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<i>Themes in Beckett, Pinter, and Lawrence</i> Themes in Beckett, Pinter, and Lawrence

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The three stories, The Endgame (Beckett), The Dumbwaiter (Pinter), and The Horse Dealer’s Daughter (Lawrence) all deal with the themes of repression, repetition, and breakdowns in communication. The stories show us the subjectivity of language and exemplify the complexities of the human condition.

Samuel Beckett arrived on earth in Ireland on Good Friday, April 13, 1906. He then spent the rest of his life wanting to be somewhere else. Beckett’s life was one of silence, solitude, and depression. He felt he did not belong in this world and he was disenchanted with societal convention and the hum-drum existence that was everyday life. He lived in Paris for awhile and became good friends with James Joyce, another Irish writer disenchanted with conventional ways of life.

Becketts works reflect his complex views of language, silence, and the ineffectual capacity of both to convey human thought. In Beckett’s ideology, "Language is useless" and "he creates a mythical universe peopled by lonely creatures who struggle vainly to express the inexpressible. His characters exist in a terrible dreamlike vacuum, overcome by an overwhelming sense of bewilderment and grief, grotesquely attempting some form of communication, then crawling on, endlessly."

Beckett’s short story, The Endgame, is about four people in an underground room waiting for death. The end of the world has apparently happened and they have survived in what is presumed to be a bomb shelter. Two of the characters live in trash cans. These two characters are the parents of our main character, Hamm, who is himself confined to a wheelchair. Hamm and his parents, Nagg and Nell, are taken care of by Clov, the servant who apparently can still walk but is failing fast. The play premiered on April 3, 1957 at the Royal Court Theatre in London in French and was Beckett’s second masterpiece.

Beckett’s plays typically take place in one room - signifying a type of prison to its inhabitants. The characters endlessly repeat patterns of behavior such as repetitive questions, looking out windows, and telling the same stories. These repetitions are symbolic of the inane repetitions that human beings make every day - wake up, go to work, come home, go to sleep.

The absolute meaninglessness of this repetition is part of the human condition. The wait for death is unavoidable. The human being is born, lives, and then dies. Beckett’s point is that there is no meaning to life, he calls it ‘absurd’. Beckett participated in "The Theater of the Absurd", which was a French movement in the fifties’ and wrote plays with this theme of ‘nothingness’.

Influenced by Beckett and The Theater of the Absurd was Harold Pinter. Important to understanding Pinter’s plays is understanding the nature of silence. Pinter "categorized speech as that which attempts to cover the nakedness of silence." In The Dumbwaiter, the dumb-waiter symbolizes a disconnection in human communication. The two characters, Gus and Ben, are hit-men awaiting orders on who is their next victim. Their orders are (presumably) finally sent down from the above floor via the dumb-waiter. The characters, like the dumbwaiter, are only the carriers of information. Gus laments in Part One, "you come into a place when it’s still dark, you come into a room you’ve never seen before, you sleep all day, you do your job, and then you go away in the night again." (Pinter) The actions which they carry out, the thoughts that they have, their speech - are all simply repetitions of someone else or society.

This play emulates Beckett’s style of the absurd and the lack of meaning in daily routine. When Ben comments on how they will receive their orders, Gus answers, "He might not come. He might just send a message. He doesn’t always come." (Pinter) The boss, Wilson, is never seen or even heard in the play. He is a God-like character, intregal to the story but absent. Wilson keeps the men waiting, always in suspense, they never know what their next job will be, only that the orders will come sooner or later and they must carry them out.

Gus is child-like and, as in Beckett’s story, doomed to repetitive action. He frequently has to go to the bathroom, in itself a boring repetitive action that is part of the human condition. He asks Ben questions incessantly and when he gets an answer (which is not often), he repeats it back to Ben. This type of repetition goes on throughout the story.

"BEN: If there’s a knock on the door you don’t answer it.
GUS: If there’s a knock on the door I don’t answer it." (Pinter)

As we emerge from the existentialism of Beckett and Pinter we come to the son of an English coal miner, David Herbert (D. H.) Lawrence. Lawrence was born on September 11, 1885. He spent his childhood in the coal mining town of Eastwood, Nottinghamshire and was described as being "different" because of his love of literature. He was well educated and, as an adult, earned his living teaching and writing novels, short stories, essays, plays, travel books and poems. He is best known for his novels Sons and Lovers and Women in Love. Much of his writing centered on sexuality. Indeed, there has been speculation regarding Lawrence’s sexual orientation, even though he did briefly marry. Lawrence died of tuberculosis, which he had suffered all of his life, in 1930 at the age of forty-five.

The short story The Horse Dealer’s Daughter was (and still is) one of the most controversial of Lawrence’s work. In the story, Mabel’s father has died and she and her brothers are being turned out of their home. The imagery of the horses that were their livelihood being led away illuminates the hopelessness in discovering that one is analogous to ‘cattle’. "The great drough-horses swung past Every movement showed a massive, slumberous strength, and a stupidity which held them in subjection." (Lawrence) One of the brothers furthers the image by noting that now "He would marry and go into harness. His life was over, he would be a subject animal now." (Lawrence)

Mabel doesn’t know where she will go and ultimately decides to drown herself in the pond. Was the descending into the pond a re-birth for Mabel, a baptism into a new life? She is saved from drowning by Dr. Ferguson, who happens to witness her descent into "the dead water". He now becomes her savior. Mabel’s response is to ask the good doctor if he loves her. Is she responding to the emotional traumas she has just been through by latching onto what she perceives as her savior? Or does Mabel quickly see an alternative to death in the hope of marrying Dr. Ferguson? Both views have been bandied about and many believe that Mabel was being manipulative in her actions, including the suicide attempt.

Perhaps the most interesting interpretation of the story is that Dr. Ferguson is homosexual and he is the one who finds a ‘savior’ in Mabel.

"Do you love me, then?" she asked.
He only stood and stared at her, fascinated. His soul seemed to melt...He had never thought of loving her...It was horrible to have her there embracing his knees...He revolted from it violently." (Lawrence)

Here is a young woman with no hope of ever finding a husband (indeed, she just tried to kill herself) and, in her, Dr. Ferguson can outwardly lead a heterosexual life (as was expected of him in those times). Perhaps Jack saw in Mabel a chance to be saved from his self-repressed gayness?

Regardless of the differing theories surrounding the motives of Mabel and Jack, the central theme that Lawrence infuses his story with is the nature of instinct versus rational thought. The large question is - are Mabel and Jack acting from instinct in declaring their love? And have they returned to rational thought by the end of the story? Lawrence believed that the unconscious is the soul and all action should be from instinct. That is a scary thought!

Works Cited

Beckett, Samuel. "The Endgame", (online) http://samuel-beckett.net

Pinter, Harold. "The Dumb Waiter", The Caretaker and The Dumb Waiter, Grove Press, Inc., New York, 1965

Lawrence, D.H. "The Horse Dealer’s Daughter", (online)

"Samuel Beckett", (online) http://www.imagi-nation.com/moonstruck/clsc7.htm

"Harold Pinter", (online) http://www.imagi-nation.com/moonstruck/clsc28.html

Cliff Notes. "Harold Pinter - The Dumb Waiter"(online)

Prentice Hall, (online) http://wps.prenhall.com/hss_guth_disclit_3/0,5308,342140-,00.html

Nigel Harrison, Eastwood and D H Lawrence, (online) http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/nigel_h/dhl.htm

Randall Albright, "The Horse Dealer's Daughter", (online) http://clik.to/rananim/



K. Y. Hamilton, BA, MA - Copyright 2002, 2006


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