Dr. Fidel Fajardo-Acosta's

World Literature Website












Samuel Beckett (1906-1989)

Biographical Information

Main Works

Featured Works: Endgame


Selected Quotations


Biographical Information

  • Irish author, critic, and thinker; winner of the Nobel Prize for literature in 1969; wrote in both French and English and is best known for his plays Waiting for Godot and Endgame.

  • 1906, born at Foxrock, near Dublin, on Good Friday, 13 April; raised in a middle class, Protestant home. Looking back on his childhood, he once remarked, "I had little talent for happiness."

  • 1923, entered Trinity College, Dublin, where he studied modern languages (French and Italian).

  • 1926, moved to Paris, where he met James Joyce (in 1928) who would become a close personal friend; wrote an essay on the early stages of Joyce's Finnegan's Wake. Rejecting the advances of Joyce's daughter, he commented that he was dead and had no feelings that were human.

  • 1930, won his first literary prize for his poem, "Whoroscope," which deals with the ideas of the philosopher Descartes on the subject of time and the transience of life. After writing a study of Marcel Proust (author of Remembrance of Things Past, 1922-1931), he concluded that habit and routine were the "cancer of time."

  • 1932, left his post at Trinity College and traveled; a period of wanderings in Germany, France, England, and Ireland. Beckett wrote his first novel, Dream of Fair to Middling Women, which traces these journeys.

  • 1938, nearly killed when he was stabbed by a "pimp." In the hospital, he was visited by Suzanne Deschevaux-Dusmesnil who would become his wife. He published the novel, Murphy.

  • 1941, when Paris was invaded in the Second World War, Beckett and his wife joined the Resistance against the Germans. They were forced to flee when their cell was betrayed, leaving their apartment only hours before the Gestapo arrived. He was later awarded the medal "Croix de Guerre" for his work with the Resistance. After the war Beckett began to write primarily in French.

  • 1953, Waiting for Godot premiered in Paris on 5 January. Although critics labeled the play "the strange little play in which 'nothing happens,'" it became an instant success, enjoying the critical praise of dramatists such as Tennessee Williams and Jean Anouilh. Commenting on the play, Anouilh stated, "It will make it easier for me and everyone else to write freely in the theatre."

  • 1957, secured his position as a dramatist when his second masterpiece, Endgame, premiered in French at the Royal Court Theatre in London.

  • 1969, awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

  • 1986, began to suffer from emphysema and wrote in bed his final work, the poem "What is the Word." He remarked that each word seemed to him "an unnecessary stain on silence and nothingness."

  • 1989, died on 22 December and was buried in Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris. When asked on his deathbed what he found valuable in life, he responded, "Precious little."

Main Works

Molloy (1951), a prose narrative concerned with two storytellers (Molloy and Moran) in a quest for the word that will make their journeys real (since their travels exist only in the travelogues they write).

Malone Dies ( Malone meurt) (1951), Malone, a narrator, writes a diary and describes his present state as he awaits his imminent death, moving from the "almost lifeless" to the "lifeless."

The Unnamable ( L'lnnommable) (1953), the Unnamable, as a narrator, expresses despair over the limitations of language, suggesting the inadequacy of personal pronouns, tenses, punctuation and, finally, all language. The obsession with the inability to speak and the inability to be silent gives rise to the often-quoted last line, "I can't go on, you must go on, I'll go on."

Waiting for Godot (En attendant Godot), Samuel Beckett's most famous work, originally written in French in 1949 (published in 1952) and first performed in the Left Bank Theater of Babylon in Paris in 1953. The play deals with two characters, Estragon and Vladimir, who wait, seemingly endlessly, for Godot, an elusive figure who they expect can save them from their misery, boredom, and despair. The play has often been viewed as fundamentally existentialist in its take on life.

Krapp's Last Tape (staged in 1958), a play where an old man listens to taped recordings of himself from an earlier part of his life; the play sets up ironic tensions, repetitions, and echoes, questioning the continuity of identity over time. Beckett renders death palpable by having Krapp gaze, with fear, into the dark: "Death is waiting behind him and unconsciously he is seeking it" (Beckett).

Happy Days (staged in 1961), a play dealing with an old woman who is slowly sinking into the ground as she chatters about trivial matters; like some of the earlier works, the play features a struggle to gain control over time and the instability and decay of identity and personality.


  • Existentialism, a philosophical movement of the 19th and 20th centuries stressing individual freedom and human choice; existentialism is primarily based on the idea that human beings shape their own existence and give meaning to it through their own choices and actions. The main figure in existentialism was the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980).

  • Absurdist Theatre (or the Theatre of the Absurd), a label applied to dramatic works of the mid twentieth century -- by authors like Samuel Beckett, Eugène Ionesco, and Jean Genet -- who seemed to express the idea of the absurdity and meaninglessness of the human situation. An important source of such ideas were the writings of the French existentialist philosopher Albert Camus ("The Myth of Sisyphus," 1942).

  • World War II (1939-1945). War involving Great Britain, France, the Soviet Union, the United States and their allies against Germany, Italy, and Japan. During World War II, Beckett joined the underground movement in Paris, the Resistance, against the Germans. He remained in the Resistance until 1942 when several members of his group were arrested. Beckett was forced to flee with his French-born wife to the unoccupied zone. He only returned to Paris in 1945 after the city was liberated from the Germans. The war deepened Beckett's awareness of human suffering and fearful uncertainty, contributing to the production of his masterpieces, Waiting for Godot and Endgame.

  • Littérature engagée French: "engaged literature," literature of social and political commitments, popularized in post-World War II era by the French existentialists; belief in the idea of the artist's responsibility to society; a reaction against "art for art's sake" and against the "bourgeois" writer devoted only to his craft rather than his world or his audience. Although Beckett dissociated himself from the post-World War II French existentialists, his works covered much of the same ground and he himself participated in the French resistance against the Nazi occupation.

  • George Berkeley (1685-1753) Anglo-Irish Anglican bishop, philosopher, and scientist, best known for his empiricist philosophy, which holds that everything (except the spiritual) exists only insofar as it is perceived by the senses. Beckett was deeply influenced by his proposition: esse est percipi ("to be is to be perceived") which is embodied in the anxious desire of Beckett's characters to be noticed.

Selected Quotations

  • to come


  • to come


Dr. Fajardo-Acosta gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Jung-Joon Ihm in the creation of this page


© 2001, 2002 by Fidel Fajardo-Acosta, all rights reserved


This page designed and maintained by Fidel Fajardo-Acosta, © 2001