Existentialism of Samuel Beckett

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 7 November 2016

Existentialism of Samuel Beckett

Samuel Beckett was a very astound Existentialist. Beckett’s work was essentially existentialist and consciously or unconsciously, his works were infused with the idea that things have no inherent meaning and that our fallacy is to perceive meaning in everything. Existential philosophy became prevalent in the twentieth century as a symbol of the destruction of culture and tradition following World War II, asserting the hopelessness of humanity and focusing on life in a more honest but pessimistic manner than other socialistic philosophies.

The philosophy recognizes the fact that humankind is capable of great evil and has limitless possibilities. Existentialism is a philosophy that emphasizes the uniqueness and isolation of the individual experience in a hostile or indifferent universe, regards human existence as unexplainable, and stresses freedom of choice and responsibility for the consequences of one’s acts. It emphasizes the difference between human existence and that of inanimate objects. Existentialism was a term adopted by Jean-Paul Sartre. Existentialism was identified with a cultural movement that flourished in Europe in the 1940s and 1950s.

Heidegger’s 1927 Being and Time, an inquiry into the “being that we ourselves are” (which he termed “Dasein,” a German word for existence), introduced most of the motifs that would characterize later existentialist thinking(Edward). One existentialist view is absolute individuality and absolute freedom. The Existentialist conceptions of freedom and value come from their view of an individual. Since we are all ultimately alone, isolated islands of subjectivity in an objective world, we have absolute freedom over our internal nature, and the source of our value can only be internal.

I feel Beckett expressed this view in the expelled when the main character got thrown out of his apartment. He had no one he could turn to for help. He just started wondering the city not caring where he was going. He knew getting thrown out wasn’t the end for him because he controlled his own destiny. Another existentialist view is the view of human nature. Existentialism is defined by the slogan Existence precedes Essence. Meaning we have no predetermined nature or essence that controls what we are, what we do, or what is valuable for us. Human beings have no essential self; they are no more than what they appear.

A person is basically born with a blank slate; humans have no uniform, predetermined principles or ethics common to all of mankind. Since there is no preformed essence or definition that exists for what it means to “be human,” a person must form conception of existence by asserting control of and responsibility for their actions and choices. Consequently, a human being gains essence through individual choices and actions. It is solely through the process of living that one defines one’s self(Existence Precedes Essence). I feel Beckett expressed this point heavily in “Krapp’s Last Tape”.

The character was an older man listening to a tape of when he was younger. He could listen to the way he use to think, act and be as a younger man. He was also able to see how his past had affected his life in the present but he still had no idea what laid ahead of him. That is way he made this tape’s so he could remind in self in the future what he thought lay ahead of him in the past. He knew to always go back and listen to the tapes to ponder on what he had made for himself and no had predetermined it. Existentialist encourage us to consider, in a personal way, the meaning of living authentically and inauthentically(Oaklander).

Man is the only known being, according to the philosophers, that defines itself merely through the act of living. First you exist, and then the individual emerges as he makes life decisions. Freedom of choice, through which each human being creates their own nature, is one of the basic themes. Because individuals are free to choose their own way, Existentialist have argued that they must accept the risk they choose to take and responsibility of their actions.

Those people that follow this believe they are in a world that does not always make sense, a world that is filled with uncertainty where well-intended actions can become obscure and chaotic. In basic existentialist beliefs, man is the only animal defining itself through life. Without life, there is no meaning. Existentialist believe in life and fighting for it.

While fighting for life, each person must face important and difficult decisions with only limited knowledge and time in which to make these decisions. Human life is seen as a series of decisions that must be made without knowing what the correct choice is. They must decide what standards to except and which ones to reject. Individuals must make their own choices without help from external standards.

Humans are free and completely responsible for their choices. Their freedom and responsibility is thrust upon them and they are “condemned to be free”. Existentialist belief people are responsible for their actions, decisions and beliefs which caused them anxiety. They try to escape by ignoring or denying their responsibility. To have a meaningful life one must become fully aware of his true self and his situation and bravely accept it. Yet other existentialist thought dictates every person spends a lifetime changing his or her essence. Without life there can be no meaning, the search for meaning in existentialism is the search for self.

In other words, we define ourselves by living, killing yourself would indicate you have chosen to have no meaning. Existentialist believe in living, in fact fighting for life. In Molloy I feel Beckett expressed this believe many times. First, at the beginning when his mother was dying and dead. He stated “I have her room. I sleep in her bed. I piss and shit in her pot. ” this says to me that even though she had died he had to continue living his life. Also in Expelled Becket had traces of this theme. At the end when he left the cabdrivers carriage in the morning. I felt he was portraying that he used the cabdriver.

He just needed a place to stay the night. The next morning he got up and left without saying anything. He got what he needed to survive the night then continued on his life. Samuel Beckett always used the Quote “a step from the cradle to the grave”. I feel this Quote means that you are only a split second away from dying. Even when you’re a new born one thing could go wrong and you’re died. Beckett used this saying in many of his writings. One time he used this saying was in the Expelled. He said “In what had just happened to me there was nothing in the least memorable.

It was neither the cradle nor the game of anything whatever. Or rather it resembled so many other cradles, so many other graves, that I’m lost. ” the character could not remember anything in life. He could not till if he was at the cradle of his life or the grave because they are so close together in life. Existentialism was a very big part of way Samuel Beckett was such a great writer. His works were infused with the idea that things have no inherent meaning and that our fallacy is to perceive meaning in everything which is way his stories where so great.

He was also one of the last people to write in that form. After researching this subject I plan on studying Existentialism more in depth. Works cited 1. Barsoum Diane. Existentialism and the Philosophical Tradition 2. Edward N. Zalta, Standford encyclopedia of philosophy 3. Existence Precedes Essence: Jean-Paul Sartre’s Existentialism and Human Emotions Online at:http://www. associatedcontent. com/article/186425/existence_precedes_essence_jeanpaul. html? cat=38 4. Grene, Marjorie. Introduction To Existentialism. 5. Oaklander, L. Nathan, Existentialist Philosophy an Introduction.


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  • University/College: University of Arkansas System

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