The Concept of Time and Space in Beckett's Dramas
Happy Days and Waiting for Godot
Dong-Ho Sohn, Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, Seoul, Korea
Above all, Beckett does not put his action in a historical setting. Traditionally, drama creates a world with reference to objective reality. An important part of dramatic performance is to present the spectators with some event they can recognize and identify in connection with the practical aspects of life. Each time they see a performance, they find themselves thrown into a new world which is a mixture of the familiar and the strange and unknown. The familiar is the threshold through which they venture into the strange and unknown. The ratio of the familiar is the highest in the drama of mimetic objective realism, whereas it is low in the drama portraying the phenomena occurring in the unconscious. Beckett depicts life as strange, mysterious, and beyond rational explanation.
In the performance of Beckett's work, the spectators find it hard to enjoy themselves due to the strangeness of the world presented on the stage. Beckett has reduced the familiar in his work to the extent that the strange dominates the action, seriously modifying the function of the familiar in the process of signification. Drama is concerned with life and death to be represented in such artistic genres as tragedy and comedy. In other words, drama is the ritualization of 'life' and 'death' with a view to familiarizing the fearful reality of existence. The spectators enjoy the spirit of 'game' or 'play' from the stage performance which imitates the action of man. In Beckett's drama it is hard for us to experience the spirit of 'play' or 'game'. Beckett rips off the veil of familiarized ritual from dramatic art when he reduces the familiar to a minimum in his work. The stylized action in traditional drama does not help the spectators confront bare existence. It induces them to ignore it. In order to deal with the question of bare existence as such, Beckett depicts man in the state of being nothing and doing nothing without superimposing conventional narrative structure on the action.
The simple but horrifying set of Happy Days is designed to awaken the spectators and urge them to face the human condition without any inessential decoration. Winnie can be seen as Everyman helplessly thrown into life like the protagonist in Act Without Words I (Kern 51). Only when placed against such a background is one compelled to tackle the questions of existence without compromise, the mystery and transitoriness and nothingness of being. Beckett's intention of exhibiting bare existence can be read in the compositional process of his work. From his earliest years Beckett chose to keep distance from objective mimesis for the reason that it relies on empiricism which is the art of the surface (Gontarski 1985, 5). Absence rather than presence characterizes Beckett's world. The world of crowded images in Shakespeare is hard to find in the linguistic sparseness of Beckett's empty space (States 1978, 5). An investigation of the manuscripts of Happy Days reveals that Beckett's composition of the work is not something that proceeds from an abstract idea and skeletal structure at the outset to a concrete situation with fuller elaboration of characters in the later stage. To the contrary, his creative process is a transition from the realistic and concrete to the abstract, condensed and vague. Apparently his text is first full of social and historical facts, which are later removed or purposely 'vaguened' to reveal a universal pattern.
The dramatist condenses or decomposes the original manuscript in which the action is more traditionally motivated and the world more familiar and recognizable until the original identifiable world has completely evaporated (Gontarski 75). The elimination of the omniscient author himself takes place in this process. By the time he finishes writing, Beckett has gone through numerous intentional undoings of the text's origins (Gontarski 3). Beckett's method of representation can be compared to photography. The cover picture in black and white of Bert O. States' book on Waiting for Godot, The Shape of Paradox, shows two men, one sitting on the ground and the other standing. What characterizes the picture most is the indistinct contour of the objects, apparently intending to remind the reader of Vladimir and Estragon. What is interesting in the picture is that it is almost impossible to discern the features of their faces, the fingers of their hands, and the shoes on their feet. They are all blurry. The cameraman might have taken them, coming in and out of focus, or oscillating between the objects (States 29).
If Happy Days is to be compared to a picture, it could be a picture which fails to show the characters' contour clearly because they were taken at too close a range. Or, it is as if the cameraman had magnified the object so many times that it lost its natural shape to look like something else. Jonathan Swift makes Gulliver travel the country of giants to reveal the ugliness of humans seen in magnified versions. In Happy Days, the spectators seem seated so close to the protagonist that they can almost see her body hair, her pimples and the wrinkles in her face, and even smell her breath. Unable to see the overall shape of the protagonist's body, they are not sure whether they are watching a human or an animal. This phenomenon occurs as the result of the intentional undoings in which Beckett removes all the decorations from the protagonist which can be used to make her look like a social being. The spectators come to see an old lady buried in a mound of earth, which is a poetic image symbolizing the existential condition of man.
In Happy Days, the temporal background of the action is vague and uncertain with all the evidence withheld which can be used to assess the action in realistic or historical terms. In an early draft of the play the dramatist employs an alarm clock and the sunlight to control and measure Winnie's day and night, but later changes them to a bell and a simple light that never changes in order to diminish the importance of mechanical time. The associations with quotidian activities in the alarm clock and the sunlight do not help examine the fate of man as such. Winnie never uses a date. When she broaches an episode from her memory, its history is never mentioned. Neither she nor the spectators can measure when and where the episode had taken place in her life. Furthermore, her memory is all fragments which do not make up a coherent story. It seems that she happens to run into broken pieces of past events randomly surfacing in her mind.
Winnie herself is not sure of her own memory:
"The sunshade you gave me...that day...(pause)...that day...the lake...the reeds. (Eyes front. Pause.) What day? (Pause.) What reeds?" Sometimes it is not clear whether her story had actually happened or she simply invents it to pass the time. The fundamental nature of the narrative is the linear progression of action in the continuum of time and space. In each scene, dialogues and movements weave the web of signification in conjunction with other theatrical elements on the stage. The concatenation of dramatic moments in the action and interaction of the characters is traditionally based on the principle of logic and causality. The causal links which are in charge of the progression of action are frequently missing in Beckett's world. His scene is built with sentences with no apparent causal (logical) connectivity, all seemingly discrete threads of string:
The above sentences seem like alternations of unrelated monologues which form an action scarcely invested with logical relation, narrative consistency, or linear progression. The characters do not seem to be aware of what they are concerned with nor where their conversation is leading to. Each sentence simply hints at the state of the speaker without actively participating in the process of describing or following events sequentially. It simply presents a fragmentary picture of the situation without necessarily being connected to the sentence before and after it.
In Waiting for Godot the temporal background of the action is rather conspicuous compared with his other works. It seems that Vladimir and Estragon have specific information about the appointment with Godot, knowing when, where and who they are waiting for. They set store by punctuality in keeping the appointment as if they were businessmen waiting for some client at the designated time and place. However, their sense of time and space soon become unstable by the intervention of another kind of time.
Beckett avoids entrapment in clock time and physical space by blurring specifics in the background of the action. As the date of the appointment with Godot wobbles and the certainty of the characters recedes with the onset of anxiety and skepticism, the initial specificity of the appointment is dissolved into some universal temporality of 'meeting'.
Beckett has no qualms about dealing with discrete pieces of times and places at the same time, fusing them into a heterogeneous scene in one comprehensive view. The viewpoint of the characters jumps from the present to a biblical past, and then jumps back to the present. The action moves from one place to another without any restriction. When several episodes with different historical backgrounds are juxtaposed in the same context, the particularity of individual episodes gives way to the neutralized universality of the situation, with time losing depth and becoming spatialized. The whole action turns into an ahistorical miscellany of events, and an atemporal overview of the human condition (Frank 63-64).
In Waiting for Godot the dramatist connects the humble life of the two tramps with the idea of Christian vigil, elevating the lowest form of life (humilitas) to the biblical dimension (sublimitas) (States 20). While pretending to depict the most trivial type of life, Beckett evokes the noblest and holiest mode of being. On the realist stage there is the depth of time. In each scene we witness a moment in the history of the community presented in the work. When the curtain is raised, we assume that the place we see on the stage has been there before we see it and that it will continue to exist even as an imaginary society after the curtain goes down (Peter 7). In Beckett's drama the kind of community that we commonly experience in our daily life does not exist, and it is irrelevant and meaningless to try to trace the social origin of the characters or to evaluate their action in accordance with the dynamics of conventional dramaturgy. Beckett's characters and their world have no known history and no pre-established relationships among them (Lyons 130). His 'homeless' people have simply been thrown into a strange land without any preliminary explanation about their situation. They hardly recognize each other as members of the same community, nor know what to do with each other or the time given them. Beckett's scene operates in such a manner as to function in an endless present or in a spatial, temporal vacuum. The action is filled with questions, not with answers.
In Act II of Waiting for Godot, Vladimir showers Pozzo with questions about their identity because Pozzo and Lucky look the same, and at the same time different.
Vladimir's idea of time as continuum from past to future with no missing link is not compatible with Pozzo's discrete, indeterminate time. Vladimir tries to view in the Pozzo he sees at this moment the same, continuous extension of the Pozzo he met in the past, whereas Pozzo has successively changed into a different person over time. Pozzo becomes tired with Vladimir's linear perspective and his questions about why, when, where, and who, and finally cries out:
When! When! One day, is that not enough for you, one day he went dumb, one day I went blind, one day we'll go deaf, one day we were born, one day we shall die, the same day, the same second, is that not enough for you? (Calmer.) They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it's night once more. 
For Pozzo, time is not precisely divided into past, present, and future. Nor is it a linear, consistent progression. It is discrete and fragmentary. Life is a long continuum of time consisting of innumerable moments. But it can also be shortened to a day, or a moment.
Beckett employs a similar method about place. His stage remains an empty space in the historical sense. When proper names and places are used for the locale of a particular scene, they are almost empty, non-referential nouns which can be replaced by any other ones (States 89). They hardly have relational ties with other names or objects in their world. The 'here' that Vladimir recognizes for a moment as the meeting place with Godot has no geographical name for it. The dramatist withholds from the action any kind of characteristic that might indicate the particularity of the place other than the fact that it has a tree and a bog. In Act II Vladimir and Estragon think that they are in the same place as the previous day: they recognize the tree; the boots and hat are where they had been left; Pozzo and Lucky return to see them as in Act I, and Estragon has the wound from Lucky's kick. On the other hand, there are changes in the place: the bare tree has now sprouted a few leaves, and Pozzo and Lucky are much different and do not remember 'yesterday'; the boots are the wrong color and do not fit; the messenger boy swears that he has never seen them before. The objects on Beckett's stage are hollow and independent without any necessary connection to the characters and the world where they are found.
Realist stage is charged with history and relationship among the characters, objects and their environment. The objects and the environment reveal many things about the characters, who in turn define the objects and the world by dealing with them. In Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard, the bookcase, which is often the center of attention due to Gayeff's address to it, is coterminous with the historical society to which it belongs. Everything that takes place on the stage participates in the act of signification. Chekhov once said that if there is a rifle on the stage, it ought to be fired by the end of the action. On the other hand, Beckett's theater is the 'ember' of Realist theater. We see in Beckett the theater in ruins in which the traditional function and method of signification have been emptied from the stage. The language, the set, the characters, and the objects on his stage point to a state close to the absence of the world they are expected to embody through their presence. In the carrot Estragon eats, the audience sees not so much the plenty implied by one as the scarcity of it. Giving Estragon a carrot, Vladimir says, "Make it last, that's the end of them." .
In Chekhov's drama there are arrivals and departures. The stage is still an open, free, space. His characters have a house to put up at when they arrive. They can leave the place when they want to. They have a destination to reach at the end of their journey. Beckett's stage is a closed space. Although there are entrances and exits, the characters are not as free as Chekhov's. The three short stage directions at the opening of Waiting for Godot (A country road. A tree. Evening) invite the audience to an open and loose space which is not defined or demarcated in any terms. The dramatist never says that his characters ought to look and act in such and such way. The stage seems like a completely free world. On close examination, however, it invisibly restricts the characters' spatial freedom. Pozzo and Lucky are doomed to repeat the same entrances and exits endlessly. Vladimir and Estragon are free to move around and even leave the stage if they want to. But no matter where they may go, they have to return to the original place, bounced back to the original spot as if tied to each other. Their journey does not proceed forward nor backward. Neither do they have any place to go. The stage is not a house nor a living room. His characters are never allowed to rest on the stage. They are prisoners, so to speak, who seem most free simply because there are no visible bars to limit their immediate activities. Their existential predicament is suggested in the dilemma between their words and behavior:
In plays such as Endgame, Krapp's Last Tape and Play the space is explicitly enclosed and shrinks further. The nuclear shelter-like room in Endgame is the last space left in the world where all is close to an end. The dramatist embodies the existential state of the characters in their external condition. The characters often belong to the lowest class in their society like Vladimir and Estragon and are disabled, or decrepit to the extent that they seem on the verge of death. Hamm cannot stand up, and Clov cannot sit down; Nagg and Nell are confined in cans. The three characters in Play show nothing but their motionless faces to the audience, with the rest of their bodies missing, or hidden in pots.
In Happy Days the existential condition of the characters is visualized in the mound tightening around Winnie who is sinking deeper and deeper. One phrase to describe the state of the characters and the objects in the play is "running out". Decay and decline permeate them. They are "almost finished." Winnie plays with an old toothbrush with a few bristles, a flat tube of toothpaste, a rusty pistol, and an old lipstick; Willie plays with a yellowed newspaper, and an old handkerchief, and an old boater hat. What the audience sees in Act I is a moment in the continuous shrinking of Winnie's 'space of being'. In Act II Winnie's space of being relentlessly crunches until only her head is visible above the ground, and the spatiality that she used to generate by dealing with them physically all but disappears.
The Beckettian scene is a gathering of disjointed, disjunctive images which does not make up a coherent picture of life. It is a sparse mosaic with unfilled gaps between the pieces drifting around like islands in the ocean. The characters, their world, and the objects do not hang together to form a homogeneous whole but act each independently in his/her/its own way. In the Beckettian world nothing remains in a fixed position. Everything has moving coordinates in a constantly shifting field (Hale 22). One can never escape from the fluctuations in time which prevent one from perceiving a stable self. One has to shift the viewpoint constantly, which makes it impossible to stay still long enough to maintain the old identity from one moment to another. From this moving viewpoint it becomes difficult for the observer to measure the object which is also constantly moving. The very notions of observer, the observed, and observation become imprecise and unreliable. In Beckett's universe, the principles of conventional theater, such as the illusion of objective reality and the "always the present" (Szondi 9) internal time implied by the three unities, can not be sustained as valid. The "movement in [Beckett's] plays is nearly always a succession of still points or a cyclic recurrence of verbal occasions" (Kennedy 131).
In Happy Days the interaction among the characters, their words, and pauses manifests the idea of a disjunctive, fragmented reality in flux when they alternate interrupting one another. In his note for the 1971 Schiller Theater Werkstatt production of Happy Days, Beckett comments on the key rhythm of the action to the Winnie actress, Billie Whitelaw: "One of the clues of the play is interruption. Something begins, something else begins. [Winnie] begins but she doesn't carry through with it. She is constantly being interrupted or interrupting herself. She is an interrupted being" (Cohn 187). Winnie builds a world of illusion around her with her words. Her speech, however, does not proceed according to the principles of traditional narration, nor is it based upon causality. It consists of discrete thoughts taken from the stream of her consciousness. The sentences are very short, almost telegrammatic (Pilling 85). The play concerns the struggle between the void's pull toward 'non-being' and Winnie's endeavor to keep her 'space of being' full. Krapp in Krapp's Last Tape, who is seen seated at his desk under a cone of light, often turns his head to see death slowly drawing near in darkness moment by moment. The cone of light over him is the visualization of the amount of being (or time) left in him. In Happy Days Winnie's space of being is threatened every time her action is interrupted by a foreign force. The first example of interrupted action is the alternation of words and pauses which generates the structure of sound and silence. The dramatist sheds light on Winnie who is constantly threatened by the silence surrounding her.
My hair! (Pause.) Did I brush and comb my hair? (Pause.) I may have done. (Pause.) Normally I do. (Pause.) There is so little one can do. (Pause.) One does it all. (Pause.) All one can. (Pause.) Tis only human. (Pause.) Human nature. These passages are an example of the "Beckettian form – the evocative and subtle interplay of constricted, bivalent expression and expansive, eloquent silences" (Kane 105). As soon as words are uttered by Winnie, they are devoured by the silence following them. She has to produce words endlessly to counteract the threat of the void nullifying her space of being. In the second example, Beckett records the alternation of words, pauses and movements. Happy Days resembles a musical score in that its text is full of precise instructions about action and inaction. Winnie's words, Willie's sound, their movements and pauses alternate to interrupt one another, creating a style of action which represents the fragmented, disjunctive, world of the characters. Almost all the words of Winnie are followed by pauses and movements, her own, Willie's, or both together. A line of thought or action is not carried on long before it is interrupted, or shifted in a different direction by another thought or action. Winnie frequently gets lost in the middle of an action, and says, "What then?" or "What now?". At these moments she tries to escape from the habit of speaking nonsense and be serious about her mode of being.
In Act I there are several such moments, when she attempts to find a breakthrough out of her existential predicament, saying, "What is the alternative?" However, her questioning is stopped immediately by Willie loudly blowing his nose, and her space of being is punctured and in danger of becoming flat. In time Winnie gradually loses her grip on her 'being', and her action becomes more and more fragmented. She occasionally experiences emotional breakdowns in the middle of her day of optimism. The same daily activities are not enough to keep her from thinking about the nothingness of being. The breakdowns become longer as time goes by, and the pauses increase in number and last longer.
In Act II Winnie's world is much more fragmented as she has to live without the external world around her. Her memory deteriorates so much that she is unable to remember any of the lines from the classics that she used to recite. As she predicts, "A day will come when words themselves will fail" and there are more frequent stops in her speech. Her resources deplete fast. When she has nothing to utter, she says,
"(Pause.) And now? (Pause.) And now, Willie? (Long pause.)." She finds it more and more difficult to continue her struggle against the void breaking in. She closes her eyes more often in Act II. The play exhibits a transition from the alternation of sound and silence to pure silence. If there could be an Act III in the play, it would be an act of silence in which there were no words and no movement other than a long silence (Doherty 117).
Time determines the discrete structure of Beckett's drama. The kind of time which Beckett focuses on is an ending. Many of his works can be read as portrayals of the last moment of existence, or of the possible state of consciousness once time as we know it has ended. Especially, the idea of endless ending has been his major theme in such plays as Waiting for Godot, Endgame, Krapp's Last Tape and Happy Days. As the "running out" state of the characters and objects indicates, time in Winnie's world is characterized by Beckett's singular mode of ending – deceleration, that is, time moves more and more slowly each moment towards an end. The ending becomes endless. The best passages that illustrate Beckett's idea of the endless ending are found in Endgame:
Moment upon moment, pattering down, like the millet grains of...(he hesitates)...that old Greek, and all life long you wait for that to mount up to a life. In order to exhibit the idea of deceleration, Beckett introduces a sophistic theory developed by Zeno or Parmenides in ancient Greece: If a container is filled with grains of millet by half of the previous amount each time, it never becomes full (Gontarski 1977, 24). First, the container is filled by half. Next, half of the previous half is added to the previous amount. And then, half of the half of the half is added there. Thus each time the amount of addition decreases by half. One repeats the act of filling endlessly, and the total amount of grains in the container increases but never reaches the whole. When the image is combined with the picture of Winnie standing upright in the mound, sinking deeper and deeper, we get another image of time: an hourglass dripping sands constantly but more and more slowly each moment (Cohn 1973, 179). Winnie is heading towards, but never reaches, the end. Such an image can be found in one of his novels, The Unnamable:
Grain upon grain, one by one, and one day, suddenly, there's a heap, a little heap, the impossible heap. 
The question may be asked, off the record, why time doesn't pass, doesn't pass from you, why it piles up all about you, instant on instant, on all sides, deeper and deeper, thicker and thicker, your time, others' time, the time of the ancient dead and the dead yet unborn, why it buries you grain by grain neither dead or alive, with no memory of anything, no knowledge, no history and no prospects, buried under the seconds, saying any old thing, your mouth full of sand, oh I know it's immaterial, time is one thing, I another, but the question may be asked, why time doesn't pass, just like that, off the record, en passant, to pass the time.The nearer she gets to the end, the slower does Winnie sink, and never does the end come to release her from the pain of being smothered in the mound. The set of Happy Days indicates that things have reached the last minute: The light blazes down almost permanently as if the rotation of the earth has slowed down, and still decelerates each moment. What Beckett wants to represent is the endless repetition of dying moments rather than death itself. His characters wish to finish life but the end never comes because the clock becomes slower and slower. There is still time, always: "There always remains something. (Pause.) Of something. (Pause.) Some remains." .
[Three Novels, 541-542]
Deceleration includes another strand of temporal pattern: repetition. In Waiting for Godot the characters do the same meaningless activities throughout the play. Towards the end of Act II the same boy comes in again to inform Vladimir and Estragon that Godot will not visit them that day but will surely come the next day. In Happy Days Winnie begins her day with the same daily routine she has done a thousand times. Both plays have two acts, and the second act is basically a repetition of the first. The spectators may think that they will see the same characters do the same things again if there is a third act. The Beckettian repetition builds a cyclical structure.
In Endgame the end is in the beginning and the beginning is in the end. At the opening Clov removes the sheet covering Hamm and begins the play speaking of the end: "Finished, it's finished, nearly finished, it must be nearly finished." At the end the action returns to the beginning. Hamm's face is once again covered with the sheet, and Hamm finishes the play, repeating the phrase "Old stancher" which he had used in opening scene. Happy Days is built on a similar structural pattern. At the opening Winnie begins the day as if it were the beginning of everything, but in fact she has begun the same morning more than a thousand times. She is awakened by the bell and begins, stating, "World without end." From the beginning she is sorry that it is not the end of the world, and the whole play concerns her waiting for the end. At the end of the play she closes her eyes but is again awakened by the bell to start the same process all over again.
Due to repetition, Beckett's action loses any sense of movement and turns into a static state. In Happy Days, every morning Winnie examines her own body, but finds no particular change: "No better, no worse – no change." She speaks and does things constantly, but the sum total of all her activity always remains zero: "Yes, something seems to have occurred, something has seemed to occur, and nothing has occurred, nothing at all, you are quite right, Willie." . Or, she longs to end her life but there is "Nothing to be done". Under the light that never shifts into darkness, Winnie and Willie seem suspended at a point of infinite noon. They are trapped in static time.
A critic's comment on Waiting for Godot aptly puts the nature of Beckett's action in a paradoxical sentence of three words: "Nothing happens, twice" (Mercier 144-45). The emphasis of the action switches from the coming of Godot to the state of waiting. Vladimir and Estragon wait for Godot not to 'meet' him but to 'wait' for him. Beckett's scene approaches the state of a tableau, or picture. Two of the theories of time in Beckett's drama are cyclical time and linear time upon which Bert O. States expounds in detail in his essay on Waiting for Godot (States 32-34). States argues that the action of Vladimir and Estragon represents cyclical time while that of Pozzo and Lucky follows linear time, and that the time scheme of Waiting for Godot is the compound of the two, proceeding to an end by way of cyclical repetition. Thus the action of the characters throughout the play forms a number of imaginary circles progressing in one direction. Pozzo is puzzled by the mystery of linear time because sometimes it seems endless and at other times it expires without warning: "They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it's night once more." . When Pozzo enters again in Act II, it is such a moment. However, at the end of the speech he jerks the rope tied to Lucky, saying, "On!" to exit.
In Happy Days the compound time scheme is adopted again. Winnie and Willie represent cyclical time. The evidence of linear time is in the Shower/Cooker story recited by Winnie. The couple had once visited Winnie and Willie to ask questions about their situation. On the other hand, it should be noted that their visit had taken place long ago and is now only vaguely present in Winnie's memory. In Waiting for Godot, linear time, which proceeds at a steady, normal, pace in Act I, becomes slow in Act II as we see in the staggering walk of Pozzo and Lucky. Entropy has advanced so much in Happy Days that linear time stopped long ago, and circular time is about to expire, too. Winnie is imprisoned in the whirlwind of cyclical time that never brings an end to her ordeal. She recalls the Shower/Cooker couple because she has to invent some event to give a linear perspective to the hell of repetition and circularity of being that she has to go through, and to make believe that the end is near at hand. Embedded in the mound of earth, Winnie has turned into an object with no spatial or temporal perspective. Winnie is deeply confused about time's movement. She does not seem to understand the difference between past, present, and future. In his Schiller Theater direction notebook Beckett writes that Winnie's time experience is an "incomprehensible transport from one inextricable present to the next, those past, unremembered, those to come, inconceivable" (Knowlson 1985, 150).
She is a creature trapped within an undefinable moment called the present, between the past and the future. Beyond the present in which she resides, the void reigns. Time once passed does not exist any longer except in memory and the young Winnie who once lived cannot be brought back to the present by any means. Winnie remembers her wedding day when Willie wished her beauty to be permanent. But the more vividly she remembers the happiest day of her life, the more gravely is she bewildered by the gap between the past and the present: "Then... now... what difficulties here, for the mind. (pause.) To have been always what I am – and so changed from what I was. (Pause.) I am the one, I say the one, then the other. (Pause.) Now the one, then the other." [50-51]. She finds herself alienated from her old self, and questions the genuineness of her own memory. She is even skeptical about the certainty of her own body and the identity of her husband: "My arms. (Pause.) My breasts. (Pause.) What arms? (Pause.) What breasts? (Pause.) Willie. (Pause.) What Willie?" . At one point Winnie believes that she remains the same even in the future: "Oh this is a happy day! this will have been another happy day! (Pause.) After all. (Pause.) So far." [47-48]. She tries to extend her present mood into the future by using a future perfect tense. But the next moment she realizes that she cannot predict the time to come without actually living it, and modifies the tense of her sentence a little by adding "After all". It is going to be another happy day 'after all' has happened as expected. She cannot discuss what is beyond her reach. She is a being helplessly confined to the present moment. Finally she utters "So far" and gives up her aspiration for the future.
Winnie is confused about the ending, too. She is afraid to lose the right chance to end her day, or pass it by unprepared. In Act II, one of Winnie's concerns is how to choose the right moment and finish the day by singing a song. However, she senses that the ending cannot be fashioned as she wishes it to be: "It bubbles up, for some unknown reason, the time is ill chosen, one chokes it back. (Pause.) One says, Now is the time, it is now or never, and one cannot. (Pause.) Simply cannot sing." . Winnie wishes to experience the sense of completion and closure by finishing her day with the coming of the night or with the end of the world. In fact, people often wish to see the end of the world while alive, or make their death coincide with the end of the world. But the two ends never happen simultaneously. The end of conventional tragedy usually coincides with the death of the protagonist. Beckett's protagonist never dies at the end of the action. Nor does his world end once and for all. His tragedy is not of death but of the impossibility of death. It is another mystery of time Beckett wants Winnie, the trapped, to experience.
One of the key principles that makes 'being' possible in the Beckettian universe is the dualism of his characterization. Beckett frequently presents two contrasting characters as a pair who complement each other. It is conspicuous even in Waiting for Godot: Vladimir is the more practical of the two, and Estragon claims to have been a poet. In eating his carrot, Estragon finds that the more he eats of it the less he likes it, while Vladimir reacts the opposite way – he likes things as he gets used to them. Estragon is volatile, Vladimir is persistent. Estragon dreams, Vladimir cannot stand hearing about dreams. Vladimir has stinking breath, Estragon has stinking feet. (Esslin 1961, 47)
The list of contrasts can be lengthened. Beckett's characters are the products of his contemplation on the phenomenon of being in the universe. Beckett suggests in the contrasting couple the idea of the undivided 'whole being' that can only be created by the union of two complementary halves like the right and left in a pair of shoes or hands. Other examples of complementary pairs are yin and yang; north and south; east and west; heaven and earth and so on. This apparently commonplace concept of the pair can be elevated to the dimension of myth as a way of understanding Beckett's idea of time and space from a more profound perspective. Pozzo and Lucky resemble Cain and Abel. In Vladimir and Estragon we can observe the two thieves who were crucified along with Jesus Christ, one condemned and the other saved. While the life of individuals follows linear time, the complementary pair recurs repeatedly throughout the Bible. The significance of the complementary pair in relation to the concept of time in Beckett's drama can also be perceived in Erich Auerbach's analysis of the Bible's dualistic structure (Auerbach 1959, 11-76). In his essay "Figura" Auerbach argues that the Bible operates in two parts, and its division into the Old and New Testaments is the manifestation of its internal structure. It can be said that the Old Testament is the body of the Bible and the New Testament its soul. Auerbach introduces a concept "figura" to explain the dualistic structure of the biblical event. "Figura is something real and historical which announces something else that is also real and historical" (Auerbach 29).
It is a person or an event in the Old Testament which is a prefiguration of the New Testament and its history of salvation. In other words, of the two parts of the biblical event, the first part serves as the figura of the second part. This dualistic structure of the Bible is also manifested in its typical pattern of characterization as well. For example, Moses leads the people of Israel out of Egypt. However, it is Joshua who leads them into the promised land of Palestine. Moses is the first part of the biblical event, and Joshua is the second. Moses, who names Nun's son 'Jehoshua' (Joshua=Jesus), is the figura of Joshua. Joshua in the Old Testament in turn is the prefiguration of another event in the New Testament, the incarnation of Jesus. Likewise, the people of ancient Israel are ruled by the Jewish law, but it is the grace of Jesus that will lead the "second people" into the promised land of eternal beatitude (Auerbach 29).
Adam is another figura of Jesus. God puts him to sleep and takes from his side a rib, which becomes Eve, mother of all men. Jesus is put to sleep through death, shedding all the blood from his side. This blood gives birth to the church, spiritual mother of the mankind. The tree of knowledge is a figura of the tree on which Jesus is crucified. The first complementary pair in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve, is the figura of the new pair, the Lord and "the bride, the Lamb's wife" (Revelation 21:9). In Happy Days the characters' names are suggestive of an aspect of the complementary pair: The 'n' in 'Winnie' is aerial, light and tends to rise upward, while the 'l' in 'Willie' is watery, heavy, and tends to sink. As to the shapes of the characters on the stage, Beckett has Willie crawl on all fours down below Winnie's mound, hidden behind it while Winnie is forced to stand upright throughout the play. The dramatist once commented that Willie is like a turtle crawling in and out of his hole in the ground, while Winnie is a creature that belongs to the air like a bird, and is weightless (Knowlson 1985, 127). While Winnie wishes to "float up into the blue" and escape from the grip of earth, Willie goes downward into the earth, escaping from the air. In the two contrasting personalities, Beckett shows the inevitable union of the flesh and the soul. Although the complementary parts do not like to mix with each other, they have to stay together to exist in the fallen world.
In Act I the balance between the two is inclined towards Winnie. The spectators can see little of Willie, which implies that Winnie, the soul, is dominant, reigning over the flesh. The balance gradually swings to the opposite side as Winnie realizes that she is losing her grip on flux, and it is suddenly reversed at the last moment. Willie comes out of the hole and draws the attention of the spectators when Winnie is buried up to her neck. The play thus illustrates the inevitable submission of the soul to the flesh. For Winnie, togetherness generates the 'space of being' which is impossible to maintain by being alone. Jean Paul Sartre stated, "In order to get any truth about myself, I must have contact with another person. The other is indispensable to my own existence, as well as to my knowledge about myself" (Gontarski 1985, 69). Winnie has to anchor her self in another person around her. She needs a mirror to reflect herself, so to speak, in order to confirm her existence. The mirror happens to be Willie. When she addresses him, she can be free from the fear of being a solitary point in the universe. In Act II Willie apparently is dead or has gone away, and her serenity collapses gradually. To prevent the disruption of her mental peace, she has to imagine him in her mind.
There are four different kinds of contact between Winnie and Willie: physical, verbal, visual, and mental. As the contact between them changes from the physical to the non-physical, Winnie's `space of being' gradually shrinks, and her sense of security proportionately does the same. First, she drops her parasol when she tries to wake him up by striking him with the tip of the parasol. It is immediately returned to her by Willie. When she shatters her medicine bottle on a stone, it is Willie who is injured and bleeds. These physical contacts happen only in Act I, making her rationalize that she has a close relationship with him. Second, when she has a problem, Winnie asks him questions. When Willie responds to her, Winnie becomes happy and feels secure: "Oh you are going to talk to me today, this is going to be a happy day!" . In another part of Act I, Winnie calls Willie several times to make sure that he responds to her each time. She calls him in a loud voice and Willie responds in a low voice. She induces Willie to raise his voice higher and higher by gradually lowering hers. The dialogue can be described as the seesaw game of voices. Third, seeing is no less important in Winnie's effort to maintain her relation with Willie. "Could you see me, Willie, do you think, from where you are, if you were to raise your eyes in my direction? (Turns a little further.) Lift up your eyes to me, Willie, and tell me can you see me, do that for me, I'll lean back as far as I can." .
In Act I Winnie turns toward Willie twenty times simply to see him. There are three kinds of turns: 1) She turns; 2) turns and leans back; 3) turns, leans, and cranes as far as she can to direct his movement when he enters his hole. It seems that Winnie feels her height through Willie's low position. The significance of seeing is also evidenced in the Shower/Cooker story told by Winnie. Ruby Cohn points out the meaning of the names Shower/Cooker in German, Schauenkuken, that is, 'look' (Knowlson and Pilling 100). The world before us is first experienced by sight. Looking becomes an important, but severely limited, way of maintaining the space of being for Winnie in Act II when she is buried up to her neck in the mound. All she can do is to move her pupils hard to see her nostrils, cheeks, lips, tongue, and eyebrows. Winnie's space of being is near the lowest point in Act II. When the perception through the eyes cannot be achieved, Winnie's consciousness replaces it. She loses all her physical ability to do things except speaking, listening and seeing her front. She has no way of discerning whether Willie is still around, dead, or gone away. She resorts to her power to imagine a world with Willie. She never lets Willie disappear from her mind until the last moment.
Winnie uses habit to avoid facing the mystery of being in flux. It is urgent for her to superimpose some kind of order on the world. In his long essay on Marcel Proust, Beckett argues to the effect that habit is the fundamental principle of life, and the second nature that keeps us in ignorance of the first, and of all the cruelties and mysteries of existence (Proust 11). In her mind Winnie hears a voice that urges her to break out of habit and confront the naked truth of being but she is too afraid. She arms herself with rituals that help her keep the void at bay. Beginning with her prayers at wake-up, Winnie's day consists of a series of rituals: doing her lips, combing her hair looking in the mirror, recounting her stories, talking to Willie, putting up the parasol, using spectacles and the magnifying glass, and singing a song at the last moment. There is a certain timing and rhythm in the execution of the rituals which Winnie makes it a rule not to break. Commonplace things serve as important tools in ritualizing Winnie's life. They are material goods by which she is inevitably surrounded and with which she has to spend time in changing the mysterious reality into a familiar world. Although Winnie's objects are inanimate things, they are not entirely controlled according to her desire. In spite of herself she is bound to them, the positions of the user and the used are reversed, and ultimately her life is ruled by the objects. Without them she does not know what to do with the time given her. She may throw them away or shatter them on a stone. But the next day she wakes up to find them again in her bag. Instead of helping her locate her world, they make her forget it. Even death is tamed into a pleasant game by habit. When Winnie happens to take out a pistol from her bag, she is not terrified by it. She kisses it and puts it back. She seems to enjoy the thought of death which the pistol evokes as long as it does not cause actual death. Ironically, by being close to it, she can forget death.
The quest for
knowledge is a habit that hinders Winnie from tackling the real problem of
existence. Winnie's main activity in Act I is her repeated attempt to
decipher the inscription on her toothbrush. Her increasing effort to read
it – first with her bare eyes, then with her spectacles on, and then with
her spectacles on and also with a magnifying glass – invests the action
with a sense of rhythm and pleasure as she becomes able to read more words
at each attempt. In contrast, her wiping with her handkerchief of her eyes,
the spectacles, the magnifying glass and the toothbrush is suggestive of
her futile struggle against the entropic rundown of her self and the world
around her. Since life is an interminable process of learning, the whole
effort is a parody of man's vain, endless, quest for knowledge. The
whole phrase that Winnie finally succeeds in reading is "fully guaranteed
genuine pure hog's setae." . She asks Willie what a hog is, and Willie says,
"Castrated male swine... Reared for slaughter". The final destination
for man after a lifetime of learning is death. Knowledge brings no solution
to the existential problem. Habit is not potent enough to keep the void at
bay forever. No matter how effectively she tries to extend the length of
time for each habit, Winnie does not succeed in filling her day with the
habits she mobilizes. Time still remains, leaving her without any more
resources. Beckett's character is bound to be exhausted, and language, her
instrument to tailor habits, is not something that lasts forever either. It
too runs out. When she dreams of being "sucked up" into the air, she is in
fact sinking deeper and deeper. When the tension between her aspiration and
gravity reaches the maximum point, her parasol catches on fire. As she
says: "Ah earth you old extinguisher", Winnie ultimately gives in. The
earth will ultimately devour her and leave nothing.
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