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Happy Days

Samuel Beckett

Act One, Part Four

Act One, Part Three

Act Two, Part Two

Summary

ANALYSIS Winnie feels she is being watched by someone. She scolds herself to stop talking and do something, and silently files her long nails for a bit. As she files, she thinks about a man named Shower—or possibly Cooker—with his fiancée. She chastises Willie for eating his handkerchief, but gives up, calling it a natural action if one has nothing to do all day. She files the other hand and tells Willie her image of Shower/Cooker and his fiancée: they hold hands, carrying bags in their free hands, and stare at Winnie while the man asks why she is stuck in the ground. She recounts the rest of the conversation, in which the couple fights, argues about Willie's and Winnie's usefulness to each other, and contemplates digging Winnie out, then leave.

She puts away her various items, even thought it is not yet time for the night bell. She remarks how she once thought she could take items in and out until the bell rang, but that is not the case. Before she replaces the last object, the toothbrush, she sees that Willie is trying to crawl out of his whole. She observes that he is no longer a good crawler, and urges him on as he progresses to his spot behind the mound. She tells him she dreams he would live on the other side, or at least visit some times, so she could see him, but knows he can't. She reads her toothbrush handle, with some difficulty, and asks what a hog is. Willie tells her, and she becomes happy. He reads the newspaper and reads out the job announcements, which are the same as before. Winnie tells herself to sing, but does not sing, and then to pray, which she also does not do.

Analysis

Winnie's fantasy of Shower/Cooker and his fiancée creates the illusion for her that someone else watches and cares about her, so that her ongoing conversations with herself remain relevant, as if they are true dialogues. She also conjures up, at first, an image of a happy couple—their own bags are secondary to their hand-holding, unlike in Winnie's world. But her own dissatisfied life with Willie intrudes, and she projects a bickering relationship between the imaginary couple. Notably, after Winnie mentions that the couple remarked that she and Willie must have been married, Winnie falls silent. Perhaps her and Willie's current situation is merely an extension of their married life, one worn down by ritual and stasis—the same fate for which the Showers/Cookers, their very names quotidian rituals, seem destined (though showers were rare in 1950s Europe and, some might argue, remain so today). Moreover, her sensation of being watched alludes to the self- consciousness of the Theatre of the Absurd. Rather than pretend they were representations of real life, many Absurdist plays were open about their status as plays and demanded audiences examine the cloak of artifice. And just as the couple may wonder about Winnie and Willie's situation, so might the befuddled audience.

It is also odd that Winnie knows what "setae" are, but does not know what a hog means. Setae is a Latinate word, and combined with Winnie's multiple literary allusions, it seems she is more comfortable with older forms of language. Winnie often delights in saying things "in the old style," itself a reference to the phrase "sweet new style" from Italian writer Dante. The irony is that for Dante, using Italian rather than traditional Latin was "new," whereas for Winnie, harking back to Dante and other post-Medievalists is "old." It is also stands out that Winnie seems to have forgotten she previously read the toothbrush handle. Since time is essentially changeless in her world, we again see that she cannot distinguish between the past and present. Instead of her not knowing "hog," perhaps it is also an "empty word" for her, one that signifies something that doesn't exist for her now and, thus, never did.

Note also Willie's explanation that a hog is a "castrated" pig "reared for slaughter"; the goal of everything, it seems, is death. But first, hog and human alike are worn down, castrated, by rituals, which bring them closer to death through gradual depletion while trying to avoid it by creating a repetitive vacuum. Winnie files down her nails, the most mundane ritual that cuts down something that grows imperceptibly, another sign of the essentially static masquerading as change. Furthermore, nails grow after the body dies, more evidence that this is Winnie's way of warding off death.

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