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Endgame Theme of Suffering

If you read more of Beckett's work, you will find that every single one of his characters is, in one
way or another, suffering. In his mid-twenties, when Beckett was suffering from severe depression,
he began to read the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer. Schopenhauer proposed that the world
was grounded in suffering. He believed that our individual wills (drives, desires, etc.) only bring us
more pain and torment, so desire is something to be fought rather than followed. This was a view of
the world that Beckett appreciated; he liked Schopenhauer's "intellectual justification of
unhappiness." Suffering is a theme explored very deeply in Endgame. Beckett imagined
nightmarish situations for his characters and then explored how they might deal with them. It is one
of the most fundamental themes of his work.
Questions About Suffering
1. What is the relationship between suffering and dignity in the play?
2. In what ways do the characters inflict suffering on each other and in what ways do the
characters bring it upon themselves? Is there a way out of their suffering?
3. What historic factors could have led Beckett to depict a world that is so bleak and grounded in
suffering?
Chew on This
Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devils advocate.

In a world without hope or higher aspiration, the ability to endure suffering is the closest
that the characters can come to human dignity. Hamm, in particular, sees the dignity in his
own suffering and thus tries to emphasize how much pain he is in.

The fact that Clov has always, in part, brought his suffering upon himself by not leaving
Hamm makes him feel responsible for his pain. It also makes him feel as if his own
suffering is trivial compared to that of the other characters in the play.
QUOTES ON THE THEME OF SUFFERINFG

Quote #1
HAMM
Can there be misery
(he yawns)
loftier than mine? No doubt. Formerly. But now?
(Pause.)
My father?
(Pause.)
My mother?
(Pause.)
Mydog?
(Pause.)
Oh I am willing to believe they suffer as much as such creatures can suffer. But does that mean their
sufferings equal mine? No doubt. (1.2)
What do you make of Hamm's word choice: "loftier"? Is there any dignity in his suffering?
Does he take pride in it? Why is he competing to see if the others might be suffering more
than he does?

Quote #2
HAMM
I've made you suffer too much.
(Pause.)
Haven't I?
CLOV
It's not that
HAMM(shocked)
I haven't made you suffer too much?
CLOV
Yes!
HAMM(relieved)
Ah you gave me a fright! (1.46-50)
Why is Hamm concerned about how much he has made Clov suffer? What might be the
reason that Clov wants to leave Hamm if it is not that he has made him suffer? Does Hamm
seem to think that suffering is somehow ennobling?
Quote #3
NAGG
Are you crying again?
NELL
I was trying. (1.210-211)
How does this moment foreshadow Nell's death? Consider the moment later in the play
when Nagg stops crying after Nell's death. Is this a lack of compassion or a sign that he too
will die before too long?
Quote #4
HAMM
Something dripping in my head, ever since the fontanelles.
(Stifled hilarity of Nagg.)
Splash, splash, always on the same spot.
(Pause.)
Perhaps it's a little vein.
(Pause.)
A little artery.
What does this thing dripping in Hamm's head have to do with his suffering? Might it be his
inability to stop thinking? When one is in situations of extreme pain, how is the inability to
cease thinking a form of torment?
HW> Find out at least two more quotes on this theme in Endgame, and formulate a reflection or
question for your classmates as in the examples.