkness is representative of everyone losing their light, drive, and overall happiness due to what was going on with WWI.
The detachment is seen with the death of the characters. Their deaths are simply mentioned and nothing more than that. Which really surprised me with Mrs. Ramsay’s character because she seemed to be the unifying glue, through her internal and external beauty, that kept the whole household together. Her death even further represents the vast darkness that the war brought; that even such a bright light as Mrs. Ramsay could be extinguished without hardly any emotion.
The war not only brought about death on the battlefield. It resulted in the demise of a carefree time. The war caused people to worry and when the fighting ceased people were still not at peace. The Ramsay’s summer home is a place of refuge. Life before the war may not have been perfect, but there were good times. The Ramsay’s summer home was full of good times with family and friends. The abandonment of the house shows the absence of good times after the war. “The house was left; the house was deserted. It was left like a shell on a sandhill to fill with dry salt grains now that life had left it. The long night seemed to have set in; the trifling airs, nibbling, the clammy breaths, fumbling, seemed to have triumphed. The saucepan had rusted and the mat decayed.” (Woolf, 137) The narrative technique focuses on the emptiness and death that have taken over the house. These are the strongest forces and it will be impossible to overcome them. Even the salt grains are described as “dry”. This produces a skeleton-like image. The rust and decay are also images of death. The war did not just kill the young men that fought in it. It also killed the house that was the symbol of good times.
Dehumanization is a prominent feature of “Time Passes”. The first section focused on the different characters, their thoughts, actions, ambitions and emotions. The focus of the second section is the house and its physical decay and emptiness. This parallels how human beings lost their worth during the war. Men died as “means to an end”. They were not treated with respect. The fates of the characters are in parentheses “(Prue Ramsay died that summer in some illness connected with childbirth, which was indeed a tragedy, people said, everything, they said, had promised so well.)” Having the death of one of the major characters in parentheses is a sharp contrast from the attention which they had in the first section. Writing about Prue’s death as an aside represents how the war threw away human life as if it was nothing. This dehumanization was permanent according to Virginia Woolf.