Happy Days Tidbit #14 ~ Another Happy Days

by Laurent Graff

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DeppInTheHeartOfTexas
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Happy Days Tidbit #14 ~ Another Happy Days

Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Fri Dec 01, 2006 9:29 am

I would like to thank suec for pointing out the Beckett work by the same title and for providing me with this review of his play which I think you will find quite interesting.

http://www.nytimes.com/books/97/08/03/reviews/beckett-days.html

Beckett's Happy Days
By HOWARD TAUBMAN

With "Happy Days" Samuel Beckett has composed a song of rue that will haunt the inner ear long after you have heard it.

Like his earlier plays, Mr. Beckett's latest work reflects a sorrowing vision of man and his world. A bitter, often earthy, humor lights it up. But what it reveals is shadowed in pessimism. Man struggles for hope, but his destiny, as "Happy Days" sees it, is tragic. The earth reduces him to a crawling thing and ultimately swallows him.

Although Mr. Beckett's Winnie, the character who has virtually all the lines, cries out wearily, "So little to say, so little to do, and the fear so great," she also expresses the playwright's admiration of man's durability: "That is what I find so wonderful. The way man adapts himself. To changing conditions."

Mr. Beckett's threnody is grim, but in its muted, tremulous way it shimmers with beauty. For he has refined his theatre into something that parallels the elusiveness and overtones of music. His writing is spare and allusive, wry and grave, direct and poetic. He dispenses with the commonplaces of plot and action; nevertheless, he arrives at an emotional essence.

On a literal level the burden of "Happy Days" is soon told. As the curtain goes up, Winnie, a woman no longer young, is embedded up to her bosom in a mound of earth in an expanse of scorched grass. She chatters incessantly to Willie, presumably her mate, who is all but unseen. She seeks to fill the hours. She reminisces, comments, laughs, grumbles. She assures herself that this is one of her happy days, when in fact she is on the verge of tears.

In the second act she has sunk into the mound so that only her head is visible, and now she cannot move it. Despite the desperation of her predicament, this is another of her happy days. For at the end Willie, dressed formally as if for a diplomatic function or a funeral, crawls out and strives to reach her. Fruitlessly, of course. Mr. Beckett knows that Winnie's hopes are false--and so does she.

Mr. Beckett's objective is anything but literal. "Happy Days" is surely his allegory of the human condition. Poor Winnie babbling away pretends that she has created order out of her odd incarceration. She is aware that Willie's "marvelous gift" is to sleep. She calls to him anyhow: "Just to know that in theory you hear me even though in fact you don't is all I need." This is the mercy for which she pleads.

At the Cherry Lane Theatre, where "Happy Days" opened last night, William Ritman has designed a mound as barren as a dune and has set it against a glaringly yellow cyclorama. Alan Schneider has directed the play with a memorable combination of delicacy and strength. John C. Becher does the whimpering, senile Willie effectively. But the dominating impression is made by Ruth White, who plays Winnie with heartrending pathos.

Despite limited mobility Miss White conveys a profound sense of the dark, empty spaces of Winnie's life. She uses her voice to achieve a remarkable range of nuance. Her eyes, her lips, the very lines in her face suggest mood and feeling. She fusses bravely with the black shopping bag that seems to contain all her worldly possessions. Her attempt to be invincible turns into a pitiable failure. At the end, with the silly, feathered little hat atop the head projecting out of the mound, she seems like a puny, weary Earth Mother of a mean, despairing world.
"Happy Days" describes the aridity of life, but, in Winnie's words, "sorrow keeps breaking in." If Mr. Beckett does not lift the heart, his mournful song is at least compassionate, and that is a great deal.

A brief bio of Samuel Beckett

SAMUEL BECKETT
1906-1989

Beckett was born in Foxrock, Dublin. He would later insist that he was born on Good Friday,13 April 1906, although his birth certficate puts the date a month later. The Becketts were of French Huguenot descent and, after a distinguished career at Trinity College, Dublin, he was to spend much of his life in France. His cricketing prowess earned him a mention in Wisden (the only Nobel Prize winner there), while he topped his year in modern languages. In 1928, he was appointed to an exchange lectureship in Paris, where he met and helped James Joyce before returning to TCD in 1930.

A critical study of Marcel Proust (1931) pointed to an academic career, but Beckett chose to become a full-time writer. He travelled widely, living rather precariously, before settling in Montparnasse in Paris in 1937. His comic novel Murphy was published in 1938. He also met Suzanne Dumesnil, when she helped him to hospital after a street stabbing; they were to marry in 1961. Beckett was in Dublin at the outbreak of World War II, but 'preferred France at war to Ireland at peace'. He worked for the French Resistance, narrowly escaped the Gestapo, then moved to unoccupied France, where he wrote his novel Watt.

In 1947, he returned to Paris, where within two years he wrote his trilogy of novels. Molloy, Malone Dies and The Unnameable, and the play Waiting for Godot. By now, he was writing in French, then translating into English. Godot had its first production in 1953, and its success made the reclusive Beckett an international figure. In this innovative tragi-comedy, the tramps Vladimir and Estragon await someone they have never met and who may not exist. 'If I knew who Godot was,' said Beckett, 'I would have said so in the play'.
Other bleakly comic plays followed. 'Nothing is fun nier than unhappiness, ' says Nell in Endgame, speaking from a dustbin. In Happy Days, the heroine is buried in sand. Beckett was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969, but shunned the presentation ceremony. He died in Paris on 22 December 1989.

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Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming -
Wow! What a ride!

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Unread postby Parlez » Fri Dec 01, 2006 3:06 pm

Wow! This is a powerful parallel to the book in many ways. I'm
going to the library to see if there's a copy of the play to read.
Right away, I thought of the line in Shantaram, when
Karla says, "I don't know what frightens me more, the power that crushes
us or our endless ability to endure it."
Thanks for this tidbit. Plenty of food for thought on this first
day of the last month of the year.
"Belay that! ...Do something else!" ~ Hector Barbossa
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Unread postby Red Shoes » Fri Dec 01, 2006 5:01 pm

Wow, some really interesting parallels.

Thanks, DITHOT.
"It's good to be different."

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Unread postby fansmom » Fri Dec 01, 2006 5:32 pm

Thanks for not making us read that play, DITHOT!

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Unread postby gemini » Fri Dec 01, 2006 7:20 pm

Before I read this I just assumed that Happy Days must be considered twilight years since its the title of a story with elderly characters. Before reading Laurent's Happy Days I would not have guessed what it was about without reading its reviews. For some reason I really hadn't given the title much thought while I was reading but I guess the title's of both the book and the play are supposed to be ironic.

"Happy Days" describes the aridity of life, but, in Winnie's words, "sorrow keeps breaking in."
I wasn't sure what they meant by this until I looked up the meaning of aridity.

a condition yielding nothing of value or lacking interest or feeling; lifeless and dull

Both of these writers seem to be using this to describe life.
"If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went." Will Rogers

Growing old is mandatory, growing up is optional.

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Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Fri Dec 01, 2006 8:35 pm

Extra-curricular reading is always on your onsies, fansmom! :lol: Parlez, since you have taken up the challenge let us know what you think. :cool:

gemini wrote:
"Happy Days" describes the aridity of life, but, in Winnie's words, "sorrow keeps breaking in."
I wasn't sure what they meant by this until I looked up the meaning of aridity.

a condition yielding nothing of value or lacking interest or feeling; lifeless and dull


gemini, that seems to be a definite parallel between the two works. Nice pick up! :cool:
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming -

Wow! What a ride!

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Unread postby suec » Sat Dec 02, 2006 7:35 am

I was reminded of this play quite by chance, when I typed in the title with Amazon, and the play was the first text listed. Once I had been reminded, however, I was struck by some similarities: the static character going nowhere with death so explicitly related to him, existing in a kind of neutral space, contemplating the human condition - so I have re-read it, along with Waiting For Godot, to see what I could find. The trouble is that it has skewed my thinking about the novel somewhat, perhaps more than it should have, as you will see.

Beckett’s plays are examples of Absurd literature. That is, literature which explores the human condition as being absurd, and which conveys this idea in texts that are absurd themselves. Hence, Winnie buried in a mound of earth, while Willie can only move around on all fours. The premise of the novel also strikes me as being absurd. Antoine uses the word too (p64). The absurdity in the plays comes from the idea that we have not conquered death, which makes our lives a mockery; there is no meaning or substance to life; life is a series of pointless tasks and suffering; and therefore absurd.

There is the tendency to laugh at our misery, which produces the comedy: ‘How can one better magnify the Almighty than by laughing at his little jokes, particularly the poorer ones?’ (Winnie). Comedy and pathos are intermingled in his plays. The comedy is of the circus variety, music hall and farce. For instance, an embrace between two characters ends in a pratfall.


He plays around with dramatic conventions. There is no resolution at the end, and he doesn’t use the three act structure. The second, final act is much shorter than the first, in line with his themes. In Waiting for Godot, the characters look at and comment on the auditorium and one leaves the stage for a comfort break, accompanied by directions where to reach the room along the corridor. Thus, the suspension of disbelief is broken, and the audience is reminded that the play is an illusion. Beckett’s view of drama seems to be that it is one more meaningless game with which we distract ourselves. Anything that offers hope or a distraction is an illusion. (Antoine referring to the novelist in the hotel?)


Beckett deals with ‘human distress, not human despair’ (1). His characters could kill themselves if they want to although they don’t. They lead such awful existences that death might seem preferable to continuing their lives in such a miserable way. The reviewer doesn’t mention that Winnie has a gun prominently displayed by her side. When he tries to reach her, has he come for a kiss, she wonders, or something else? In Waiting for Godot, two characters discuss hanging themselves on the tree that is part of the minimal set. The characters know that life is awful, but they keep at it, trying to forget it, whiling away the time, or finding oblivion in sleep.

We are born ‘astride a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it’s night once more’ (Waiting for Godot, but also a theme explored in this play). The two significant events are birth and death.

The horrifying effects of time on us: the mound of earth can be a metaphor for this, amongst other things. Winnie shares the odd memory of her past so that we can compare how she was with how she is now. But also, we see the way that her memory fails. Once her circumstances change, she fears she will not remember the way she was. ‘Then… now…what difficulties here, for the mind’. There is both physical and mental decay. In Waiting for Godot, between the two acts, one character goes blind and another dumb.


Time filling: Beckett explores the pointless games that people indulge themselves with to while away the time between birth and death, in a tone of bitter irony. Winnie has her routines: empty her bag, check the contents, brush her hair, open her parasol, sing a song; all routines to get her through the day. In both plays, communication is also viewed as a time-filler.

The shortcomings of communication and relationships are central in the plays. She talks incessantly to Willie in a virtual monologue that results in only the occasional answer from him, which for her is cause for rejoicing: ‘Oh you are going to talk to me today, this is going to be a happy day!’ (The title of the play not only refers to this leitmotif, but also her happy memories and in a key passage: ‘And if for some reason no further pains are possible, why then just close the eyes and wait for the happy day to come when flesh melts at so many degrees and the night of the moon has so many hundred hours. That is what I find so comforting when I lose heart and envy the brute beast.’) Meanwhile, he spends his time reading the paper and quoting bits – significantly, in one instance, an announcement of a death. She comments on when words fail, and how words are empty. Quotations from classics are half remembered and meanings of words not known. The shortcomings of relationships can be seen in her comments about the sadness after sexual intercourse. And it can be seen in the staging of the play. Winnie is buried in a mound facing the audience. Willie is to her right and rear. She has to strain to see him in Act One; by Act Two, she cannot even do that much. It is apparent in the way that she has to check that he can hear her and that he still there, in which she finds great comfort. It isn’t until the end of the play that he crawls around to the front to her. Nevertheless, when he says her name, she is happy and sings ‘ It’s true, it’s true, You love me so’ . He hasn’t reached her, though, by the end of the play. And as the reviewer states, she is probably fooling herself. Beckett’s characters do not so much demonstrate love and affection, so much as interdependence. He apparently stated in an interview in 1956 that ‘friendship and love is impossible because of man’s isolation; that any attempt at communication can only end in comedy or madness;’ (the rescue of Bébel & subsequent police attempts at understanding events strikes me as being along these lines) ‘that all social intercourse is an illusion; that the artist’s role is to reduce and detract.’ I’m sorry but I can’t find the reference for that.

I have tried not to comment on the novel, as I don’t want to pre-empt the discussion. However, I do believe that the points made about the plays may be compared with the novel. I’ll finish with an extract from Waiting for Godot, which is a conversation between the two main characters of Estragon and Vladimir:

In the meantime let us try and converse calmly, since we are incapable of keeping silent.
You’re right, we’re inexhaustible.
It’s so we won’t think.
We have that excuse.
It’s so we won’t hear.
We have our reasons.
All the dead voices.
They make a noise like wings.
Like leaves.
Like sand.
Like leaves.
Silence
They all speak together.
Each one to itself.
Silence.
Rather they whisper.
They rustle.
They murmur.
They rustle.
Silence.
What do they say?
They talk about their lives.
To have lived is not enough for them.
They have to talk about it.
To be dead is not enough for them.
It is not sufficient.
Silence.
They make a noise like feathers.
Like leaves.
Like ashes.
Like leaves.

1. Jack Macgowran, Interview with Richard Toscan, ‘Theatre Quarterly’ 1973
"Luck... inspiration... both only really happen to you when you empty your heart of ambition, purpose, and plan; when you give yourself, completely, to the golden, fate-filled moment."

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Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Sat Dec 02, 2006 10:46 am

suec, thank you for taking the time to research this and for your wonderful write up! I can see many comparisons between the two Happy Days and you have added yet another layer to be explored. There is so much to be discovered in this one little 99 page long book! :-O
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming -

Wow! What a ride!

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Unread postby Parlez » Sat Dec 02, 2006 12:19 pm

Ooooh, suec, that is a rich report! Thank you! Now I won't feel
compelled to track down the play; you've offered the nuggets
from it right here! Let the discussion begin!
"Belay that! ...Do something else!" ~ Hector Barbossa

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Unread postby suec » Sat Dec 02, 2006 5:06 pm

Thank you. :blush: But the write up is a selective one. I expect too that I have missed as much again.
"Luck... inspiration... both only really happen to you when you empty your heart of ambition, purpose, and plan; when you give yourself, completely, to the golden, fate-filled moment."


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