Literature Study GuidesEndgameHamm Wakes Up Summary

Endgame | Study Guide

Samuel Beckett

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Endgame | Hamm Wakes Up | Summary


This one-act play takes place in one room with no scene breaks. For the purpose of analysis, this study guide breaks the text into sections based on events, characters, or dialogue in the play.


The play opens with Hamm and Clov still and silent in the room which forms the set. Clov begins his chores, such as removing the sheets covering Hamm, who is confined to a chair on wheels, and two trash bins. Clov's first words are "it's finished," although the play has just begun. Clov exits and Hamm awakes, commenting on his own suffering. When Clov returns, he and Hamm discuss why they are together and whether they should end. As they talk the lid of one of the trash bins is lifted from the inside. Nagg's hands and face appear above the rim. Nagg is Hamm's father, has no legs, and lives in the trash bin. Clov gives Nagg a biscuit. Nagg disappears until he reemerges as Clov leaves to do things in the kitchen.


In the play's first minutes Beckett presents the characters and issues which will resurface throughout the performance. Clov's silent and precise movements as he readies the stage for action recall the silent activity of a pantomime or silent movie. Major themes of the play are present. The opening lines, "finished, it's finished," immediately upend a sense of time for the audience as well as players. How can the play be finished in its first line of dialogue? Similarly, Hamm says to Clov, "Get me ready, I'm going to bed," even though he has just awakened. It is hard for the characters, and by extension the audience, to have any marker of time when it moves in circles. The passage of time is discomforting for the characters and the audience as they struggle to construct meaning moment to moment.

Hamm also sums up the crucial dilemmas of his and Clov's existence, of theatrical experience, and of life in general when he says, "Enough, it's time it ended, in the shelter too. And yet I hesitate, I hesitate to ... to end. Yes, there it is, it's time it ended and yet I hesitate to—(he yawns)—to end." The inability to end, or to execute any meaningful action, provides the play's tension. Clov's musing, "It may end. All life long the same questions, the same answers," captures the distress of time passing, the finality of each moment, and the tragic failure of each moment to mean something.

Beckett places the audience in an uncomfortable position with the revelation that Hamm keeps his legless father in a trash bin. (The audience does not yet know the other trash bin contains his legless mother.) His father's and Hamm's lack of mobility points to the themes of alienation and loneliness. Moreover, the characters' inability to move keeps them physically isolated, which contributes to their stunted emotional development.

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