Samuel Beckett and the human condition


You report (17 January) that, in awarding Samuel Beckett the Nobel prize for literature in 1969, the committee were concerned about his “bottomless contempt for the human condition”. I lived in Dublin for five years (1971-76) and I witnessed, in pub after pub and home after home, the immense love and respect of so-called “ordinary” people for Beckett in his humanity and ironically wry Dublin humour. At that time the majority of people were living the realities of Beckett’s stark but life-enhancing words.

I witnessed the dire poverty of large families living in two-room windowless tenements, for many of whom Beckett’s legacy was the grim humour that is innate in the impoverished human condition if it hopes to survive. His humour buoyed people up in their daily struggles to make ends meet and to hope for a better world.

Ordinary people continue this struggle today all over the world and amazingly, heroically, can still greet the dawn as if this day will surely be “happy”, in the words of Winnie, up to her neck in earth, sand or rubble (productions vary), in Beckett’s Happy Days (1961).

Beckett’s work is often described as “timeless”. His words continue to resonate tellingly and tragically in the 21st century.
Dr Gill Gregory
The University of Notre Dame (London)

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