In Endgame, Beckett shows suffering to be an unavoidable and constant aspect of human existence. In fact, being alive is equated with misery. After Nell’s death Clov looks inside Nagg’s bin. He observes, “He’s crying.” (Beckett 62) From this Hamm concludes, “then he’s living.” (Beckett 62) The characters are presented in physical pain to further illustrate human suffering. Throughout the work Hamm repeatedly asks Clov for his painkiller. However, he never receives any. Beckett is implying the inevitability of human suffering. Just as Hamm has no cure for his physical pain, there is no cure for humanity’s constant suffering. In fact, Hamm later states, “you’re on earth, there is no cure for that.” (Beckett 68)
Sardonic humour and laughter are used throughout the play to highlight the constant suffering of humans. This theme is accurately summarized by Nell, “nothing is funnier than unhappiness…it’s the most comical thing in the world.” (Beckett 18) Characters frequently laugh at the misery of themselves and others in Endgame. To illustrate this point, at the start of the work Clov looks out the two windows and laughs. He then takes the cloth off and inspects each of the other characters, laughing at them. This laughter mocks the suffering of the characters and emphasizes the absolute misery that is associated with human existence.
Beckett further develops the role of suffering by depicting the repetitive nature of human existence. This is illustrated through repeated physical actions. For instance, this technique is used each time Clov goes to look out the windows. In one instance, he fetches a telescope from the kitchen then realizes he needs a ladder. He gets the ladder from the kitchen but accidentally leaves the telescope there. He consequently returns to the kitchen once more to retrieve it. Upon re-entering he finally moves the ladder to one window and looks out it. He then starts towards the other window, but realizes he has forgotten the ladder and must turn back to get it. Clov announces many of these actions as he does them, further exaggerating the repetition. Furthermore, this long sequence of events to open the windows is repeated several times throughout the play. The characters in Endgame are aware of the repetitiousness of their existence. Clov comments, “All lifelong the same questions, the same answers.” (Beckett 5) In addition, lines and concepts are repeated throughout the work to emphasize repetition, as well as to reiterate central ideas. For instance, there are frequent references to the approaching death of the characters. The motif of repetition in Endgame is used to suggest that life is constantly miserable and tedious. Clov describes yesterday as “…that bloody awful day, long ago, before this bloody awful day.” (Beckett 43-44)
Beckett uses the decay of the characters’ environment as a means of furthering the decay that is associated with human existence. When Clov looks outside the window he describes the environment as “gray.” (Beckett 31) The colour white is associated with birth, while black represents death. Therefore gray refers to the time between these two events, our lives. This imagery supports the idea that decay is an unavoidable aspect of human existence. In fact, Clov suggests, “…the earth is extinguished, though I never saw it lit.” (Beckett 81) Clov’s comment gives the gray environment permanence. The constancy of its grayness parallels the inevitability of our death. This theme is further emphasized though the description of the play’s setting. Beckett suggests the use of “gray light.” (Beckett 1) In addition, the outside is sometimes directly compared to decay. For example, Clov describes it as “corpsed.” (Beckett 30) Clov’s failed attempt to grow plants further develops this. Additionally, references to the past are also used as foil against the setting’s current state of decay. For instance, Nagg and Nell recall happy memories of the day before they got engaged. In addition, many lines of dialog state that objects which used to exist no longer do. Such as, “there are no more sugar-plums!” (Beckett 55) In both cases the fullness and joy of the past is compared to the emptiness of the present to show how significantly the world has declined.
Lastly, Beckett presents isolation as a core aspect of human existence in Endgame. By illustrating extensive isolation of the characters, Beckett suggests that all humans are isolated to this extent. Isolation is conveyed at the beginning of the play via the white cloths which initially cover Clov, Nagg, and Nell. These cloths physically isolate the characters. An additional degree of physical isolation is portrayed in the case of Nagg and Nell, who are contained inside ashbins under the cloth. Isolation is emphasized in Endgame through the characters’ lack of physical contact with each other. Nagg and Nell try to kiss but are physically unable to. In addition, Clov and Hamm seem unwilling to share physical contact. Hamm finds that Clov simply standing behind him gives him “the shivers.” (Beckett 27) Similarly, Clov tells Ham that if he leaves he will not kiss him goodbye. Also, dialog of the characters is sometimes used to increase the magnitude of the isolation that is portrayed. In particular, Hamm discusses the inevitably of isolation. He warns, “one day you’ll be blind, like me. You’ll be sitting there, a speak in the void, in the dark, forever, like me.” (Beckett 36) This comment is meant to not only address Clov, but also the audience. Therefore, this remark encourages us to realize the possibility of our own inescapable isolation.
The setting of the work also contributes to its theme of isolation. In Beckett’s description of the setting he suggests a “bare interior.” (Beckett 1) This emptiness creates a desolate atmosphere. Additional references to emptiness intensify this feeling. When describing the outside Clov often alludes to emptiness. He frequently describes all aspects of what he sees outside as simply “zero.” (Beckett 31) This suggests a world devoid of everything. Additional references to zero reinforce this notion. In particular, while Hamm tells his story he makes reference to a day which was “zero by the thermometer” (Beckett 51) and one which was “zero by the hygrometer” (Beckett 53). The use of gray imagery in the work also contributes to the lonely atmosphere.
In conclusion, Beckett presents a dismal view of the human condition through the effective use of a variety of literary techniques in his work, Endgame. He depicts living as a state characterized by constant anguish, isolation, decay, and the slow approach towards death. This portrayal of the human condition, though depressing, is of great value. Beckett accurately represents some of the worst aspects of being human.