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Happy Days

Samuel Beckett

Act One, Part Three

Act One, Part Two

Act One, Part Four

Summary

Winnie asks Willie if she were ever "lovable," but he does not respond, and she takes it as a no. Still, she appreciates his being there and says she won't trouble him again for now, and that, though it is getting late, it's too soon for her song. She thinks about her bag, which is filled deep with treasures. She reminds herself not to "overdo" the bag, but to use it and think about the point in the future "when words must fail." Unable to resist, she reaches into the bag and accidentally takes out the revolver, which she disgustedly throws back.

She inspects the revolver again and wonders why its weight does not keep it at the bottom of the bag, and quotes a line from Robert Browning (Paracelsus three, lines 372–375). She asks Willie if he remembers how he used to ask her to keep the gun—called "Brownie" after not Robert, but J.M. Browning, the inventor of a type of revolver—away from him before he put himself out of his "misery." Winnie derisively says "Your misery!" and says that she is tired of Willie, and she will leave the revolver out from now on. She discusses her feeling that without being held down she would be sucked upward, and asks Willie if he feels that way. He does not understand.

Winnie tries to explain her sensation of being "sucked up," but Willie still does not seem to get it. She chalks her feelings up to "natural laws," and reminisces about when she was young and beautiful. She snaps out of her reverie and tells Willie she is happy he is around and possibly listening. She is grateful that nothing grows in the area, and hoists, with difficulty, her parasol. She ruminates on the great length of days with little action or conversation, and calls it a danger. She thinks about how the body adapts to changing conditions—how she now sweats less in the stifling heat that increases hourly. She finds that it wearies her to hold up the parasol, though it wouldn't if she were moving, but she cannot put it down—she says she requires some change in the world to move again. She asks Willie to help her move it, but he does not respond.

The parasol catches on fire, and Winnie throws it behind her to extinguish it. She remarks that she cannot remember if that ever happened before, and asks Willie, who does not answer. She asks him if he is conscious, and after several more queries he signals that he is, which delights Winnie. It suddenly makes sense to her that, with the sun is growing hotter each hour, things should spontaneously burst into flames, and she reasons that she, too, will one day be burnt. She then considers that the words "temperate" and "torrid" are "empty words," as are her memories of when she had the use of her legs and was able to move in and out of the shade. She reflects that the heat is unchanging and will remain so, and if the earth ever covers her breasts, it will be as if no one has ever seen them.

She remarks that both something has happened and nothing has happened; the parasol will be back again tomorrow in perfect form. Winnie saddens and takes out a music-box from her bag, and plays the waltz duet from Franz Lehár's 1905 operetta, The Merry Widow, which Willie accompanies without words at the end. She becomes happy again, and when Willie refuses an encore, she discusses the difficulty of singing when one's heart is not in it.

Analysis

The distinction between stasis and change is complicated in this section. At times Winnie surmises that the earth is tightening around her, and the sun is burning hotter, but then she says it is not, and that it is instead a sterile area of no change. A way of resolving this tension is by viewing the change as so minute that it appears to be static. When Winnie exclaims, "This will have been a happy day," Beckett employs the future perfect tense. The future perfect means that something will happen in the past of some future point. In a sense, this grammatical certainty, since it will have happened in the past, never really arrives, since it will have happened in the future, in a temporal no- man's-land. No matter how one looks at it, the statement indicates that Winnie is suspended between past and present. She is fatigued by the stasis around her, by the act of holding up a parasol without moving herself, and indeed change does come when the parasol catches fire. But, as Winnie points out, this is also an illusion; the parasol will be returned to normal tomorrow, such that even major change can be erased in the ritualistic, repetitive world she inhabits. Unless something exists in the present, it is an "empty word" for Winnie; her breasts are essentially non-existent now, and the words "temperate" and "torrid" are empty because she knows only one climate now. Still, words seem to retain some power over the natural world, as a linguistic joke suggests Winnie has, in some way, willed the parasol's immolation; after Winnie discusses her "two lamps," and how when one goes out, the other "burns brighter," the parasol burns up.

Winnie's feeling of being "sucked up," and Willie's inability to comprehend it, highlights their oppositions. Some critics read the "n" sound of Winnie's name as an upward, light sound, while Willie's "l" sounds is tonally lower, and their general attitudes clearly reflect this. Beckett's stagecraft implies similar motions. Even though Winnie is being buried, the earth has to crawl up to meet her, as she does not sink. Willie, however, is always low to the ground, sometimes in a hole. At this point in the play, it is unclear whether their opposite directions allow them to meet in the middle as complements, or if, as this passage suggests, they are opposites destined for other ends of the universe. That Willie chimes in briefly at the end of the music-box's playing of the duet, then refuses to sing again at Winnie's urgings, keeps this question in doubt. We wonder whether Willie is truly with Winnie in a duet, trying to make her happy, or is he singing at his own whim without regard for her feelings. Perhaps this is why he is "Willie"—as he has his own free will that the dependent Winnie lacks. This raises another question: whether Winnie will somehow "win" by the play's end. We wonder whether she will eventually lose and die, or whether dying is even a loss. Whatever the case, she is creeping closer to death in some form—her bag stores the rituals that stave off death through diversion but draw it closer through Winnie's empty boredom, and its black color clarifies this connection. Her "accidental" retrieval of the revolver, then, after thinking about the day "when words must fail," does not seem so arbitrary after all, especially once she decides to leave it out.

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