Endgame & its Greyness 

Insight into the infamous play

About a third of the way into Beckett’s Endgame, I gave up. I surrendered my need to find meaning, to understand, or to decipher, the author’s intent in writing. The plot. The personality of the characters. None of it followed a scheme. Clov and Hamm, Nell and Glam, they all felt the same to me. Interchangeable. Undistinguishable. The dialogue resembled a game of Scrabble, where each statement seemed designed as the best response to the previous statement, and nothing more. Meaning is and was never of any concern to Beckett.

I can thank having recently read Simone de Beauvoir’s “Literature and Metaphysics” for not completely disliking Endgame, or for not wasting my time trying to figure out a meaning to the play. While discussing the purpose of the novel, and the possibility to feel the intricate connection between literature and metaphysics, Beauvoir advises us to leave ourselves—our beliefs, opinions, sentiments—at the door while entering a novel. The novel must “constitute a living discovery for the author as well as the reader” (271). I trusted that Beckett was discovering the play as he wrote it, so I decided to return the favor. I let myself go without restriction into the world of Endgame.

I remember the exact moment that Endgame made me smile, as any recognition of brilliance does. It was while Hamm and Clov where looking out the window with the telescope. Hamm asks Clov how the sea is looking, if the sun is setting, and whether there is anything on the horizon. Clov negates it all. Hamm inquires more, anxiously asking what it is that he is seeing. Clov replies “Grey. Grey! GRREY!” All he sees is grey. Hamm responds “Grey! Did I hear you say grey?” Clov affirms, “Light black. From pole to pole…Why this farce, day after day?” Attempting to provide a read on greyness, he says “Routine. One never knows” (49). And, yes. One never knows. Routine either stabilizes us or lights the fire to our insanity.

If there is anything I gathered by the end of Endgame, which is not much other than a spark that set off a chain of unanswerable questions, is the importance of our surroundings in shaping who we are and what we can or cannot be. The only centrality to Endgame is existential despair, which reminded me very much of Sartre’s “Existentialism Is a Humanism” where he argues extensively against the view that existentialism is pessimistic. Though Sartre provides valuable insight in the essay, I was not convinced that existentialism is not pessimistic, or that it can easily be turned into optimism if thought in the correct manner, as Sartre proposes.

The fundamental essence of existentialism is that humans are free. Free to be, free to think and free to choose. Our only true responsibility lies in the quality of our thinking and ensuring that such thinking is one that is beneficial to us and humanity at large. But Endgame gave light to the limits of our freedom when our environment is, simply put, sterile. The optimism that Sartre argues is innate to existentialism is, quite frankly, not innate to existentialism, but to Sartre’s own circumstances. His ability to see black and white most of the time, to be able to distinguish between the goodness of this and the badness of that, and the greatness of being able to choose, is a view that existentialism provides no origin to. And to those lacking that ability, which are instead paralyzed by greyness, existentialism seems to be nothing more than a shovel to dig their own grave.

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