Although the two the two assignments focus on fun and absurdity, they encompass multiple themes, trends, and elements. In definition, humor entails the aspect of being comic or amusing, while absurdity refers to the apparent senselessness. From antiquity, classical writers such as William Shakespeare have treated his audience to pinch of humor as he attempts to demystify the absurdity of life. For instance, Shakespeare’s The Myth of the Sisyphus, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Camus are some of the pieces of literature that stylistically integrates nonsensical characters and occasional lapses of logic and judgment. Naturally, talented writers such as William Shakespeare, Samuel Beckett, Voltaire, Gogol, and Mary Chase among others optimize on satirical humor to not only entertain the readers but also provoke the readers to think about pressing issues in contemporary societies critically. For instance, Samuel Beckett in his pieces What Where, Act without Words, and Breath use specific diction that exposes the absurdity and futility of humans’ existence. By contrast, Voltaire satirizes the role of bureaucratic systems that attempt to control people’s lives by reinforcing ideologies that favor them.
Passage of Time
One of the most dominant themes in Samuel Beckett’s plays is the passage of time. The latter is an issue that affects and influences every human being since no one can escape the passage of time. While it is a single theme, the playwright presents in multiple levels that intrigue the audience. More specifically, Beckett shows that passage of time is inevitable, its purpose, and its tendency to overlap between the past and the present. Notably, in the play What Where the playwright presents V interrogating Bom, Bim, Bem, and Bam. Although V’s interrogations are similar towards all his respondents, the time has passed. The questioning spans from spring, summer, autumn, to winter, each season representing a specific participant. Notably, time passage is inevitable regardless of how people use it. The same is evident in the Beckett’s Breath where the lights symbolize time passage. More specifically, the lights lit to symbolize birth and dim to show death.
Similarly, the French author Voltaire emphasizes time passage. While criticizing the embodiment of the Catholic Church, the playwright uses the character of an old woman to signify the speed in which time elapses. Notably, the old woman recalls years back when she reveals that she was once a princess in a magnificent palace. The old woman says that she wore dresses “worth more than all the splendor in Westphalia” (Voltaire 13). Notably, the passage of time is a constant theme in both pieces.
In literature, surrealism is the attempt by an author or playwright to connect reality and imagination. The primary motive of surrealists is to bridge the gap between unconscious and conscious minds by establishing fictional stories embedded with juxtapositions. Samuel Beckett’s What Where employs surrealism on multiple levels. For starters, Becketts acknowledges the gap between the unconscious and the conscious. Notably, V, the controlling consciousness affirms that is challenging to find the real answers to life since not even imagination can direct one where to get answers. That incidence notwithstanding, Beckett’s use of surrealism is clearer in his play Acts without Words. An actor thrusts into the scene as a juxtaposition to a person’s birth (Clark 5). Later, he stares at his hands as he comes to terms with his existence. Then, the actor’s environment is marred by different objects that signify the real world. Similar to real-world experiences, he must manipulate the available tools that either enhance or curtail life. In a tragic twist, the actor realizes that the apparatus of strengthening or hindering growth are out of reach. Therefore, he resigns into anger and disbelief but acknowledges that it is futile to try to understand or manipulate the world.
Besides Samuel Beckett, Mary Chase uses surrealism when she tries to interpret, express, and portray the processes of the subconscious mind in Harvey. The authors state that there is a thin line between sanity and insanity. In tandem with this assumption, what may appear normal is abnormal and vice versa. In Harvey, although most characters consider Elwood P. Dowd insane, Mary Chase through the play presents the character in a favorable, almost heroic manner. In the same vein, Dr. Chumley, the epitome of the psychiatric profession, is incompetent and unable to meet his clients’ mental needs. Finally, Chase uses employs surrealism as she tries to connect reality and imagination. In the conversation between Veta and the cab driver, it is apparent that what may be imagined as standard is in fact abnormal (Chase and Brodney 3). As the cab driver opines, after taking antipsychotic injections, rational people behave abnormally by being paranoid.
Perhaps the most famous writing techniques among playwrights and authors are satire. In definition, the irony is a tactic employed by writers to criticize and expose the foolishness of an individual or group of people. More specifically, this technique leverages on exaggeration, irony, or humor. The writers’ goal for being satirical may differ, while some use the tactic to entertain, others use satires to condemn specific actions. Admittedly, Samuel Beckett is hesitant to utilize satires while addressing the absurdity of life. However, it is ironical that the author applies Dadaism to address the futility of man’s existence. By contrast, Voltaire uses satire to criticize the Catholic Church. First, the author notes that the Pope, despite an oath to celibacy, proceeded to have a daughter with Princes of Palestrina. Furthermore, while the church preaches on meekness, the pope and his family were highly extravagant, “palace so magnificent that all the castles of [the] German barons couldn’t have served as its stable” (Voltaire 13). Similarly, Gogol used satire to expose the immorality and corruptions in the Russian government, while Mary Chase satirizes the psychiatric profession.
Beckett, Samuel. The Collected Shorter Plays of Beckett. Grove Press 1984.
Chase, Mary, and Oscar Brodney. Harvey. Universal, 1950.
Clark, Christian. “Beckett – Act without Words I … what where.” CSN, 2017, csn.instructure.com/courses/1291029/files/55644569/download. Accessed 27 Feb. 2021.
Gogol, Nikolay. “The Inspector General.” Project Gutenberg, 2017, archive.org/stream/theinspectorgene03735gut/thnsp10.txt. Accessed 27 Feb. 2021.
Voltaire. “Candide.” OCW, 2003, ocw.mit.edu/courses/literature/21l-448j-darwin-and-design-fall-2003/readings/lecture4.pdf. Accessed 27 Feb. 2021.