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Endgame | Study Guide

Samuel Beckett

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Endgame | Nagg and Nell | Summary



Nagg knocks on the other trash bin, and Hamm's mother, Nell, appears. Like Nagg, Nell's face is very pale and her legs are gone. She and Nagg attempt to kiss, but the trash bins prevent them from reaching each other. They discuss their physical infirmities, and Nell chastises Nagg for laughing at Hamm's misery. They reveal bits and pieces of their past, a past when they were active and happy. Nagg tells Nell the story of the tailor, a story he has told countless times before. Hamm, intensely annoyed by them, has Clov shove them back into their bins.

Hamm then insists Clov roll him around the room in his chair. Clov shoves Hamm near the wall and returns him to the precise center of the room. Hamm next orders Clov to look at the earth beyond the windows. After fetching a telescope and ladder Clov first observes the audience before turning his glass toward the world outside the window. He reports there is nothing on the horizon, on the land, or on the sea. There is no light, only grayness.


Nell's appearance completes the cast. Although the presence of another legless character living trapped in a trash bin is depressing, Nell adds layers of affection, humor, and insight to the play's grim atmosphere. Nell's tender response to Nagg's knocking, "What is it, my pet? Time for love?" and her impatience with Nagg's laughter at Hamm are indicative of her kinder disposition. Nell provides the perceptive observations which cut to the heart of what troubles the characters. Nell asks, "Why this farce, day after day?" Most immediately she is referring to her failed kiss with Nagg, but her question applies to the absurd existence of all four characters. Likewise, her important declaration—"nothing is funnier than unhappiness"—captures the essence of human existence in which the ridiculous and comic coexist with suffering and tragedy.

Hamm adopts his most self-centered attitude as he orders Clov to push him around the room. Dependent on Clov yet extremely controlling, Hamm tries to orchestrate the journey. Yet Clov is at once bullied and in control, forced to push the chair but ramming it into the wall. The argument about whether Hamm is exactly in the center of the room creates another moment of particular humor out of Hamm's pathetic need to be the focal point—of the room, the world, the play. Clov's slight movements of the chair in response to each of Hamm's complaints has the feel of a slapstick comedy: "I feel a little too far to the left." Hamm's desperate attempt to feel some importance by being at the exact center of his tiny world is both pathetic and funny.

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