Samuel Beckett, Happy Days

Happy DaysHappy Days by Samuel Beckett

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Fascinating but not my favorite. Evidently Beckett regarded Winnie as a kind of earth mother spirit, indomitable, and I do find some patronizing piety or maybe just pity here, a refusal of the corrosive irony Beckett’s male heroes have to endure in the midst of their own eschatological travails. The idea of the setting as a kind of post-apocalyptic degraded vacation-destination beach where the blazing bleaching sun never sets is wonderful, as is the whole mystery of the play’s circumstance, literal explanation of which would be unnecessary and, ultimately, trivializing. I love the way Beckett’s plays have an uncircumscribed reference, so that they are about aging, illness, depression, war, apocalypse, all at once, without having to be bound to some explicitly announced social issue (e.g., fear of nuclear war). But Winnie lacks the weird negative charisma with which Beckett usually invests his protagonists, at least as I see it; she is too much the victim, too little complicit in her own situation. Unless we are to take her purgatorial state in the sand as a Dantean punishment for her ostensibly naive good-natured and somewhat dim-witted stoicism or even for her half-repressed eroticism; but Beckett’s simply making fun of her would be more intolerable than his unironically sentimentalizing her. Perhaps the master of the wryly self-lacerating male monologue just cannot attain the same emotional complexity when attempting to portray a figure of mature female sexuality, for reasons best left to the psychoanalytic critics. As an image, Winnie in the sand is striking, unforgettable; but as a narrative, I find it thin.

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