Study Guide

Endgame Isolation

By Samuel Beckett

Isolation

HAMM
Me—
(he yawns)
—to play.
(He holds the handkerchief spread out before him.)
Old stancher! (1.2)

Why does Hamm have this particular fondness for his handkerchief throughout the play (it comes back at the end)? How has the handkerchief becomes like a companion for him? What do these first words mean? Why is it "me" and not "us"? What does this say about how self-reliant Hamm is?

HAMM
Why do you stay with me?
CLOV
Why do you keep me?
HAMM
There's no one else.
CLOV
There's nowhere else.
HAMM
You're leaving me all the same.
CLOV
I'm trying. (1.36-41)

Is this companionship based on the lack of possibilities even more isolating than solitude? What is more lonely – being trapped with someone that you want to leave or being left alone because there is no one that you want to be with?

HAMM
In your kitchen?
CLOV
Yes.
HAMM
Outside of here it's death. (1.74-76)

How does the physical space play a role in their isolation? If they want things to end, then is death such a bad thing? Is the fact that staying in the house is part of their failure to end that makes them act so miserably toward each other? What do the characters fear more: death or isolation?

NELL
Can you see me?
NAGG
Hardly.
NELL
So much the better, so much the better.
NAGG
Don't say that. (1.156-159)

In what ways are failed senses linked to peoples feelings of isolation in the play? Why is everyone blind and handicapped? How much more weight on words to keep one from being isolated when one's sight fails?

HAMM
Don't stay there,
(i.e. behind the chair)
you give me the shivers.
(Clov returns to his place beside the chair.)
CLOV
If I could kill him I'd die happy. (1.281-282)

Why would Clov's physical position frighten Hamm? Why is it that having someone beside him makes him feel like he has a companion, but having someone behind him seems like a threat? Is Clov's feeling sincere?

HAMM (with ardour)
Let's go from here, the two of us! South! You can make a raft and the currents will carry us away, far away, to other…mammals!
CLOV
God forbid!
HAMM
Alone, I'll embark alone! Get working on that raft immediately. Tomorrow I'll be gone for ever.
CLOV(hastening towards door)
I'll start straight away. (1.363-366)

Moments like these seem funny from the audience. Do you think that they are slightly funny for the characters as well? If not now, do you think they were at one time? Is there anything but stubbornness that makes Hamm say that he will brave solitude? Is there anything but fear that keeps him from doing it?

HAMM
Infinite emptiness will be all around you, all the resurrected dead of all the ages wouldn't fill it, and there you'll be like a little bit of grit in the middle of the steppe.
(Pause.)
Yes, one day you'll know what it is, you'll be like me, except that you won't have anyone with you, because you won't have had pity on anyone and because there won't be anyone left to have pity on. (1.379)

Does Hamm really think that he has taken pity on Clov or is it just a figure of speech? Is he speaking more of Clov or of his own fears? If you think it might be the latter, to what extent do you think Hamm realizes this?

HAMM
If you leave me how shall I know?
CLOV (briskly)
Well you simply whistle me and if I don't come running it means I've left you.
(Pause.)
HAMM
You won't come and kiss me goodbye? (1.483-485)

Why is it important to Hamm that Clov have some sentiment for him? What does he honestly expect this sentiment to be based on? What difference does it make to him if Clov is just dead in the kitchen or gone? How is this tied in with the first two questions?

NAGG
Whom did you call when you were a tiny boy, and were frightened, in the dark? Your mother? No. Me. We let you cry. Then we moved you out of earshot so that we might sleep in peace.
(Pause.)
I was asleep, as happy as a king, and you woke me up to have me listen to you. It wasn't indispensable, you didn't really need to have me listen to you.
(Pause.)
I hope the day will come when you'll really need to have me listen to you, and need to hear my voice, any voice.
(Pause.)
Yes, I hope I'll live till then, to hear you calling me like when you were a tiny boy, and were frightened, in the dark, and I was your only hope. (1.561)

Compare this with Hamm's threat to Clov earlier. Is Nagg's feeling more genuine? How does it reveal Hamm's earlier threat as largely a result of Hamm's own fears? What does this threat say about Nagg's own feelings of isolation?

HAMM
There I'll be, in the old shelter, alone against the silence and…
(he hesitates)
…the stillness. If I can hold my peace, and sit quiet, it will be all over with sound, and motion, all over and done with.
(Pause.)
I'll have called my father and I'll have called my…
(he hesitates)
…my son. And even twice, or three times, in case they shouldn't have heard me, the first time, or the second. (1.688)

There's a key word here: "son." What does this word choice say about how Hamm views Clov? If he really thinks of him as a son, why does he treat him this way? There's another key word here: "against." Why does he think of himself as being against the silence rather than a part of it?