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The texts “Endgame” by Samuel Beckett and “The Goose Father” by Krys Lee present characters whose relationships with one another are dysfunctional because of an inability to communicate effectively or because of the difficulty in overcoming inherited social expectations. Understanding the characters themselves leads one to a better understanding of why they cannot comprehend each other or don’t want to, evidenced through their conversations. In “Endgame”, there is only a kind of resolution to this strain once all the characters have become isolated from one another, but in “The Goose Father”, the main characters do eventually see each other from a new perspective, forming a positive relationship by the end.
The cast of “Endgame” consists of four characters named Hamm, Clov, Nagg, and Nell. They are living together in a barren, grey, sparsely furnished room abutting a kitchen. Hamm sits in the center of the room in a rolling chair for the entire play, Clov ambulates about performing various useless tasks, and Nagg and Nell sit in trash bins, only occasionally sticking their heads out to speak.
Hamm is, by implication, an older man who is confined to his chair unable to walk. He is blind, bleeding, and complains throughout the play of various aches and pains, as all the characters do. Hamm has lost the capacity to love and hope, which he indicates by describing something inside his breast as a “big sore”. Clov suggests it is his heart, but Hamm says “No, it was living” implying that his heart is dead.
Hamm is extraordinarily self-centered and domineering, spending most of his time ordering Clov around or berating his father Nagg. At one point, he demands that Clov roll him around the room and place him back in the center afterward, contradictorily insisting that he be placed “Roughly!” in the center, and also “Bang in the center”, reflecting his need to be in the middle of everything, but his inability to express this accurately to Clov. Clov, on the other hand, is younger and obsequious, reluctantly resisting Hamm’s exhortations, but usually fulfilling them. He wonders to himself, “Do this, do that, and I do it. I never refuse. Why?” . He was taken in as a child by Hamm, but resents his current position. At one point, after Hamm tells him to leave, he says that he has been trying to leave “Ever since I was whelped” . Hamm was speaking about merely leaving his presence, but Clov interpreted the statement as meaning trying to leave one’s existence, so to speak. Wishing for his own death is indicative of how negatively he views his current situation. Hamm and Clov’s dispositions are summed up well at the moment when Hamm asks, “Don’t we laugh?” and Clov responds, “I don’t feel like it.” Hamm agrees, “Nor I”.
Nagg and Nell, the two oldest characters, are Hamm’s decrepit parents. Given Hamm’s domineering nature and Clov’s servitude, one can assume that Hamm ordered Clov to place them in the trash bins, literally designating them as refuse. Interestingly, the parents still show affection towards one another. Nagg knocks on Nell’s bin, and after she emerges, she asks “What is it my pet? Time for love?” to which Nagg responds by requesting “kiss me”. They try to kiss, but cannot reach each other. They can, however, reach over to at least touch each other, like when Nell scratched the hollow of Nagg’s back the day before, a sign of care.
Nagg’s request for her to do this again causes Nell to long for the past, elegiacally sighing, “Ah yesterday!”. They are both old, unable to hear or see well, and living in trash cans, so reminiscing about the better times they will never experience again is natural. Nagg begins telling the story of the day before their engagement, when they were sailing on Lake Como and their boat capsized. They disagree about why this happened, but as Nagg shares his memory of the occasion, Nell is preoccupied with the depth and whiteness of the lake, saying, It was deep, deep. And you could see down to the bottom. So white. So clean. Considering that they almost drowned, as Nagg says, and Nell’s almost mesmerizing fixation on the clear depths of the lake, one can understand this interaction as being an expression of a deathwish for Nell. Though the two of them can find relative comfort in each other’s presence, they still long for the cessation of their present state. Given the character traits of Hamm, Clov, Nagg, and Nell, we can consider the conversations they have with one another in better depth.
Hamm is in control, and Clov is subordinate. Their interactions show how broken their relationship is. Hamm is often preoccupied with the fear that he might finally be abandoned, something he rues, because he doesn’t want to be alone, but something he paradoxically wishes for also, because that way he would be in a state of greater misery; the absurdity and meaninglessness of his position would be more apparent. He says to Clov “You’re leaving me all the same” and he replies “I’m trying.” Then Hamm states, “You don’t love me” and “You loved me once”, and Clov says “Once!”. Clov’s desire to depart and his lack of love for Hamm is a result of Hamm’s disrespectfulness towards him. He asks Clov, “I’ve made you suffer too much. Haven’t I?” which Clov at first denies. Shocked, Hamm asks, “I haven’t made you suffer too much?” and Clov yells, “Yes!”, which relieves Hamm. Hamm is almost proud of causing Clov’s suffering. Perhaps this is why Clov says later, “If I could kill him, I’d be happy”. They’re relationship is obviously very strained.
Even when Clov stays near Hamm for too long, he tells him, “Don’t stay there. You give me the shivers”. Despite this antagonism, they do seem capable of respecting each other at the very end of the play. As Clov has determined to leave, Hamm frantically calls him back, and they exchange some of the only positive words in the play saying, “we are obliged to each other”. Hamm is always using Clov, and Clov cannot adequately realize Hamm’s senseless wishes, but the two both recognize their indebtedness to one another. How they interact with Nagg and Nell, on the other hand, never shows any sign of gratefulness.
Clov’s relationship with Nagg and Nell is mostly a forced interaction resulting from Hamm’s orders, but it is also one that is confused and contradictory at times, like many interactions in the play. At one point, he checks her pulse to make sure she is still living, and Nell responds by declaring “Desert!” Clov withdraws back to Hamm’s side and says, “She told me to go away. Into the desert”.
Beckett plays with these two homophones here to show the breakdown of meaning in the play. The verb desert means to leave or abandon, whereas desert used as a noun refers to the arid biome. Nell and Clov cannot hope to care for each other if they cannot understand each other. Nell’s relationship with Hamm is entirely negative. He never once speaks to her in the play, and only refers to her insultingly and spitefully. As she is ruminating on the depth of Lake Como, Hamm asks Clov, “What was she driveling about?”. He does not even ask her himself. Hamm will only speak to Nagg, but usually in an angry tone, as he does when he addresses him with the epithets, “Accursed progenitor!” and “Accursed fornicator!” or asks, “Scoundrel! Why did you engender me?”.
Hamm harbors nothing but hatred for his father for helping bring him into their tenebrous world, but perhaps for good reason. Nagg maliciously tells Hamm that “there is nothing in the world I love more” than Turkish delight. He then says that he would let Hamm cry as a baby, and then move him “out of earshot, so that [he and Nell] might sleep in peace”. Telling your son that you love a dessert more than him, and that you remove him from earshot so as not to be disturbed by his crying as a baby, are probably seen as justifications by Hamm for his behavior towards his parents. By the end of the play, Clov leaves, seemingly on good terms with Hamm, even though we don’t know where or why he is really going. The relationship between Nag, Nell, and Hamm remains hateful, but is remedied when the parents retreat into their trash cans and Hamm covers himself up with his handkerchief. None of the characters ever understand each other fully, and only find solace in their own isolation. The story of Gilho Pak and Wuseong ends more positively.
“The Goose Father” tells the story of a forty-six year old man named Gilho Pak who is well educated and works as an accountant. His wife and children immigrated to America 457 days prior to the narrative, and he supports them from Korea. He is a man of principle and coheres to the social expectations of his community. He has “never understood the fuss” about sex, for example, is prescient enough to make “sound investments before [America’s] financial crisis in 1998”, and is haunted by his loneliness, living in an empty home. Gilho values the notion of ui-ri, which is a term meaning “loyal” and “steadfast”. It is a strong connection between friends or family that signifies such great support and trust that one would “die for one another if needed”. He is a man of routine and “solidity”, of ordinary nature, “chewing an apple twenty-five times with each bite, reading while blow-drying his hair”, and discipline, completing “fifty push-ups while reading a newspaper spread flat on the ground”. Gilho also wrote a book of poetry, which attracts Wuseong to applying as his tenant in the first place. His artistic pretensions have dried up, however, and since his university years, he has stopped writing poetry. Gilho’s structured, rule-governed, empty life is very different to Wuseong’s.
Wuseong is a twenty-two year old who is “lanky”, and “almost too pretty to be a boy” with “rosy” lips. He has a thin scar on his chin of unknown origin, but Gilho ponders that it might have been from a blade. He is a free spirit and is unconventional, cooking scallion pancakes for breakfast, which is a “woman’s role”, and garnishing a bowl of lettuce and seeds with “a plastic daisy” . He cares for a goose that he claims is his mother, which confuses and irritates Gilho. Wuseong dropped out of college presumably to pursue “thespian ambitions” and he would also “raise crippled animals for fun”. Besides all of these socially divergent things, he is also a lonely boy who lacks stability and has lived a chaotic life. He “sometimes cry[s] out” in his sleep; “all his closest friends” were in jail”; his parents are dead, and he is impoverished and seemingly directionless. Wuseong finds comfort in Gilho’s stability, and soon expresses this in physical ways by blowing kisses, and lunging at Gilho to try to embrace him. Wuseong’s youthful free spirit and insouciance creates tension with Gilho’s more mature outlook and lifestyle, shown in several verbal exchanges the two have in the story.
Gilho’s first meeting with Wuseong was complicated by Wuseong’s grimy goose, which offended Gilho and made him think of the term “goose father”. A goose father was usually a Korean man who stayed at home and worked so he could send money to his family in another country. The occasional traveling to see his family was signified by the goose. Gilho denies being such a father and understands Wuseong to be spiting him by bringing the goose. This is a bad way to start a relationship, and Wuseong tries to remedy this by addressing Gilho with the term “ajeoshi”. Gilho gives the two a chance, as long as the goose isn’t too troublesome. Wuseong is grateful and tells Gilho to have a “Goodnight, my ajeoshi”, to which he responds with a shake of his head.
Gilho is somewhat skeptical about the situation and is confused by Wuseong. Later, Wuseong reveals that he has read Gilho’s poetry, and that it “carved [him] out”. This surprises Gilho, but instead of being happy, he is just ashamed. Perhaps he feels embarrassed that such a strange boy, someone so unconventional and different to him, would find value in his poetry. Another point of tension occurs when Wuseong tells Gilho that the goose is actually his mother. Gilho denies the possibility of this and Wuseong says, “I’m going to make you believe”. Wuseong interprets Gilho’s comments as an expression of care towards him, which makes Gilho’s face heat up in a blush. This marks a turning point in the narrative where Gilho begins tacitly questioning his views about propriety and societal norms, and starts to slowly understand Wuseong’s perspective on life.
Two months into Wuseong’s stay, Gilho takes him and the goose to a song room to cheer him up after he was distressed from watching a documentary about krill whales. After some singing and soju, Gilho finds himself “staring at the rosy flesh of the boy’s lips” and then “imagined his lips against Wuseong’s lips”. Wuseong leans in to kiss him and is slapped by Gilho, who asks “what are you doing to my life?”. We are given no indication that Gilho has ever had homosexual fantasies before, but Wuseong is eliciting them from him, which is an unexpected change for Gilho, and he resists it. Slapping Wuseong makes him leave with his goose for a few days, and Gilho regrets his actions and finds that he can’t get Wuseong out of his mind. After he finally returns and asks if Gilho was worried about him, Gilho says with a shaking voice, “Of course! You disappear with no note, no call” it’s okay. You’ll be okay”.
Gilho was sorry that he had hit Wuseong and made him go away, but couldn’t adequately express this to him out of pride. The fact that he was so troubled by this incident and almost left Korea altogether because of it, but accepts Wuseong back into his home in relief, shows Gilho’s affection for the boy, and that he is coming to terms with these alien feelings Wuseong has produced in him.
Finally, Gilho awakens early that same morning and sees Wuseong with a woman his age on the balcony, and he realizes that somehow this is the goose transformed. Gilho sees “what he had been resisting the whole time: the world through Wuseong’s eyes”. After the confusion of the last few months that Wuseong had caused in Gilho because of his staunchly distinct view of the world, at long last he connects to Wuseong in a substantial way and is “ready to go anywhere with Wuseong” anywhere where they could be themselves”.
Sometimes it is difficult to bridge the gap between oneself and another. Sometimes our relationships malfunction or are utterly ravaged because we cannot reconcile ourselves with others, as is the case with the characters in “Endgame”. Sometimes it is outside social forces that cause this malfunction, like in the case of Gilho’s limitation by his generation’s mores. Though we cannot have privileged access to the mind of another person, and so cannot know or experience them with immediate certainty, we can get close to it through any sort of expressive medium. The characters in these texts do this through their dialogue.
The tones of the two texts are antipodean, but the characters in both do find consolation from their issues with one another. However, in “Endgame” the characters find comfort in their seclusion, whereas the characters in “The Goose Father” find it in each other. Perhaps there is a time to depart and a time to come together. Braving the sometimes anfractuous paths our relationships take us on will never be simple, but hopefully we can learn how to get by in one way or another, as the characters in these two texts eventually do.
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