Study Guide

Endgame Life, Consciousness, Existence

By Samuel Beckett

Life, Consciousness, Existence

CLOV
All life long the same questions, the same answers. (1.29)

What are some of the questions that Clov might be referring to? Is he right? Does this mean that life is static? Where can we gain knowledge and where can we only accumulate questions like grains of sand?

HAMM
But we breath, we change! We lose our hair, our teeth! Our bloom! Our ideals! (1.107)

Notice how Hamm measures growth by decay, by what is lost. Is this a general commentary on the way that human beings change or is it peculiar to Hamm and Clov's situation?

HAMM
In the morning they brace you up and in the evening they calm you down. Unless it's the other way round.
(Pause.)
That old doctor, he's dead naturally? (1.250)

What do you make of the fact that Hamm begins by making a sweepingly general statement about life and then moves to thinking about a particular doctor? What is the relationship between the universal and the particular in the play?

HAMM
What's happening?
CLOV
Something is taking its course. (1.339-340)

Clov repeats these lines several times in the play. Does this view of life leave any room for individual agency or control? Is it a completely fatalistic view? Is it a philosophy of Clov's or is it simply borne of his despair?

HAMM
We're not beginning to…to…mean something?
CLOV
Mean something! You and I, mean something!
(Brief laugh.)
Ah that's a good one!
HAMM
I wonder.
(Pause.)
Imagine if a rational being came back to earth, wouldn't he be liable to get ideas into his head if he observed us long enough. (1.343-345)

Do you think that Hamm is hoping that they mean something or is this some sort of odd threat? What view of life would it take for someone to wish that his or her life had no meaning? What state would the world have to be in?

CLOV
You've asked me these questions millions of times.
HAMM
I love the old questions.
(With fervour.)
Ah the old questions, the old answers, there's nothing like them! (1.396-397)

Compare this Clov's bemoaning the fact that one gets the same questions and the same answers all one's life long. In what way does a love of these questions or a hatred of them determine the way that one sees the world? In what way does an appetite for questions versus an appetite for answers constitute a philosophy of life?

HAMM
I once knew a madman who thought the end of the world had come. He was a painter—and engraver. I had a great fondness for him. I used to go and see him, in the asylum. I'd take him by the hand drag him to the window. Look! There! All that rising corn! And there! Look! The sails of the herring fleet! All that loveliness!
(Pause.)
He'd snatch away his hand and go back to his corner. Appalled. All he had seen was ashes.
(Pause.)
He alone had been spared.
(Pause.)
Forgotten.
(Pause.)
It appears the case is…was not so…so unusual. (1.467)

What does Hamm mean that the madman was spared? Once hope is lost, does memory of a time when one had hope increase one's suffering that much more? Does Hamm see a certain hope in the madman – that perhaps Hamm is simply imagining his situation?

HAMM
Use your head, can't you, use your head, you're on earth, there's no cure for that! (1.537)

Why would the ability to use one's head be something that would need to be cured? What view of the world would one have to have for thought to seem like a disease?

CLOV(straightening up)
I love order. It's my dream. A world where all would be silent and still and each thing in its last place, under the last dust. (1.569)

In what ways have the characters maintained order in spite of their situation? In what ways have they fallen into chaos? What is the ultimate order that Clov imagines? Is longing for order linked with longing for death?

HAMM
The end is in the beginning and yet you go on. (1.688)

How is the end implicit in the beginning? Why would people still go on? Is it possible to imagine something that does not have an ending? How would one assign meaning to one's life and one's actions if they would not, some day, end?