The Use of the Demeter Myth in Beckett

The Use of the Demeter Myth in Beckett - Victoria Chihos...

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Victoria Chihos March 26, 2008 IDS 241/ Modern Irish Drama I affirm that I will uphold the highest principles of honesty and integrity in all my endeavors at Gettysburg College and foster an atmosphere of mutual respect within and beyond the classroom. The Use of the Demeter Myth in Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days A play in two acts, Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days opened at the Cherry Lane Theatre in New York on September 17, 1961. The first image to appear on stage in the first act, reveals a woman, Winnie, “of about fifty, well-preserved, blond for preference, plump, arms and shoulders bare, low bodice, big bosom, pearl necklet” ( Happy Days, p.7) submerged in barren earth up to above waist level. How she got in this static state, we do not know but she is not alone, technically at least. A male companion, Willie, plays a supporting role whilst inhabiting a mound of earth to her rear but he rarely if ever contributes to the babbling of his vocally energetic wife. Although the audience is never specifically informed of how Winnie came to be half-buried alive, mythic influences can be found throughout the piece that explain the symbolic reasons why the ground seems to be swallowing her whole. Beckett aims to recreate the figure of the Greek goddess, Demeter within the very flawed and human character of Winnie. He uses Winnie as an embodiment of Demeter to express certain frailties in the human condition. She expresses a longing for youth and companionship in a world where disastrous natural conditions keep her from achieving a sense of self-closure. Becoming buried in barren earth up to her neck in the second act,
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Winnie is completely immobile. Unable to relieve the emotional pain of perpetual aging, she chooses instead to reflect and occupy herself with the mundane tasks of everyday life. Winnie becomes an ironic impersonation of Demeter in order to express her own sense of loss; loss of youth, loss of maternity and eventually the loss of her own life are conveyed through the medium of mythic allusions. In Greek mythology, the goddess Demeter is most closely associated with agriculture and all things that grow from the earth. There is an obvious connection one can assume. Winnie appears as if she is sprouting like a plant from the earth in the first act of Happy Days . On closer inspection and further reading we find she is actually sinking down into it. In the second act, Winnie is up to her neck in dirt. Her movement is greatly restricted; she is stationary and motionless except for the free and liberal movement of her mouth. The nature of the setting itself, “expanse of scorched grass” and the oppressive sun overhead ( HD, p. 8), does not seem to evoke feelings of bounty and harvest for which Demeter is most commonly known. The scene is a barren wasteland, as if the goddess has gone on vacation. This image is reminiscent of another vision of Demeter we are offered in Greek
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The Use of the Demeter Myth in Beckett - Victoria Chihos...

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