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BACKGROUND INFORMATION - BIOGRAPHY
Samuel Barclay Beckett was born on April 12, 1906 (Good Friday), in Foxrock, Ireland. He was the second son of his parents, Mary and William Beckett. At the age of five, he began attending kindergarten. A year later, he began studying languages and learned to play the piano. As a youth, he participated in many sports and also began writing. In 1920, he began publishing stories in a school newspaper. Eventually, he attended Trinity College in Dublin, studying literature.
After securing his B.A. degree in 1927, he took up a two-year fellowship at L'Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris. He befriended the writer James Joyce there. His fiction and criticism was published in Transition. In 1930, he won his first prize in a poetry contest. That same year he translated the "Anna Livia Phirabelle" section of Joyce's Work in Progress into French with Alfred Peron. The next year, with George Pelorson, he wrote Le kid. It was a parody based on Corneille's Cid. He was attacked by the Trinity College newspaper for this piece of work. During this time, he was working as an Assistant in French in the Trinity College. In December 1931, he took his M.A. degree, and a month later resigned from the college. After returning to Paris from Germany in March 1932, he began writing on Dream of Fair to Midding Women. Simultaneously, he translated surrealist poems into English. He returned to Foxrock and a few months later his father died. His brother assumed control of his father's firm.
In 1934, he published More Pricks Than Kicks, a work which was later banned. He also began working on Murphy. Four years later, he traveled to Paris and renewed his friendship with his long time friend Joyce. He wrote his first poems in French. He somehow never appreciated the Nazi oppression of Jewish intellectuals. During the Second World War, he joined the resistance network. He fled to the free areas of France and survived mainly by doing agricultural work. He wrote Watt during this period. After a visit to Ireland in 1945, it became difficult for him to return to France.
He joined The Red Cross to help war-affected people and worked as an interpreter and storekeeper in a field hospital. Eventually he made it back to France and lived through what many call his most creative period, in which he wrote such works as Waiting for Godot and Endgame. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970.
HISTORICAL / SOCIAL BACKGROUND
Waiting for Godot premiered in 1953 at the Theatre de Babylone in Paris. The early twentieth century had been overshadowed by two World Wars that brought about uncertainties, despair, and new challenges to the all of mankind. The poignancy and calamities of the wars found sharp reflections in the writings of the day. The global conflict and the nuclear destruction stamped a lasting impact on the minds of the writers. A pessimistic outlook laced with sadism and tangible violence, as a rich dividend of the aftermath of wars, provided both contour and content to the writings. The search for meaning had begun. With the future still hazy, writers began to search and research the new meaning of existence in a drastically changed world. A spirit of restlessness with a mixture of sardonic bitterness became an inherent feature of the writings. The writers were torn between a wrecked past and an unpredictable future. Their experiences and memories were neither lively and worth recollecting nor peaceful and worth treasuring. Hence, the mental conflict, distress, loneliness, and anxiety that they went through found an overt and dominant expression in their writings.
Waiting for Godot was a unique outburst on the literary world. It made no claim to have a place in conventional drama; rather, it carried a "fascination" of its own, authenticated by the undercurrent of resentment in accepting the illogical and unreasonable norms of the society.
It was first written in French and called En attendant Godot. The author himself translated the play into English in 1954. The uniqueness of the play compelled the audiences to flock to the theaters for a spectacularly continuous four hundred performances. At the time, there were two distinct opinions about the play; some called it a hoax and others called it a masterpiece. Nevertheless, Waiting for Godot has claimed its place in literary history as a masterpiece that changed the face of twentieth century drama.
LITERATURE OF THE ABSURD
Literature of the Absurd is a term most often used to class together works by such artists as Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionescoe, Jean Genet, Edward Albee and Harold Pinter. The reason these men formed this rather notoriously elite group of playwrights is rather obvious when one studies each playwright's style and subject. Though none necessarily imitate each other, all share a same subjugation of plot, character, and theme. That is, there is no particular attention spent developing a recognizable plot, no detailed characterization, and no readily definable theme. This bizarre rejection of any recognizable pattern or development gave birth to the term Literature of the Absurd.
Literature of the Absurd followed closely on the heels of two of the twentieth century's most recognizable literary styles: modernism and post-modernism. Modernism was a term widely used to signify the post World War I writings that questioned the traditional modes of religion, morality and also traditional ways of conceiving one's own existence. A prominent feature of modernism was its avant-garde contributors. A small group of writers and artists created a new form of style and expression and concentrated on hitherto neglected or forbidden matters. They were seen as free-spirited and unconventional, shocking and on the edge. Simultaneously, another artistic movement called surrealism was launched in France. Surrealism was a revolt against restrains, promoting free creativity violating norms and control over artistic expression and process. It was a revolutionary movement in all arts including literature. Post-modernism belonged to the post World War II phase. The implacable unrest due to destruction, totalitarianism and devastation in the name of progress became apparent in literature that became more and more separated from conventional art.
Literature of the Absurd was simply a later development of these innovative writing styles. It focused sharply on the irrationality and absurdity of the world. The writers exhibited an unreserved contempt and scorn for hypocrisy in the world. It was an intellectual reproduction of reality, rather than a physical or even practical one. The psychology of the work mirrored the helplessness and emptiness of human life as its creators saw it.
Samuel Beckett, the eminent and influential writer of this mode, wrote enormously in French and later translated his works into English. His plays depict the irrationalism of life in a grotesquely comic and non-consequential fashion with the element of "metaphysical alienation and tragic anguish."