Life in the Iron Mills
. Life is Not Merely a Coincidence “Theatre of the Absurd” is designated for plays of absurdist fiction and refers to the avant-garde theatre of a loosely associated group of dramatists such as, Beckett, Ionesco, Pinter, and Albee who first emerged during and after World War 11. The plays express the belief that “in a godless universe human existence has no meaning or purpose and therefore all communication breaks down” (Britannica Online Encyclopedia).
Logical construction and argument gives way to irrational and illogical speech and to its ultimate conclusion which is silence. Absurdist theatre is often called a reaction to realism, as instead of conforming to the concept of real life, absurdist sought to provide an unmistakably unreal experience. The absurd dramatist relates to existentialism and the philosophical approach in understanding human existence and experiences. Existentialism is based on the assumption that individuals are free and responsible for their own choices and actions.
Hence, people are not victims of circumstances as there is the freedom of choice. In an absurdist play, time and settings are generally ambiguous, if they are even defined at all. The characters are not meant to mimic real people, but instead are often “metaphorical or archetypal” (Britannica Online Encyclopedia). Absurdism is a form of drama that emphasizes the absurdity of human existence by employing disjointed, repetitious, and meaningless dialogue, purposeless and confusing situations, and plots that lack realistic or logical development.
The guiding principle of absurdism is to look at the world without any assumption of purpose and its usefulness is it exists without prejudices or specificity. As it is equally alien to everyone, Absurdism is meant to be accessible to everyone. One of the common misconceptions of theatre of the absurd plays is that nothing makes sense. On the contrary, the characters in absurdism tend to behave in a serious way, reacting realistically to the bizarre occurrences of their environment.
The protagonists of Endgame by Samuel Beckett, The Zoo Story by Edward Albee, and Rhinoceros by Eugene Ionesco are all overwhelmed by the irrational nature of their respective environments and the general effect they share is a nightmare and dreamlike atmosphere that is their existence involving the forces of hope, truth, identity, reality, alienation, meaning, and human existence; all of which are forces they are struggling against. The idea of the Endgame is taken from the game of chess where the concept designates the last, and entirely predictable, stage of a game, the end.
The play portrays a universe which is nearing its end. Hamm and Clov both are the protagonists in Beckett’s one-act play, Endgame. Hamm is the chess King, paralyzed and wheelchair bound, who moves only when he makes demand for Clov to service him “get me ready, I am going to bed” (391) or “I feel a little too far to the left / Now I feel a little too far to the right” (399). Clov is his submissive Knight who staggers around erratically submitting to Hamm’s every whim. Hamm controls everything and everyone while having absolutely no control over himself or his environment.
Frustration and anger dictates his existence as he sees the end all humanity seem to be moving towards is both uncertain and elusive, and he is terrified. Hamm channels his anger at God by shouting “The bastard! He doesn’t exist! ” (Levy 410). The forces of a meaningless existence, reality, and Armageddon are the forces Hamm and Clov struggles against. Both are starving for identity and a healthy relationship with others but it is an impossible feat. They want to preserve their own unique identity, but it is necessary for both to relate to the outside world and nature to develop a true identity.
Hamm and Clov are confined in a depressing, stagnant, bare, and dismal vacuum of their environment located partially underground, and their relationship with nature is nonexistent as Beckett reveals “nature has forgotten us / There’s no more nature” Levy 393). Since both fail to develop an identity the result is a failure to establish a healthy mature relationship with each other. Outside all seems dead, barren, and nothing occurs as Hamm states “outside of here it’s death” (393). Inside, Hamm and Clov, his caretaker is passing the time mortifying each other and toying with fears and illusions of a possible change that will never occur.
Clov indicates “I can’t be punished anymore” (390) when he reflects on his life with Hamm. In return Hamm declares that he is miserable, “can there be misery—loftier than mine? ” (391). Hamm is attracted to whatever light there is in the gray world and constantly asks Clov to push him under the window so he can feel the light on his face. Light is used as a symbol of hope and life which expresses many of the nuances of Hamm’s personality. Hamm is cursed with darkness and he wants Clov to share the same miserable fate so he continuously antagonizes him.
The antagonist is at times Hamm as well as the environment and death. The antagonist death will ultimately prevail and win the chess game. Clov and Hamm are in the “endgame” of their life and death lurks around the corner. Endgame is the term used to describe an ending in chess where the outcome is already known. The chess endgame parallels the final stages of life. Hamm and Clov will succumb to death regardless of how the game is played. They are stuck in a perpetual loop that never allows final closure. Hamm claims he wants to be “finished” (410), but admits that he hesitates to do so.
He has no answers to the basic existential questions of why he is alive, why he has to die, and why is injustice in his miserable, suffering, and empty existence. Just as death cannot arrive to seal off life, neither can Hamm or Clove escape to close the book of one existence and open another. The Zoo Story by Edward Albee is more anchored in reality than most typical works in the genre of Theatre of the Absurd. The drama is a confrontation between middle-class America and the outcasts of society, Peter and Jerry. Albee presents the setting in a simple structure in New York’s Central Park consisting of two park benches.
The play never changes, and the action unfolds in a linear manner, from beginning to end. There are three overriding themes in the short one-act play. They are absurdity versus reality, alienation and loneliness, and wealth and poverty. The protagonist is Peter, a complacent publishing executive of middle age and upper-middle income. He is a conventional family man with morals, mainstream social values, and financial stability. Peter is contending with forces of loneliness, hope, identity, and meaning in his life.
Marriage, his cage, and life in general has not played out the way Peter anticipates as his household is female-dominated and he is forced to comply with the desires of his wife. He desires to be freed from the cage and the zoo of his life as Albee shows Who better than a nice married man with two daughters and…a dog? [Peter shakes his head] No? Two dogs. [Peter shakes his head again] Hm. No dogs? [Peter shakes his head sadly] Oh, that’s a shame. But you look like an animal man. CATS? [Peter nods his head, ruefully] Cats! But, that can’t be your idea. No, sir.
Your wife and daughters? [Peter nods his head] Is there anything else I should know? (549) Jerry, the antagonist is an aggressive, dysfunctional, lonely, disheveled thirty something man in search of human interaction who also yearns to be released from his cage. Jerry is in a personal conflict with his sexuality and Peter is dealing with his emasculation. The distinctions being, Jerry is a social outcast who is free spirited and morally obligated. He is a free man in respect to Peter restrained life. Jerry is in a search of meaning and his struggle is to find his purpose in life.
Without the purpose he seeks his life is meaningless and he chooses death to end it all. Peter is a template of American societal male and is a caged animal. Through the serious failed conversation and misrepresentation of the act of love, Jerry begins his life experiment to see if the middle class are animals after all. The lives of both Peter and Jerry is forever altered when they encounter each other on that faithful day and The Zoo Story highlights what happens when one character enters the life of another and rapidly changes it forever.
Neither character prevailed in the drama with the violent conclusion of the psychological attack by retreat by Jerry when he tries to teach Peter the nature of human existence and relationships. Rhinoceros by Eugene Ionesco explores issues of chaos while arriving at a clear message about the chaos. Despite the wild themes and constant activity in the play, a structure and a plot does move forward. Ionesco challenges the point of life and rational nature of humans and forces humanity to challenge to understand ourselves and our actions.
The protagonist is Berenger, an everyman who has strong moral character and individuality. The force he has to contend with is the decision to be an individualistic or conform because the masses have succumbed. He is not so different from everyone else in many respects, however, his strength of self and individualism is highlighted when he resists the call to conformity when he says “But they won’t get me / You won’t get me! ” (Levy 469). Berenger chooses to be alone and to give rationality another try. The question becomes is he being true to himself or not?
Is human condition one more of rationality or irrationality? To what degree should one resist the pull to conformity, and to what degree should one capitulate to the ways of the world? The antagonist is the ruling government and Nazism and the protagonist Tom prevailed by standing for what he believes even though at times he doubts his decision. Life is full of challenges faced on a daily basis. The many circumstances of life test the human existence, identity, hope, truth, and alienation among many other.
Existentialism is based on the assumption that individuals are free and responsible for their own actions and choices. Humans are not victims of circumstances as the freedom of choice is a reality. One gets to make conscious choices when faced with challenges in life. The primary difference between the Theatre of the Absurd and existentialism is that while existentialism recommends a certain type of response to the apparent failure of the human condition, the works of Beckett, Ionesco, Pinter, and Albee makes points without providing any integrated human solution.
If the nature of man is partly or mostly irrational, the Theatre of the Absurd expresses the absurdity of human life in a relatable fashion. Works Cited “Electronic Encyclopedia. ” Encyclopedia Britannica. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica Inc. , 2011 Web. 11 Nov. 2011 . Levy, Walter. Modern Drama: Selected Plays from 1879 to the Present. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1999. Print.