Skip over navigation

Happy Days

Samuel Beckett

Act One, Part Two

Act One, Part One

Act One, Part Three

Summary

Winnie regrets not letting Willie sleep, and wishes she could tolerate being alone—not needing anyone to listen to her, although she knows Willie often does not. She says that if Willie died or left her, she would never say another word. She anxiously wonders if she combed her hair and brushed her teeth, and locates the brush and comb in her bag. Since she normally puts them back at the end of the day, she thinks she did not use either, but then resolves to "brush and comb them later." She stumbles when she wonders if hair is referred to as "them" or "it," and asks Willie, who answers "It."

Winnie is overjoyed that Willie is speaking to her, and pronounces it a "happy day." She feels her hat and speaks to herself about the "times one cannot put it on" and times "one cannot put it off." She looks at a strand of her hair and remembers that Willie called it "golden" the day when the "last guest was gone," but can't remember what else he said, nor what day it was. She reflects that even words fail, and asks Willie if he agrees. That being the case, she reflects, one must busy oneself with the upkeep of personal hygiene. These tasks, she finds, are blessings in disguise, and fill each day.

She tells Willie to crawl back into his hole to avoid the sun, which he does. She grows irritated as he fails to heed her various directions, and asks if he can hear her several times. He, too, grows more irritated, answering "Yes" each time and reciting a line she asks him to repeat (from William Shakespeare's Cymbeline 4.2.28), although he only says half of "Fear no more the heat o' the sun." Winnie thanks him for reassuring her that he can hear her, as otherwise she would have only the bag. She asks Willie if he will leave her soon, but he does not answer. She wonders if he can see her, since just because she can still see him in the hole does not mean the sight is reciprocal. She leans back so he can see her, but he still cannot. She says the earth around her is tightening, and wonders if she's put on weight.

She compares her needs and requests of Willie to his desires to be left alone. She interrupts herself when she sees an emmet, or ant, on the ground and watches it carry a little white ball through the grass. Willie says it was eggs, and then says "Formication," the sensation of ants crawling over skin. Winnie says "God," and Willie breaks into laughter. She joins him, and they go through a succession of laughter and silence in which each stops and resumes laughing. Winnie ends up laughing alone, and then stops. She is grateful they laughed, and says there is no better way to "magnify the Almighty" then by laughing at his little jokes, then wonders if she and Willie were laughing at different things.

Analysis

Winnie's dependency on Willie grows stronger in this section. She needs him make her feel she is not completely alone—she constantly fears Willie is not listening to her, and is scared of the time "when words must fail." For Winnie, if external speech is not confirmed by a listener, it is the same as internal thought. In 1953, philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein's monumental book, Philosophical Investigations, was published. In it, he argued that for language to have meaning, it must be a social enterprise, a dialogue between two or more people. Whether or not Beckett read or was aware of Wittgenstein's ideas, both men were focused on the same thing. When one has no one to speak to, language is useless. Even Winnie's musing that language can fail comes after not being able to remember a day when a "guest" left them—when social usage was inhibited.

Willie's first line also confirms the essential loneliness of the play. When he says that the hair is an "it" rather then "them," it implies the dominance of solitude over union, that the hairs are inevitably singular. The only reason Winnie temporarily believes hair is "them" is because she spoke of both her hair and her teeth together in the same sentence ("brush and comb them"), so the plurality of hair was a linguistic illusion. In a similar vein, she comments that just because she can see Willie doesn't mean he can see her, as life has taught her; in Beckett's view, unions disguise the true solitude beneath them. In fact, even social usage has its failures; while Winnie is amused by God's "little joke" in the form of the ant, the sexually minded Willie most likely laughs at the similarity between the words "formication" and "fornication." Likewise, he does not repeat her entire Shakespearean quotation and changes the meaning. For her, it is about protection from the elements, "the heat of the sun," while for him it is a catchall phrase that makes little sense.

To compensate for this loneliness, Winnie uses rituals to fill the day, but even these fail. She says there is "so little one can do" and "I have the whole—." Her pause and interruption is indicative of the ways Beckett says more through silence than words could. Winnie has the whole day, month, year, lifetime, eternity—it does not matter, life is an endless repetition of rituals for Winnie that cannot being to fill the empty day. Her inability to say the final word in the sentence is itself demonstrative of her attraction to and repulsion from death, the final closure. While she craves an end to her boredom, she fears her unknowable destination. So she lives in the ritualistic present, a static world where she cannot put her hat on or take it off, with little connection to the past or future. Her memory is failing and she cannot remember what day their last guest left. Her anticipation of the future is restricted to the next ritual.

An opportunity for interesting imagery presents itself when Winnie makes Willie crawl into his hole feet first, so that each time he crawls out again he becomes virtually reborn. While Winnie's feminine anatomy is being covered up, a literal mother-earth figure in danger of full earth-absorption, Willie is like an infant, crawling, speaking few words, and he defies Winnie's orders. She may be stuck in the present, but he seems more confined to his past life as he reads the newspaper about the outside world and refuses to accept his present environment.

More Help

Previous Next

Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!

Follow Us