ASPECT OF BECKETT'S FICTION
(through Murphy & Watt)
Samuel Barclay Beckett came from a Protestant Anglo-Irish family, but much of his work was first written in French. After graduating with a degree in Romance languages from Trinity College, Dublin, Beckett spent two years (1928-30) in Paris as an exchange lecturer. Here he met James Joyce and became a member of his circle. In 1930, Beckett returned to Trinity as a lecturer. The academic life did not agree with him, however, and he left after only four terms to become a free-lance writer. He traveled in Europe and England, settling finally in Paris, his intermittent home since 1937.
The language Beckett employs in his early fictions ...view middle of the document...
" Packed into this sentence are a parody of Ecclesiastes (1. v), a subscription to fatalism, and a statement of a major theme in the book - the absence of real change in human life. Beckett is trying to break through the illusion of order, of correspondence between signifier and signified, that words produce. Murphy offers a vision of Creation as a huge verbal joke. Its hero, Murphy, not only reverses all commonly accepted social conventions (preferring rest to work, contemplation to sexual love, the insane to the sane); he simultaneously inverts traditional uses of language. "In the beginning was the pun," he intones. Beckett employs puns, paradox, allusion, repetition, inversion, all in an attempt to disrupt the predictable semantic effects of language. Much of the resulting dialogue is highly mannered, showing more interest in creating mutually negating patterns of words than in mimetically reproducing plausible verbal exchanges. Take Murphy's exchange with Celia, the heroine-prostitute:
"How can I care what you do?"
"I am what I do," said Celia.
"No," said Murphy. "You do what you are..."
Murphy comes closer than his fictional predecessor to Dante's Belacqua (about whom he fantasizes) by inducing physical stasis in order to be free to explore the world of the mind. An entire chapter describes his mind and his attempts to retreat to what he fondly imagines is its freedom from worldly involvement. "Murphy's mind pictured itself as a large hollow sphere, hermetically closed to the universe without." Here Beckett pictures for the first time the skullscape of consciousness that is to become the principal arena for his major work. Murphy in fact feels divided in Cartesian fashion between body and mind - the perfect inheritor of an Enlightenment project gone awry. His mind is divided into three zones, light, half light, and dark, roughly corresponding to the conscious, semi conscious and unconscious. He aspires to enter the dark which is "nothing but commotion." "Here he was not free, but a mote in the dark of absolute freedom." Murphy's biggest error consists in thinking that he can choose or will himself to become such a mote. Freedom in this book means total indifference to one's circumstances. The only character who approximates to this condition is Endon (Greek for "within"), a mental patient. Murphy plays chess with him only to realize that Endon plays chess with nobody but himself. He does not even acknowledge the existence of his opponent. Gazing into Endon's eyes Murphy realizes that Endon fails to see him. All he can perceive is his own reflection in Endon's eyeballs. "'Mr. Murphy is a speck in Mr. Endon's unseen.'" No communication between minds is possible.
If Murphy represents the mind in Descartes' dual metaphysic, a bunch of Irish characters in search of Murphy for various reasons represent the tyranny of the body. Rushing between Cork, Dublin and London, they are incessantly in motion. One of them (Cooper) is unable to sit down...