The Theme of Sleep


In That Time many different images and themes point to sleep and dreaming, and even in earlier manuscripts of the play, the head of the listener is resting on a pillow, as if in bed trying to sleep (Gontarski 155). The pause in the voices causes a change in face each time: the man's eyes open three seconds after the voice stops and do not close until three seconds after another voice starts. These disruptions seem to be very similar to being disturbed from sleep: dreams usually stop a moment before consciousness, and dreams, or the thoughts leading up to dreams, usually start just before unconsciousness. Also, a person's respiration rate increases just as he or she wakes up, which would explain the listener's breath being audible in the pauses.

Time is not a tangible concept in sleep, and so the blur of time and events might be how the listener remembers the dreams just after he wakes up: certain images and themes seem clear (such as the stone and the weather), but all the dreams and specific details become indistinct. Dreams often seem to have some base in reality but also have extra oddities thrown in, and so, parts of the images could be real, but nothing is very tangible. The girl that voice B mentions, for example, is there on the edge of his vision and her presence if can be felt, but he never has any real contact with her. She is merely an image and later disappears.

The dreams could be recurring, hence, “Just another of those tales to keep the void from pouring in on top of you” (Beckett 230). They could also be some remembrance of childhood or just three different night mares about being abandoned: A starts out looking for something that he never finds and is alone the whole time; B starts with the girl but ends up alone; C is alone the whole time. If this indeed the case, then the smile at the end of the play could be because of all the dreams disappear leaving him no thoughts of the events of the dreams: “When you opened your eyes from floor to ceiling nothing only dust and not a sound only what was it it said come and gone was that it something like that come and gone come and gone no one come and gone in no time gone in no time” (Beckett 235).


Works Cited

Beckett, Samuel. Collected Shorter Plays. NY: Grove Press, Inc., 1984. 226-235.

Gontarski, S. E. The Intent of Undoing in Samuel Beckett's Dramatic Texts. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985.

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