.. hinoceros, as being the Nazi influence, and Berenger, the main character, as an ordinary man in an extraordinary situation. The chaos of the early to mid-twentieth century influenced Ionesco’s life and work’s greatly. He struggled with the concept of the absurd and soon became the father of the theatre of the absurd. He led men such as Samuel Beckett and Jean Genet to a greater understanding of the absurd.
Samuel Beckett was one of the greatest names of the theater of the absurd. He spent a lifetime of hardship and work to overcome the challenges of his low self-esteem and confidence. He grew up in Dublin, Ireland, in a prominent family. After college, he was employed as James Joyce’s secretary. Due to Joyce’s bad eyesight, Beckett worked by his side, day and night.
His admiration of Joyce and trouble seeking his own Castro 6 publication brought about a long depression. Eventually, he returned to Paris and won fame with his most popular work, Waiting for Godot. His influence comes from two aspects. His first influence is the death of his first cousin, Peggy. On vacation, in Germany, he met Peggy and fell in love with her.
Their families disapproved their joining and eventually Beckett left. Two years later, Peggy died of tuberculosis. Her influence is clearly seen in all his works as the Irish Studies document points out: Peggy was Samuel’s first love and she is generally believed to be the original for the green-eyed heroines who appear in Beckett’s writings. (pg. 2) He wrote her in his plays as an ideal character, but separate from time and space.
His second influence was World War II. During World War II, he was in Paris. He joined the French resistance, but soon the German Gestapo discovered him, so he fled to the countryside in France. It is in the countryside of France where he wrote Watt while working as a farmer. For Beckett, World War II was unbelievable.
He found death and despair throughout Europe. In fact, the set for Waiting for Godot looks much like most of Europe during that time. The set is barren and desolate; the only prop is a skinny tree. This is representative of what the war did Europe. The tanks and planes had bombed or ravaged Europe and left a scenery of emptiness and with that a sense of loneliness and isolation.
The depressing scene leaves the stage devoid of all sense of time and place. It represents the universal aspect of destruction and war. For Beckett, the war was enough to push him over into his long depression. Castro 7 The sense of time and timelessness is apparent in Beckett’s works. This influence is seen in Waiting for Godot, the audience perceives a day has passed, the actors can only guess how many years have passed and are gone.
The characters have no place to go and no real time left. In fact, in some of Beckett’s other works he has explicit instructions to finish the play in a certain allotted time. Maybe it was eccentric, or symbolic, epitomizing the sense of timelessness during the war. Every day, battle lines would change and death became so common that it corrupted the sense of life. During the war, time was just a variable; the common goal was victory. This set Europe apart from the United States during the war, in the sense that while Americans lived in safety, many Europeans traveled day and night as refugees.
After a while, the importance of time faded and the only objective seen by all in Europe was an end to the war. The works of Beckett also derive their influence from his life. Naturally, the most memorable moments in his life are tragic such as the death of Peggy from tuberculosis and running away from the Gestapo in France. As Gontaski states: Although in many ways Samuel Beckett is an exemplary twentieth century romantic artist (he has all the bohemian credentials) and although his art is built on strongly autobiographical elements and is finally an art of failure, not achievement, much of Beckett’s creative struggle is against those personal elements, and Beckett’s means are, in part, to devalue content in favor of form. (pgs. 243-244) Another important playwright and novelist during the epoch of the absurd was a homosexual criminal, Jean Genet.
Genet was the outcome of the rapid industrialization of Europe; his mother was a prostitute and his dad was unknown. Since childhood, the only life Genet knew was the streets. Eventually he spent time in several penitentiaries for Castro 8 boys. During this time he immersed himself in the widespread homosexual community active in the newly reformed prisons. Genet set his success from within prison. In prison, serving a life sentence, he attempted to write a novel, only for it to be destroyed.
He then rewrote the whole novel, from scratch, Our Lady of the Flowers. Sartre and Cocteau lobbied for his release and won. Later, he setup his stage success with his theatrical masterpieces. His pieces such as The Maids, The Balcony, and The Screens made him another famous playwright in the theatre of the absurd. His service in the French Foreign Legion brought about his first homosexual relationship within a context of love.
He courted and fell in love with a young hair stylist in Syria while on duty. The rare acceptance of such liberal views accepted by the local townspeople, made him feel comfortable and happy. Later in his life this acceptance he freely received by the Syrians was repaid by his constant lobbying for the Palestinian Liberation Organization. One famous play Genet wrote is The Balcony. This play is about a Madame and her service as she carries out her client’s outrageous fantasies.
His play functions as his outlet against the bourgeois class that participated in homosexuality but never admitted it. His anger for such people are great since they where the ones who solicited him as a male prostitute. They always would accept him for his homosexuality but when society rejected Genet for such, they immediately disappeared from his back. In general, all of Genet’s plays are criticism of the French bourgeois as White explains: Castro 9 Moreover, at a time when middle-class gay authors were promoting the metaphor of homosexuality as illness and mounting pleas for sympathy and compassion, Genet embraced the only other two alternatives- homosexuality as crime or sin, a far stronger position designed to frighten his hapless reader. (pg.
4) He saw them with contempt and anger because they sought sympathy for other homosexuals while being cowards about their actions. His position and works are unique because he was not influenced as much by the war as other absurd dramatists, but instead, he was influenced by the new liberal ideas traveling through Europe about an open sexuality. Just like Sartre, who was associated amongst people known for their sexual experimentation; Genet experimented, but he always saw himself first as a thief, then whatever else. The early to mid-twentieth century heavily influenced the artists of the theatre of the absurd. Through the wars, epidemics, and liberalization of values, such artist were able to effectively create works representing the new sentiment of the modern world, confusion. Such is the basic notion of absurdity in simple language.
For in its effectiveness, lies the realization that we still do not know and probably never will know anything about life. These artists: Albert Camus, Eugene Ionesco, Samuel Beckett, Jean Genet, developed art for confusion based on the sole existence of irrationality during the first half of the twentieth century. Bibliography Camus, Albert. The Myth of Sisyphus & Other Essays. New York: Random House, 1955.
Center for Comparative Cultural Studies. Irish Studies. The Absurdity of Samuel Beckett. Online. Internet.
15 March 1999. Gontarski, S.E. “The Intent of Undoing in Samuel Beckett’s Art.” Modern Critical Views: Samuel Beckett. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House, 1985.
227-245 Rhein, Phillip. Albert Camus. New York: Twayne, 1969. White, Edmund. “Once a Sodomite, Twice a Philosopher.” The Harvard Gay & Lesbian Review 3.1 (Winter 1996): 4 pp. Online. Internet.
3 March 1999.