Write a formal essay in response to a detailed prompt about the content and the meaning of Molloy, the novel by Samuel Beckett. It will consist of specific questions and will ask for a detailed and well-supported description of your own personal perspective. So, be sure you have an interpretation of the novel.
Also, be sure to consider the following questions and observations…
What do you think Molloy is saying about the human condition and human nature?
How would you describe Beckett’s vision of human experience?
The novel puts forward the idea that meaning, orderliness, and certainty are imaginary protective layers we use against the chaos and meaninglessness of the world, that it’s natural or human nature to seek a sense of order and meaning in our lives.
Molloy suggests that human experience strips these things (the protective layers) away, that it’s part of the human condition to seek these things and to lose them (the imaginary assurances) and, perhaps, to find a more authentic self.
Existentialism (freewill) versus Determinism (essentialism)
Are Molloy and Moran representative of all of us? Are they universal? Are we all fated to become like them?
Are Molloy and Moran examples of free will gone wrong? Could their fates have been avoided?
Structuralism versus Poststructuralism and Deconstruction.
Molloy and Moran can be said to be on a search for truth. They declare truths and ponder meanings, but their reasoning never fully materializes, or perhaps it’s more accurate to say it always falls apart or fizzles out before reaching any central point.
Is there an elusive central point that exists but is out of reach to Molloy and Moran? Or are they discovering the hard way that there is no central point, that there is just an endless web of associated ideas?
Jung’s Collective Unconscious
Mythic Quest –
How can we say the quest motif, in general, is a metaphor for life? How are Molloy and Moran’s quests metaphorical? What do their quests suggest about the experience of living? How would you interpret Molloy and Moran’s quests as metaphors for life?
The quest motif goes back to King Arthur Legends and the quest for the Holy Grail, and it represent a quest for truth. Molloy is at heart a mythic quest for truth, at the same time mirroring and subverting the motif.
Universal Archetypes –
How do Molloy and Moran represent (or misrepresent) the archetypes? How is Molloy a wise old man? How is Moran a hero?
Latent and Manifest Desires –
How much are Molloy and Moran at the mercy of their subconscious impulses and drives? Do they seem in control of themselves? What does this say about us as people: human nature and the human condition?
With all the layers of symbolism and potential symbolism, meaning and potential meaning, how much of the narrative do we take literally and how much do we read into for symbolic meaning? How can we say Molloy is, among other things, surreal allegory for life?
Consider the Time Period:
Late Modernism: WWII/Post-WWII sensibilities / trauma / Beckett during the war…
Chooses to stay in France during war over returning to Ireland in peace
Joins the Red Cross so that he can return to Paris where he sees destruction firsthand
Joins the French Resistance with his wife, Suzanne, during Nazi occupation of Paris (doing translating for Allied Forces)
Is reported to Nazi authorities and narrowly escapes arrest
Spends the rest of the war in hiding in the French countryside, continuing work with the resistance (transporting arms).
The philosopher and literary theorist Theodor Adorno, who famously said, “There can be no poetry after Auschwitz,” favored Beckett’s bleak aesthetic as the only appropriate response to WWII.
Adorno also said, “Always with Beckett there is a technical reduction to the extreme. … But this reduction is really what the world makes out of us …that is what the world has made out of us these stumps of men … these men who have actually lost their I, who are really the products of the world in which we live.”
How does labeling the novel ‘postwar aesthetic’ help you make sense of Molloy’s depiction of human experience?
Consider these passages from “The Cambridge Introduction”:
[While] certainty is in desperately short supply … there are a lot of rich and resonant motifs and preoccupations, however shorn of ostensible purpose and plot. Take, for instance, the quest model. Both parts of the novel involve a quest story, Molloy’s for his mother, Moran’s for Malloy. The idea of the quest is one of the oldest and most pervasive plot structures in world literature, never more so, one might add, then when (as homers Odyssey, to which there are many illusions in Molloy) the quest is for ‘Home.’ Even if Malloy is not searching for his literal home, one of the many ramifications of the search for the ‘mother’ is the idea of origin of some kind . . . (91)
Each protagonist of Malloy starts by searching for someone else, but ends by returning to himself, or to a different (perhaps deeper) version of himself . . . (92)
So, for all its seeming opacity and perplexity, Malloy points toward some basic fundamental themes. If the plot, such as it is, incorporates the quest motif and the search for the mother and origins, it treats, however inaccessibly, some other large topics along the way: love, death, memory, crime, guilt, murder, family, work, authority, rural versus urban life, politics, sexuality and disease, to mention just a few. If this is the peripatetic novel based around a journey, it also incorporates a bourgeois comedy (in Moran’s relations with his son), and detective novel, a romance. So it is a text which beckons towards the profound and elemental, even as it deflates any attempt at portentousness. In its development of the quest for self and origin, it keys into the fundamental tropes, at the same time as mocking any possibility that such assured principles can be known or articulated . . . (92)
Molloy strives to prevent conscious will from mangling the veracity of the story he wants to tell, just as conscious or voluntary memory bears false witness to the past … The impartial sayer (the ‘incurious seeker’) may be the equivalent of a literary style or a form that keeps its distance, in terms of structure and pattern, from the torment it is describing . . . (96)
[As we’ve discussed previously about Samuel Beckett, he exists in a kind of literary borderland between Modernism and Postmodernism, and Molloy itself seems torn between Structuralism and Poststructuralism: does the word represent its referent, or does it create it?]
[There is a] debate in Becket criticism as to whether he should be regarded as a late modernist or an early postmodernist. On the one hand, [the] ‘nameless things’ [that Molloy discusses in the novel] implies the inadequacy of language, its tendency to distort and misrepresent the world, to impose its false coherence and clarity onto that which it strives to represent. One could draw a comparison here with the modernist experimentation of the early decades of the twentieth century in which there was a perception that received literary and linguistic forms needed renovation in order the better to express a reality that seemed resistant to articulation. On the other hand, [the] ‘thingless names’ [that Molloy also discusses] emphasizes instead the constitutive power of language. The reality which is being articulated should not be considered in any sense anterior to, or separable from, the language which is expressing it. The language gives the world its being. It does not reflect it. This could be called the postmodern perspective, in which language or signs evoke or create the world. They do not simply name or articulate it. Is Beckett a late modernist, striving to find new forms to articulate the endlessly opaque and recalcitrant world, or an early postmodernist, registering that language, culture, names, do not simply label or express something, but rather construct that something themselves? (97)
You are NOT required to address all of these ideas, but you are required to consider them and to be thoughtful and informed in your interpretation of the novel. You are required to have a thoughtful interpretation and to address the ideas that are relevant to it.
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