Study Guide

Endgame Defeat

By Samuel Beckett

Defeat

CLOV (fixed gaze, tonelessly)
Finished, it's finished, nearly finished, it must be nearly finished.
(Pause.)
Grain upon grain, one by one, suddenly there's a heap, a little heap, the impossible heap.
(Pause.)
I can't be punished any more. (1.1)

Why does Clov begin by saying that things are "finishes" and then qualify by saying that things are "nearly finished" and then qualify again by saying that things "must be nearly finished"? How much more uncertainty is there at the end of this sentence than at the beginning? Is there any hope in the play after these first few lines?

HAMM
Enough, it's time it ended, in the shelter too.
(Pause.)
And yet I hesitate to…to end. Yes, there it is, it's time it ended and yet I hesitate to—
(He yawns.)
—to end. (1.2)

How is Hamm's hesitation to end in a way an admission of defeat? How is the failure to accept defeat that runs throughout the play itself an even greater defeat? Why do you think that Hamm hesitates?

NAGG
Could you not?
(Pause.)
Would you like me to scratch you?
(Pause.)
Are you crying again?
NELL
I was trying. (1.209-210)

Why might Nell still be trying to cry? Do you think that she would be crying for herself or for other people? How does she still show sympathy for Nagg even though she refuses to scratch him? Is the fact that she cannot cry in some way a hint that her death is imminent?

HAMM
I'll give you nothing more to eat.
CLOV
Then I'll die.
HAMM
I'll give you just enough to keep you from dying. You'll be hungry all the time.
CLOV
Then we won't die. (1.32-35)

How do these lines capture the entire dilemma in the play? How does Clov's simple repetition of Hamm's words suggest that a sort of inner mental defeat has already taken place?

CLOV
I can't sit.
HAMM
True. And I can't stand.
CLOV
So it is.
HAMM
Every man his specialty.
(Pause.)
No phone calls?
(Pause.)
Don't we laugh?
CLOV(after reflection)
I don't feel like it.
HAMM(after reflection)
Nor I. (1.96-101)

How is the inability to laugh linked with the inability to cry? How is the failure to laugh a sign of defeat? Why is it that they laugh at Hamm's pointless question rather than his more deliberate joke?

CLOV
I look at the wall
HAMM
The wall! And what do you see on your well? Mene, mene? Naked bodies?
CLOV
I see my light dying.
HAMM
Your light dying! Listen to that! Well, it can die just as well here, your light. Take a look at me and then come back and tell me what you think of your light.
(Pause.)
CLOV
You shouldn't speak to me like that. (1.120-124)

What does it say about Clov that even in his fantasies he imagines that he sees his "light dying"? Once again, notice how Hamm tries to one-up Clov by pointing out that Hamm suffers more than he does.

HAMM
All right, be off.
(He leans back in his chair, remains motionless. Clov does not move, heaves a great groaning sigh. Hamm sits up.)
I thought I told you to be off.
CLOV
I'm trying
(He goes to door, halts.)
Ever since I was whelped. (1.139-140)

How can Clov choose not to leave and yet also be tormented by that choice? When Hamm takes pride in how much he makes Clov suffer, what is there to keep him there?

HAMM
And the horizon? Nothing on the horizon?
CLOV(lowering the telescope, turning towards Hamm, exasperated)
What in God's name could there be on the horizon?
(Pause.)
HAMM
The waves, how are the waves?
CLOV
The waves?
(He turns the telescope on the waves.)
Lead.
HAMM
And the sun?
CLOV(looking)
Zero. (1.319-324)

What do you make of the fact that Clov is the one who has to report on the desolation? Why does Hamm repeatedly make him go to the windows do survey the landscape? Can Hamm not accept their defeat because he can't see it with his own eyes?

HAMM
Why don't you finish us?
(Pause.)
I'll tell you the combination of the cupboard if you promise to finish me.
CLOV
I couldn't finish you.
HAMM
Then you won't finish me. (1.389-391)

Is Hamm actually more defiant in the face of defeat than Clov is or is he just not in a position of power to end their situation? Do you think Hamm would finish himself if he could?

HAMM
Since that's the way we're playing it…
(he unfolds handkerchief)
…let's play it that way…
(he unfolds)
…and speak no more about it…
(he finishes unfolding)
…speak no more. (1.799)

Is Hamm actually accepting defeat here? Does he actually believe that he has been abandoned? What do you make of the fact that he still uses the word "playing"? Even if he absolutely did believe that he had been abandoned do you think he would use a different word?