Beckett, Eliot, and the Futility of Words

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.

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2 thoughts on “Beckett, Eliot, and the Futility of Words

  1. I had not really caught on to the fact that the characters “speak past each other”, which I think is a very interesting take on the conversations in Endgame. I think you are right in that realizing that the characters are not truly saying anything and that they have a massive lack of connection changes the effect of the dialogue significantly.

  2. I appreciate your take on the words and dialogue used in Endgame. The characters inability to connect their conversations is a huge part of creating the theme of meaninglessness found in the poem.

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