In a shelter devoid of sunlight and laughter, the family in Samuel Beckett’s Endgame all struggle to find their niches within their world. Central to the play physically and emotionally, Hamm has the ability to make the others revolve around him. Clov, physically the healthiest in the family, has a power that even Hamm could not define until very late in the play. Nagg and Nell, the elderly parents of Hamm, hold the power of memories. Although some characters may appear weaker than the others at times, Hamm, Clov, Nagg and Nell all hold a source of power, resulting in a weak type of mutualism in the family dynamics.
Hamm is blind and unable to stand. However, sitting in a chair at the centre of the room, he is the axis of power in the family. Hamm repeatedly says, “Outside of here it’s death” (2475) and, according to Clov’s observations, the world outside has indeed been forsaken by nature and is awash in desolation. Therefore, as the owner of the shelter, Hamm has the power to protect Clov, Nagg, and Nell. Hamm makes the house rules even though he does not have the physical ability to enforce the rules: “I’ll give you just enough to keep you from dying. You’ll be hungry all the time” (2474). There is nowhere else to go, so in order to survive, everyone abides by Hamm’s commands.
Clov humours Hamm, because it is Hamm who took him into the shelter when Clov was a child. With a paternal power over Clov, Hamm has the power to make Clov suffer. He controls Clov like a puppeteer, telling the latter to withdraw or to go close to him. Using Clov as a physical extension of himself, Hamm is able to “bottle” his father Nagg when the latter complains he is unable to eat the hard bisc...
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...dysfunctional family, amidst their painful existence, manages balance their powers and to mutually co-exist. Words have much power, and Hamm retains his grip on his family by his commands. However, Clov – Hamm’s eyes and limbs – has power that matches Hamm’s, because if Clov leaves, no one will be able to physically support them. Nagg and Nell have the power of words and memories, as well as that of listening skills. They are the perfect audience for Hamm, who feels that dialogue is his main reason for living. Without them, Hamm will have no more reasons to continue living. Precariously balanced, the power play in Beckett’s play is like that of its title: an endgame fraught with dangers and overshadowed with doom.
Beckett, Samuel. Endgame. 1958. Norton Anthology of English Literature. 7th ed. 2 vols. New York: Norton, 2000, 2: 2472-2500.
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