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Happy Days | Study Guide

Samuel Beckett

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Happy Days | Symbols


Props function in this play to demonstrate the defeat of reference and its replacement by ideas. Each prop operates initially as an object defined by ordinary function, but as function fails symbolism emerges.

Winnie's Black Shopping Bag

Winnie's black shopping bag represents the present-day objects that anchor her to reality. The bag holds the essentials, which determine and order the activities of her day. Winnie recalls that the shopping bag was a gift from Willie, which she has put to good use in the present. To this day, it holds her "treasures" and her "comfort." She turns to the bag and its objects each time the pain of a particular memory threatens to undo her "happy day." Handling the essentials of the bag keeps her in the present and safe from painful memories.

Yet she recognizes the dangers in relying on these evasions: that is, relying on her invented function for her bag of practical tricks. If she does (it would seem) she will be trapped in a featureless and immobilized present and will avoid the sorrows that must inform any true account of a life. "Something tells her" that overdoing the bag, overlooking her sadness, would be a mistake.

Winnie clearly functions by intuition in a world without meaning. In that world, her world and Beckett's, she recognizes the need to move on, the inevitability of the flow of time as the essential and unavoidable truth governing her life.

Winnie's Revolver

Winnie's revolver is initially interesting in arousing the audience's awareness of its deadly potential. In this way it seems to function in the imagination of the audience rather than in the reality of the play, where it is unused. However, the revolver gathers associations when the audience learns Winnie has kept it to restrain Willie's suicidal tendencies.

Finally, she leaves the revolver on the mound. Its menace is "out of the bag"—but to what end, the audience is left to wonder. The revolver may be the future.

Willie's Pants

Willie's pants are just pants—until he doesn't wear them, when they become a gesture of the human comedy. They also embody Winnie's regard for Willie in her worry that he will have his private parts burned in the sun. In a similar way, Winnie is concerned about Willie's use of Vaseline as relief from sunburn. She also directs him to crawl backward rather than headfirst into his hole. In her concerns, Winnie's relation to Willie is decidedly a maternal response to Willie's childish behavior.

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