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ENDGAME THEMES

Endgame Theme of Life, Consciousness, Existence


Beckett was extremely taken with what it meant to be alive to exist. He was particularly interested
in what it meant to exist in a world that seemed to resist any search for meaning to one's life. While
a lot of 'humanistic' texts talk about how great it is to be a human being and how dignified we all
are, Beckett was obsessed with the nasty underbelly of 'humanism.' What about people who cannot,
despite their best efforts, lead dignified lives? What about the tramps and the servants and all the
people who get stepped on while the rest of us are busy trying to create an ideal world? The
characters in Endgame are borne out of the dark side of humanism.
Questions About Life, Consciousness, Existence:
1. What is the relationship between the universal and the particular in the play? Are the two
distinct? How do characters go about making generalizations and how are these
generalizations undermined?
2. Do Hamm and Clov want their lives to have meaning? In a world in which they are
inevitably doomed would it be better or worse for one's life to take on meaning?
Chew on This:
Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devils advocate.

The pessimism of the play allows Beckett to explore certain themes that are often ignored by
optimistic philosophies. In particular, Beckett considers the fact that life is a horrible task to
be endured; these statements would not be possible if he took a different attitude toward the
material.

Hamm and Clov do not want their lives to have a meaning. Their suffering is so great that
they think it would be better if everything was purposeless and given up to chance. They
cannot conceive of a great 'plan' that would justify their suffering, and so meaninglessness
becomes a sort of relief.

QUOTES on these themes


Quote #1
CLOV
All life long the same questions, the same answers. (1.29)
What are some of the questions that Clov might be referring to? Is he right? Does this mean
that life is static? Where can we gain knowledge and where can we only accumulate
questions like grains of sand?
Quote #2
HAMM
But we breath, we change! We lose our hair, our teeth! Our bloom! Our ideals! (1.107)

Notice how Hamm measures growth by decay, by what is lost. Is this a general commentary
on the way that human beings change or is it peculiar to Hamm and Clov's situation?
Quote #3
HAMM
In the morning they brace you up and in the evening they calm you down. Unless it's the other way
round.
(Pause.)
That old doctor, he's dead naturally? (1.250)
What do you make of the fact that Hamm begins by making a sweepingly general statement
about life and then moves to thinking about a particular doctor? What is the relationship
between the universal and the particular in the play?
Quote #4
HAMM
What's happening?
CLOV
Something is taking its course. (1.339-340)
Clov repeats these lines several times in the play. Does this view of life leave any
room for individual agency or control? Is it a completely fatalistic view? Is it a
philosophy of Clov's or is it simply borne of his despair?
Quote #5
HAMM
We're not beginning totomean something?
CLOV
Mean something! You and I, mean something!
(Brief laugh.)
Ah that's a good one!
HAMM
I wonder.
(Pause.)
Imagine if a rational being came back to earth, wouldn't he be liable to get ideas into his head if he
observed us long enough. (1.343-345)
Do you think that Hamm is hoping that they mean something or is this some sort of
odd threat? What view of life would it take for someone to wish that his or her life
had no meaning? What state would the world have to be in?
HW> Find out at least two more quotes on this theme in Endgame, and formulate a reflection or
question for your classmates as in the examples.