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Historical and Self-Imposed Asylums in Samuel Becke tts Murphy Malone Dies and First Love by Suzanne Desmond A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Masters of British Literature Department of English College of Arts and Sciences University of South Florida Major Professor: Susan Mooney, Ph.D. Hunt Hawkins, Ph.D. Regina Hewitt, Ph.D. Silvia Ruffo Fiore, Ph.D. Date of Approval: June 12, 2008 Keywords: asylum, Dundrum, Bethlem, Magdalen Menta l Mercyseat, imprisonment, insanity, Foucault Copyright 2008, Suzanne Desmond
Acknowledgements I would like to thank my director Dr. Susan Mooney for her support, encouragement, and patience throughout the completi on of this thesis. I would also like to thank the members of my committee, doctors Hunt Hawkins, Regina Hewitt, and Silvia Ruffo Fiore, for their wonderful suggestions and helpful hints. Finally, I would like to thank my fianc Andrew Guba for his words o f encouragement when I needed them the most.
i Table of Contents Abstract .......................................... ................................................... ...................ii Introduction ...................................... ................................................... .................1 Chapter One: Institutionalization and the Question of Sanity in Becketts Work .................................... ................................................... .5 The Not So Sane Eye: Nurses in Murphy and Malone Dies ................6 The Criminally Insane: Links between Asylums and Prisons ..............10 Accuracy of Patient Admissions in Murphy and Malone Dies ................14 The Link between Pauperism and Insanity ........ ..................................19 Sanitation, Rationing and Atmosphere in Malone Dies ...........................22 Chapter Two: Self-Imposed Asylums in First Love a nd Murphy ....................26 The Quest for Non-Being and the Power of SelfInfl icted Asylum in First Love and Murphy ...........................................27 Murphys Personal Asylum ......................... ............................................38 Conclusion: Asylums as Struggles for Power ........ ..............................................42 Works Cited ....................................... ................................................... ...............46
ii Historical and Self-Imposed Asylums in Samuel Becke tts Murphy Malone Dies and First Love Suzanne Desmond Abstract This thesis examines the uses and implications of historical and self-imposed asylums in several of Samuel Becketts works, most notably Murphy Malone Dies and First Love. The first half of this study compare s several historical Irish and British asylums to Becketts frictional institutions in ord er to illuminate the recurring motifs of sanity, asylums as retreats for the wealthy, and th e links between prisons and asylums. I also examine Michel Foucaults theory of the Panopt icon guards as an alternate reading of Becketts views on sanity. In Murphy and Malone Dies for example, Beckett questions what it means to be sane through his role reversals of nurses and patients. His often under qualified and sadistic nurses are depic ted as the real lunatics while their patients seem quite sane in comparison. In the second portion of this study, I suggest tha t the self-imposed asylums in Murphy and First Love are in fact the protagonists att empts at both erasing society and becoming physically invisible. Through and extende d analysis of each text, I explore the various cells created by each hero as well as the ir social implications. By ostracizing themselves, for instance, I argue that the protagon ists of Murphy and First Love gain a
iii form of power that the protagonists of Molly and Malone Dies lack. Murphys and First Loves demands for imprisonment under their own terms once again reverse the roles of helpless patient and powerful nurse.
1 Introduction Samuel Barclay Becketts career clearly demonstrat es his fascination with, and fear of, institutionalization. Works such as Murphy Malone Dies and First Love all deal with the underlying themes of sanity, imprison ment, and the wish for freedom. The authors interest in imprisonment and insanity seem s to have developed well before his first work was ever written. According to biograph er James Knowlson, Beckett often spoke of his interuterine memories, and was once qu oted as saying, I remember feeling trapped, of being imprisoned and unable to escape, of crying to be let out but no one could hear, no one was listening (171). Becketts fear of being imprisoned continued throughout his life, and was likely fueled through his visits to Bethlem Royal Hospital, Newcastle Sanatorium, and Luttringhausen Penitentia ry.1 After visiting Luttringhausen Penitentiary to see a rendition of Waiting for Godot in 1954, for example, Beckett became close friends with several inmates, and even gave small sums to a German prisoner after he left on pa role. Due to his natural sympathy for those who were incarcerated, Beckett later financi ally supported a former inmate from San Quentin for several years (Knowlson 370). Beckett was more than just a patron to prisoners, h owever, and was said to have had a complex relationship with the incarcerated. Douglas Rick Clutchey, the former 1 Beckett toured Bethlem several times in order to a dd credibility to Murphy while his visits to Newcastle Sanatorium in Wicklow County, Ireland, an d Luttringhausen Penitentiary near Wuppertal, Germany, were to see his uncle Boss Sinclair and a prisoner whom he befriended, respectively (Knowlson 198, 191, 369).
2 inmate from San Quentin, for example, became a sonlike figure to Beckett, and frequently discussed his life in prison with the au thor (Knowlson 542). Clutcheys ability to endure and overcome the very conditions which mo st horrified the author fascinated him, mainly due to his fear of enclosure and claus tration. In addition to his apprehension, Beckett also hated violence and degr adation, both of which can be prevalent in correctional institutions (542). Perh aps the most telling reason Beckett feared going to jail, however, was his horror at a penal system in which for so many there was no hope either of rehabilitation or relea se. This fear of being trapped and unable to escape may very well be the key reason so many of his works include the theme of social or physical imprisonment. Penitentiaries and criminals are rarely found in Be cketts works, however, while insane asylums and mental patients are common. By substituting lucid criminals for supposedly mentally challenged individuals, the aut hor adds another dimension to the terror of imprisonment: the fear of incarceration f or a crime one does not understand or did not commit. To reflect this anxiety Becketts protagonists often begin their tales of captivity unable to explain why they were captured, or how they came to be in their current locations (e.g., Molloy, Malone, and Macman n). Since they do not understand their crimes, the heroes have no way of justifyin g themselves, nor do they know how long they will be kept. Criminals are frequently i mprisoned for specific periods of time, and may be released early for good behavior or coop eration with authorities; mental patients, however, often serve life sentences, sinc e rehabilitation is commonly viewed as impossible.
3 This study is divided into two chapters as a result of the recurring historical, social, and self-imposed asylums in Becketts works The first chapter of this study Institutionalization and the Question of Sanity in Becketts Work, primarily focuses upon the historical accuracies and inaccuracies of asylums in Becketts work. At the same time, it examines the recurring motifs of sani ty, asylums as retreats for the wealthy, and the links between prisons and asylums. In Murphy and Malone Dies for example, Beckett questions what it means to be sane through his role reversals of nurses and patients. His often under qualified and sadistic n urses are depicted as the real lunatics while their patients seem quite sane in comparison. Although there are many historical reasons for Becketts cynical outlook on nurses, wh ich are briefly addressed in Chapter One, several social implications are noted as well. Through a comparison of Murphy s nurses and Michel Foucaults Panopticon guards, for example, I suggest that Becketts asylums are reflections of more than just an ever p rying society: they also represent the madness of the mid-twentieth century. The first portion of this study also explores the w ays in which Becketts depictions of asylums both mock and validate societ ys fears of, and views on, insanity. Through the exaggerated patient ratios of the Magda len Mental Mercyseat, or M.M.M., for example, Beckett touches on the rampant fear of mass institutionalization in late nineteenthand early twentiethcentury Ireland. I argue that, although there were significant rises in the number of Irelands commit ted and voluntary mental patients, these numbers are not nearly as staggering as Murphy indicates, suggesting Becketts satirical outlook on the situation.
4 While the first chapter of this study, Institutio nalization and the Question of Sanity in Becketts Work, explores the historical and social aspects of Becketts asylums, the second half, Self-Imposed Asylums in First Love and Murphy , examines the physical and mental barriers created b y two of Becketts protagonists. This portion of the study argues that the protagonists o f First Love and Murphy attempt to escape the pain caused by personal relationships th rough their various forms of selfimposed asylums. The protagonists end goal is to achieve a form of invisibility, to either erase themselves from society or to erase society i tself. Through extended analyses of First Love and Murphy it is also established that the very materials used to create the heroes asylu ms are often products of society, and thus constant reminders of it. Moreover, despite t heir many attempts to physically leave society behind, each protagonist eventually returns to it, both physically and mentally. The protagonists inability to completely escape fr om society suggests a deep need for connection with the outside world. At the same tim e, it is argued that the very act of building self-imposed asylums is empowering, and pl aces the asylums creator in a position of authority.
5 Chapter One: Institutionalization and the Question of Sanity in Becketts Work Becketts fear of imprisonment is most apparent in his portrayals of historical mental institutions. The frequent mixture of hist orical fact and humorous exaggeration in his works reveals a complex understanding of his torical and social asylums. Through the reversal of the traditional roles of nurses and patients, for example, Beckett is able to both satirize and question social views of what it means to be sane. Moreover, Murphy s often humorous depictions of the Magdalen Mental Me rcyseat, or M.M.M., explore the very real fear that asylums were becoming retreats for the wealthy. On a more historical note, the impact of World Wars One and Two can also be found in Malone Dies through its use of sanitation and atmosphere. To cover suc h a range of topics, this chapter is divided into five sections, each addressing a sligh tly different topic while remaining on the major theme of the social asylum.
6 1. The Not So Sane Eye: Nurses in Murphy and Malone Dies Like Foucaults Panopticon guards, the nurses of the M.M.M. become an extension of an ever prying society. When Murphy v isits the M.M.M.s padded cells for the first time, the narrator describes them as, wi ndowless, like a monad, except for the shuttered judas in the door, at which a sane eye ap peared, or was employed to appear, at frequent and regular intervals throughout the twent y-four hours (109). The shuttered judas in this case becomes a sort of one-way windo w through which the nurses (or metaphorically speaking, the outside world) can vie w their wards without being viewed themselves. The word judas itself further connot es a feeling of betrayal, suggesting that the nurses, or sane eye, betray all that the patients do in order to shame or control them. Unlike the prisoners of the Panopticon the wards of the M.M.M. may not realize the dangers or implications of being watched. The schizophrenic Mr. Endon, for example, seems to acknowledge Murphys existence wh en he stares at the judas during Murphys nightly round (144). While Murphy believe s that this is a sign of Mr. Endon recognizing the feel of his friends eye upon him, the narrator intimates that Mr. Endon is incapable of having a friend and sees Murphy as no more than chess (144). Similarly, when the hypomanic attempts to attack Mu rphy through the judas, he is simply reacting to the sudden light in his room and not be cause he is being watched (144). In both cases, the sane eye becomes more than a meta phor for a nurse or society attempting to shame an individual into compliance w ith social norms, since it is impossible to shame an individual who cannot or wil l not acknowledge the outside world. Instead, Becketts sane eye questions what it mea ns to be sane. The nurses of the
7 M.M.M., for example, are depicted as either drunken poets like Ticklepenny (55) or as homosexual nepotists who are willing to keep even t he most hopeless patients for financial gain (95, 97, 100). Even Murphys sanity is questioned after he allows the schizophrenic Mr. Endon to roam the wards at night (148). The question of the sane eye reappears in Malone Dies when Macmann is assigned a new nurse, Lemuel. Lemuel inadvertently questions the line between the insane and sane when he summarizes Macmanns in quiry as to the status of the institution St. John of Gods. Curious as to wheth er he is in a hospice for the aged and infirm or a madhouse, Macmann asks Lemuel to find the answer. In response, Lemuel writes, mad or like me (260). Ironically, the na rrator portrays Lemuel as being perhaps even more certifiable than Malone and Macmann combi ned. Lemuels sadistic personality becomes apparent shortly after he intro duces himself to his new ward. After casually telling Macmann that his nurse (and lover) has died, Lemuel commands Macmann to eat his porridge while it is boiling (25 9). The narrator later explains that Lemuel is more stupid than malevolent, and yet his malevolence [is] considerable, and that he is prone to self-mutilation (259-60). In f act, Lemuel is so similar to the patients of St. John of Gods that the only thing differentiati ng the Macmanns [ ] and Lemuels are the white cloak[s] with [their] blue butcher s tripes2 worn by the wards (269). Despite the similarities between Lemuel and the pat ients he oversees, Lemuel seems to be more of a symbol of the madness of the mid-twentieth century. While introducing himself, Lemuel says, My name is Lemue l, [ ] though my parents were probably Aryan (259). Right away, Lemuel links hi mself to Nazi ideology and its 2 Ironically, it is Lemuel who should be wearing bu tcher stripes, due to his mass murder at the end of the novel.
8 aversion of anything Jewish, including names. The fact that he mentions his parents were probably Aryan (emphasis mine) means that he has doubt, and may be the reason for his self mutilation (259).3 Given that Malone Dies was started in 1947, shortly after World War II, it is quite possible that Lemuel is a former soldier. According to Melling and Forsythe, it was common for old soldiers to be recruited to mental hospitals as caretakers (57). Taking this into consideration, L emuels behavior points to more than just his being a psychopath as noted in The Grove Companion to Samuel Beckett (Ackerley and Gontarski 343). Lemuel displays seve ral symptoms often attributed to shell shock or Post-traumatic Stress Disorder; for example, he has sudden outbursts of anger, enjoys the feeling of pain, often drifts off into a daze, and has flashbacks ( Malone Dies 260). Post-traumatic Stress Disorder may also exp lain his brutal slaying of the sailors, whose uniforms may remind him of Marines, at the end of the novel. Becketts cynical portrayals of nurses have some h istorical weight, and several biographers, such as Bair and Knowlson, have also n oted Becketts strained relationship with his mother, May Beckett, whom once worked as a nurse.4 Although May Beckett never worked in a mental hospital, Beckett was well aware of how asylums were run. His close friend Geoffrey Thompson, a senior house physician at Bethlem Royal Hospital, often gave Beckett tours of the instituti on (Knowlson 197).5 As a result, Beckett was able not only to observe patients with various illnesses, but also the duties of nurses. He even interviewed at least one nurse at the hospi tal to bolster Murphy s credibility (Knowlson 197-98). Therefore, he likely knew that p oor working conditions took their 3 Since Lemuels name is Hebrew (often translated as meaning belonging to God, or dedicated to God) he may very well be of Jewish descent. 4Becketts mother, Mary Jones Roe (commonly called M ay), is often cited as having wild mood swings (Bair 8; Knowlson 26-27). 5 Beckett also visited his uncle Boss Sinclair at Ne wcastle Sanatorium in 1935 (Knowlson 191).
9 toll on the attendants and doctors who stayed at me ntal asylums.6 Lack of experience and pre-existing mental disorders also pushed many empl oyees to the brink of insanity. For example, in one workhouse, an inspector found a nur se who herself was mentally ill in charge of the insane females (Torrey para. 265). To reward her for watching the patients, she was given half a pint of beer daily. Long work hours with limited vacations were also m ajor problems for the staff of most British and Irish hospitals in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In keeping with this historical trend, head nurse Bim assigns Murphy ten-hour day shifts: 8 to 12 and 2 to 8 ( Murphy 97). In addition to working ten hours a day, Murp hy is expected to make beds, carry trays, clean up regul ar messes, clean up casual messes, read thermometers, write charts, wash the bedridden give medicine, hound down its effects, warm bedpans, cool fevers, boil gags, ster ilize when in doubt, honour and obey the male sister, wait hand, foot and mouth on the d octor when he came, [and] look pleasant (96). Aside from the fact that Murphy ha s no medical background, the narrator attempts to convey the nearly impossible list of nu rses duties, while at the same time touching on the fact that hospitals such as the fic tional M.M.M. had such a desperate need for attendants, that they would hire anyone wi lling to do the job. Even the poet Ticklepenny had no previous nursing experience befo re he was coerced into the position of nurse. Despite the historical hardships nurses faced, the vast majority of asylum attendants were not abusive, nor were they clinical ly insane in the early twentieth 6 Several historians, such as Joseph Melling, Bill F orsythe, and Frank Crompton, have noted the high turnover rate of asylum workers. Crompton, fo r example, cites the lack of formal training and lo w wages as two of the most compelling reasons attenda nts of Powick Asylum quickly sought new employment (50).
10 century. Becketts depictions of incompetent and abusive nurses are clearly exaggerated in order to add a combination of humor and horror t o his works. However, they may also be the result of his fear of imprisonment. Accordi ng to Knowlson, Beckett was both fascinated by and terrified of institutionalization To him, prison was a world that he did not know at all but one that made him shudder becau se of his fear of enclosure and claustration, his hatred of violence and degradatio n, and his horror at a penal system in which for so many there was no hope of either rehab ilitation or release (Knowlson 542).7 Although there are differences between prisons an d mental asylums, both are known for their enclosure and claustration, violenc e and degradation, and little hope of rehabilitation or release. The horror of being at the mercy of a sadistic caretaker is illuminated throughout Malone Dies as are the social and historical links between prisons and asylums, which will be addressed in the following section. 2. The Criminally Insane: Links between Asylums and Prisons Fear of the insane or mentally disabled has always existed in society. By the 1830s, this fear had become so intense in Great Br itain and Ireland that several measures were taken to expel the insane from society. For e xample, Sex and Seclusion, Class and Custody Jonathan Andrews and Anne Digby note that in Ireland, legislation criminalized the insane and labeled the majority of pauper insane as dangerous (27). This fear of the mentally ill eventually led to the Dangerous Lunatics Act. In Gender and Insanity in Nineteenth-Century Ireland, Oonagh Walsh explains several of the Acts policies and procedures. For example, the Act allo wed officials to arrest deranged 7 Beckett knew several prisoners, and even visited L uttringhausen penitentiary (369, 370, 540-42).
11 individuals, even if they had yet to commit a crime (77). The authorities simply had to bring the individual before two justices of the pea ce, and label the person as dangerous. After this was done, the accused was then taken to the nearest asylum and admitted (Walsh 77). While Walsh traces several historical cases in which mentally ill persons were arrested under this act, Becketts works only briefly allude to it. In Malone Dies for example, the narrator (Malone) explains how Mac mann suddenly awakens in Saint John of Gods, unable to understand how he came to be there (249). Although there is no mention of Macmann having been presented to justice s of the peace, it is obvious that at some point he had been deemed dangerous to society, and therefore required hospitalization. Of course, the most likely reason for Macmanns institutionalization is the odd behavior he displays in the public park and the fact that he is a vagabond ( Malone Dies 239). What is most interesting about Macmanns admission however, is the link created between asylum and prison. Not only is Mac mann assigned a number to replace his name, like a criminal or prisoner, but his room is also called a cell (249). Likewise, the narrator uses words like inmate, and fugitiv e (268), and depicts Macmann dressed in a great striped coat (267) to link at first subtly patients of mental institutions to prisoners; he then makes the connection extremel y apparent when he first describes the patients wandering around St. John of Gods and cri es, I was going to say [ ] the prisoners ! (emphasis mine 270). The fact that Macmann is put into solitary confinem ent also connects him with dangerous criminals. During the majority of his st ay, Macmann is sequestered in his cell, with his nurse Moll being his only link to the outside world. It is only when the
12 disturbed caretaker Lemuel takes over that Macmann is able to venture outside. Yet even the outside of St. John of Gods is depicted as an imposing medieval castle or perhaps even the dreary mansion from Poes The Fall of the House of Usher. Malone describes it with the zest of a good horror story: It was a plateau, Moll had not lied, or rather a gr eat mound with gentle slopes. The entire top was occupied by the domain of Saint John and there the wind blew almost without ceasing, causing the s toutest trees to bend and groan, breaking the boughs, tossing the bushes, lashing the ferns to fury, flattening the grass and whirling leaves and flowers far away. [ ] A high wall encompassed it about, without however shu tting off the view, unless you happened to be in its lee. (270) Not only is St. John of Gods surrounded by a wall but this wall is unbroken and smooth and topped uninterruptedly with broken glass ( Malone Dies 271). At the main entrance stands two charming lodges covered by Vir ginia creeper. As a result, the connection between prison and asylum is hard to mis s: the wall adorned with broken glass brings to mind modern prisons surrounded by t all fences topped with razor wire, while the charming lodges become modern guard sha cks. Elizabeth Malcolm explains that it was not uncommon for people to compare asyl ums to prisons. According to Malcolm, one nineteenth-century asylum expert in pa rticular, H.C. Burdett, was so thoroughly shocked by the sparse rooms and depressi ng atmosphere of Irish asylums that he once claimed, It is probable that no workhouse in England presents nowadays so gaunt and cheerless an appearance as may be found i n many Irish asylums, [there are] perpetual reminders of the prison everywhere (qtd in Malcolm 323).
13 The very attitude of the prisoners in Malone Dies is drastically different than that of earlier works such as Murphy Unlike the patients in Murphy who play games and seem to enjoy their institutionalization, at least in Murphys mind, Macmann longs for something more, and even attempts to escape during one of his walks through the asylums gardens. Despite the open space around hi m, Macmann feels as if space hemmed him in on every side and held him in its toi ls, [ ] and the trapped huddled things changed and died each one according to its s olitude (271). Sadly for Macmann, even going on an excursion to a local island starts off as more limiting than freeing. On the way to the shore, the other patients are tether ed by their ankles in pairs, while Lemuel holds Macmann by the arm (276). Although Macmann i s not tied like the rest of the patients, he still feels the need to try making a bid for freedom (278). Yet after Lemuel kills the sailors, he forces Macmann and the other patients to set sail in the small boat that brought them to the island. Whether Macmann is fin ally free or the captive of what Foucault would call a Ship of Fools (vii) is left for debate, as the novel ends with the men drifting across the sea. Becketts shifting depictions of asylums in Murphy and Malone Dies seems to be the result of the various perceptions of the charac ters viewing the mental patients. Since Murphy longs for the detachment the patients of the M.M.M. enjoy, he naively glosses over the suffering they might endure. Malone, on t he other hand, has presumably lived in an asylum for quite some time, thus allowing him a firsthand account of the real horrors faced by asylum patients. Moreover, Murphys statu s as a nurse places him in a position of authority while Malone and Macmann are depicted as helpless patients. Since Malone cannot control his situation, it is understandable that his fictional character Macmann
14 would view St. John of Gods as oppressive and make several attempts at regaining freedom. 3. Accuracy of Patient Admissions in Murphy and Malone Dies The depictions of asylums in Becketts works not o nly examine the parallel between asylums and prisons, but also raise the que stion of patient admissions. For example, Murphy mocks the differences between public and private i nstitutions. In early passages, the narrator simply references various in stitutions to add to the humor of various scenes. The first allusion arises when love sick Neary goes into a fit of rage in the General Post Office (29). When his old student Wyli e realizes that Neary may be arrested for his crazed attack on a statue, he quickly hatch es a plan to save his friend. Cleverly, Wylie begs the security guard to excuse his friend, by tapp[ing] his forehead [ ] as one sane man to another and saying, John o Gods. H undred per cent harmless (29). When the guard refuses to let them go, Wylie assure s him that Neary is from Stillorgan, [ ] Not Dundrum, and that he is John o Gods, [ ] quite as a child (30). One reason Wylie is careful to explain that Neary is fr om Stillorgan and not Dundrum is that Dundrum Asylum was opened in 1850 strictly for the criminally insane (Torrey 132). On the other hand, St. John of Gods, located in Still organ, Dublin, was a private insane asylum (Torrey 142). The theme of public versus private institutions is brought up again later in the novel. In one of the most famous scenes, Murphy is hired at the M.M.M. (a hospital for the better-class mentally deranged ) and shown around the facility. On his tour,
15 Murphy asks how many of the patients at the Mercyse at are actually certified. The first response is little more than a lecture on how to se rve his patients, yet he is later told that, about 15 per cent of the patients [are] certified, and are treated with exactly the same sanguine punctilio as the 85 per cent that were not certified (97). The M.M.M. may be a private institution, which accounts for the high number of self committed individuals, yet the narrator goes on to explain that the M.M.M was a sanatorium, not a madhouse nor a home for defectives, and as such admitted onl y those cases whose prognoses were not hopeless (97). The thought that such extreme patients as Clarke or Mr. Endon are not hopeless and will eventually return to societ y seems ridiculous. Yet the narrator justifies this discrepancy by noting that most pati ents who were deemed incurable were sent to another institution. The narrator remarks that, if the chronic were a really charming chap, quiet, clean, biddable, and solvent, he might be allowed to settle down in the M.M.M. for the rest of his natural (97-98). H ere, Beckett is clearly satirizing the common view that mental institutions cater to the w ealthy by becoming a retreat.8 To support this attack, the schizophrenic Mr. Endon is portrayed as rich in his fine dressinggown of scarlet byssus faced with black braid, blac k silk pyjamas and neo-merovingian poulaines of deepest purple and with fingers which blazed with rings (112). Although Mr. Endon is the only patient portrayed a s extremely rich, the narrator intimates that he is not the only one enjoying his stay. In fact, it is noted that, There were a few such fortunate cases, certified and unce rtified, enjoying all the amenities of a mental hospital, from paraldehyde to slosh, without any of its therapeutic vexations (98). These fortunate cases may not be rich like Mr. En don, but they are taking advantage of 8 Upper-class asylums such as Saint John of Gods or Holloway often treated patients to musical performances, balls, sporting events, and plays (Sh epherd 242). Even several public asylums, such as Brookwood, believed in the healing powers of music (Shepherd 242).
16 the carefree lifestyle. In this way, Beckett is do ing more than just accusing the rich of using asylums as retreats; he is in fact blaming ma ny patients (both certified and uncertified) of escaping the burdens of society by becoming, or claiming to be, insane. The very fact that many of the fortunate patients are not benefiting from the therapeutic vexations simply proves that these pa tients have no need for the treatments in the first place. Beckett may be parodying more than just those who fake a mental illness. Started only five years after the introduction of Englands 1930 Mental Treatment Act, Murphy plays with the fear that society is either becoming insane or indolent. According to David Pearce, the Mental Treatment Act of 1930 was more o f an addendum of the 1890 Lunacy Act than a replacement (112). What is important ab out the Mental Treatment Act of 1930, however, is that patients could now admit the mselves without the authorization of family members or doctors (Pearce 113). Since 85 per cent of the patients of the M.M.M. are not certified ( Murphy 97), one could conclude that after the passing of the 1930 Mental Treatment Act it was feared that there would be a dramatic rise in the number of self-admitted patients. Yet the true rat io of certified to self-admitted patients in mental institutions of Becketts time does not s eem to support this fear. In Devon Mental Hospital, for example, nearly 250 patients w ere certified in 1931, compared to about 60 who voluntarily admitted themselves (Pearc e 116). This trend dramatically increased from 1932 to 1934, where the ratio jumped to nearly 250 certified and 110 voluntary patients. The closest the populations ca me to one another was in the years 1937 and 1938, when there were roughly 250 certifie d and nearly 150 self-admitted wards (Pearce 116). Beckett may not have known the actual patient ratio s before and
17 after the 1930 Mental Act, but due to his connectio ns in the mental health field it is likely that he would have known if there was a sudden rise in self-admitted patients. Likewise, Irish newspapers, most notably the Irish Independent frequently covered trials involving temporary insanity, as well as the rises and falls in committed patients.9 However, the self-admitted patients never came close to the 85 p ercent mentioned in Murphy Therefore, it is quite likely that Beckett is simpl y mocking the publics worries of a mass institutionalization. He may also be implying a soc ietal illness which pushes individuals to check themselves into asylums whether or not the y are in need of medical treatment. To further his comparison between asylum and retre at, Beckett also mocks the actual act of admission, as well as raises the ques tion of how many patients admitted themselves out of fear or an inability to understan d what they were doing. In the second half of Malone Dies the narrator suddenly places his character Macman n in St. John of Gods mental institution. Shortly after his arriva l, Macmann is promised an imperial half-pint of porter and a plug of tobacco on Saturd ays (249) should he sign an admission form. While the half-pint of porter and plug of t obacco may sound like a stretch, Beckett is correct when he writes that asylums prov ided these luxuries as well as nourishment carefully calculated to keep you alive and even well ( Malone Dies 249). According to Crompton, it was not uncommon for luna tic asylums to give patients beer and other alcoholic beverages during the late 1800 s (51). Perhaps even more interesting, however, is that the Poor Law required a very stric t diet for asylum patients, yet exempted pauper asylums (51). Crompton goes on to cite the tenth volume of S. and B. 9 Irish Independent s Mental Hospitals 1928, for example, discuss es patient ratios from an Inspectors report, as well as the lack of uniformi ty in admissions and discharges, while Political Pressure on Land Commission 1938 proposes the bui lding of a new mental hospital to ease the burden o n Dundrum, along with discussions of the limited reso urces and poor working conditions for Attendants. Other archived Irish newspapers can also be found a t Irish Newspaper Archives.com.
18 Webbs English Poor Law Policy (1963) that pauper l unatics be given whatever was necessary to ensure their health (qtd. in Crompton 62 n 16). Malone Dies takes this theme of whatever was necessary to an extreme, by complaining that when [patients] cannot swallow any more someone rams a tube down th eir gullet, or up their rectum, and fills them full of vitaminized pap, so as not to be accused of murder (246). There is more to Macmanns asylum admission than ju st an interest in his health, however. As noted by the narrator, Macmann obedien tly signs his own admission form. However, his obedience may stem from more than an a cknowledgement of his unstable mental health; according to the narrator, [ ] Macm ann obeyed, either because he was afraid of being punished if he refused or because h e did not realize the seriousness of what he was doing [ ] (249). The fact that none o f the doctors have evaluated his psychological health should give readers pause. Fi nding a disheveled man passed out in a park would certainly cause one to believe he is i nsane; however, Macmann later shows just how rational he really is. Not only is he abl e to form a loving, albeit somewhat bizarre, relationship with his nurse Moll, but Macm ann also asks his next attendant Lemuel several important questions. For example, h e questions whether Saint John of Gods is a private institution or one run by the S tate, a hospice for the aged and infirm or a madhouse (259). He also asks if one were to wis h to leave, how might one do so? By challenging the admission practices of mental in stitutions, the narrator of Malone Dies leads readers to ask: why would an asylum want pat ients to admit themselves? Especially if Malone Dies takes place around World War I or World War II (more on this later), there would be no reason for an institution to want more patients; there simply were not enough supplies or staff to g o around. Yet the medical staff in
19 Malone Dies seem quite anxious for Macmanns admission. One p ossible reason for the staffs anxiety ties back to the Marxist belief tha t there is little difference between society and mental asylums. Like most governments, the St. John doctors tell Macmann, Take no thought for anything, it is we shall think and a ct for you, from now forward (249). In a sense, the asylum becomes the government that wri ters such as Orwell and Kafka fear, a society in which the masses simply follow orders and serve time for crimes they do not remember committing. It is also possible that the institution receives an allowance for each patient admitted. In this case, the asylum ma y have had an empty bed that needed to be filled, or one more ward to meet a certain quota In either case, this would mean Macmann is actually more of a commodity than a huma n, pointing to a Marxist reading. 4. The Link between Pauperism and Insanity While Macmann may seem like a good candidate for r e-assimilation back into society, it is a historical fact that many institut ions retained individuals for fear of a relapse. Pamela Dale and Joseph Melling explain in Mental Illness and Learning Disability since 1850 that, like many other institutions, Bethlem exper ienced a problem in the early modern period which is often associate d with chronic patients [ ] : namely, the difficulties encountered in discharging idiots from care once they had been admitted (4). This problem was also extended to p aupers, and the fear that they would continue to burden society after being discharged. Edwin Torreys The Invisible Plague: The Rise of Mental Illness from 1750 to the Present examines the histories of several institutions in England, Ireland, the United States and Canada. His chapter The Birth of
20 Bedlam: Insanity prior to 1700 examines several as pects of Englands obsession with the insane. For instance, Torrey notes that, One measure of the increasing popular interest in insanity was the number of ballads writ ten about it (par. 50). In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, two distinct forms of so ngs and verses came about: the Bedlamite verses and mad songs, respectively (T orrey par. 50). According to Torrey, the Bedlamite verses used the theme of a beggar released from Bethlem. Often, these songs were printed so that they could be sung in th e streets or at fairs, and most of them became quite popular. Yet what is even more interes ting is the fact that many of these ballads both describe Bethlem Hospital, as well as why certain individuals became insane (par. 51). Torrey explains that unrequited love wa s one of the most common justifications in these particular songs, but the v ast majority of Bedlamite ballads described patients who had been released from Beth lem and were licensed to beg (par. 52). Since it was illegal for anyone but licensed insan e to beg, sane paupers often began feigning insanity to avoid punishment (Torrey par. 52). This requirement that beggars must be insane in order to avoid corporal p unishment may very well be the reason that in Murphy Cooper is imprisoned for begging without singing (75). On one hand, Cooper fails to follow societys belief that the insane constantly sing to themselves, often loudly and out of tune. On the other, he als o fails to provide a service, in this case singing, for the money he receives while begging. In both cases, Cooper has broken a societal code of conduct. Ballads about insanity were not the only way to tr ack the number of lunatics in a given area. In Irelands Crowded Madhouses: Th e Institutional Confinement of the
21 Insane in Nineteenthand Twentieth-Century Ireland , Elizabeth Malcolm examines the once common but mistaken belief that pauperism is l inked to insanity. She explains how Dr. W.R. Dawson, a lunacy inspector in 1911, strong ly believed that, in Ireland insanity tends to prevail in the agricultural counties, and has a close relation . to pauperism, which also prevails in rural districts (327). Al though there is little evidence to support Dawsons claims, Beckett uses the theme of insane p aupers in several of his works. For example, Molloy Malone Dies and First Love all create a connection between the countryside, pauperism, and insanity. In the nove l Molloy for instance, the protagonist Molloy wanders about the countryside, vainly attemp ting to find his mothers home. When he reaches a small town, he is jailed for loit ering. While it is never quite clear whether Molloy is in Ireland or England, he is beli eved to be an illegal beggar since he does not have his papers (16). According to Kath leen Jones, discharged patients from Bethlem Hospital were given recognizable badges whi ch allowed them to beg in order to pay off their debts (paraphrased by Torrey par. 53) These former patients were a common sight throughout England, especially in town s and villages (Torrey par. 53). Since Molloy is unable to produce any proof of citi zenship or release from an asylum, he is taken to the local jail until the officers decid e to release him. Similarly, in Malone Dies Sapo/Macmann is raised in a small town surrounded by farms, and although he would most likely be considered mentally challenged by todays standards, he is admitted into a mental institution after becoming a vagrant. Even the narrator Malone has once been a beggar, as suggested by the line: To think I shall perhaps die of hunger, after all, of starvation rather, after having struggled succes sfully all my life against that menace (245).
22 In each of the aforementioned cases, the wandering protagonists (e.g. Cooper, Molloy, Sapo/Macmann, and Malone) are viewed as thr eats to society, whether or not they actually cause any harm. Aside from the histo rical misconception that pauperism and insanity are linked, Becketts protagonists alarm those around them by b reaking simple rules of conduct. Coopers drunken begging and Molloy and Macmanns loitering, for instance, force upstanding citizens to face the poverty and possible insanity which surrounds them. Since England and Ireland ma de several attempts to conceal the seemingly out of control rises in poverty and insan ity, Becketts protagonists act as reminders that such problems will never be complete ly eradicated. 5. Sanitation, Rationing and Atmosphere in Malone Dies While the protagonist of Malone Dies insists that he is not in a hospital or madhouse, he mentions several details that undermin e this assertion. For instance, directly after his claim that he has not been insti tutionalized, Malone casually notes that throughout the day and night he hears sounds of me n at large, getting up, lying down, preparing food, coming and going, weeping and laugh ing (177). While the sounds of men at large, getting up, [and] lying down could very well take place just about anywhere, the sounds of weeping and laughing are often used in literature as symbols of mental institutions. Yet it is the sanitation, or possible lack thereof, in Malone Dies that leads one to believe Malone is indeed in some form of hospital. Like the novel Murphy which briefly details the duties of nurses, Malone Dies indirectly examines the ideal institutional setting. In the beginning of the novel, Malone mus es over the things his caretakers have
23 taken into consideration. I am looked after! he exclaims, remembering the nurse who comes daily to replenish his soup and exchange his filled chamber pots for empty ones (178). But his current nurse is no longer the idea l caretaker, since In the beginning it was different, Malone muses, The woman came right into the room, bustled about, enquired about my needs, my wants (179). Now all Malone sees is an arm reach in for the empty soup bowl and filled pots. Soon, even th is disembodied arm no longer comes; for later in the novel, Malone complains that his c hamber pots have not been emptied in some time; one of the pots [ ] remains full, and t he other is filling slowly (245). As disgusting as it is to imagine filled chamber pots, Malone intimates that this is not the only duty which his caregivers are failing to compl ete. For instance, Malone explains that he never bathes (179) and the hair in his ears is yellowed by wax and lack of care, and so long that the lobes are hidden (201). He also laments that it has been some days now since my soup was renewed [ ]. It is in va in I dispatch my table to the door, bring it back beside me, move it to and fro in the hope that the noise will be heard and correctly interpreted in the right quarters, the di sh remains empty (245). Malone posits that the nursing staff is attempting to help him die by starving him (248). Yet there is a much more sinister reason Mal one may be starving. If he is in an English asylum during World War One (we know that h is character Macmann is in St. John of Gods in Ireland), it is possible that his meals were purposely cut back. According to Torrey, the supply shortages during Wo rld War One caused many asylums in England to cut back on their rations (par. 319). The war also forced many doctors and nurses into the war zone to tend to wounded soldier s. As a result, Englands mental institutions became even more short-staffed, and of ten had to turn away new patients
24 (Torrey par. 319). This lack of personnel to look after patients may explain Malones complaints of dirty chamber pots and poor sanitatio n. With the devastating effects of war all around, the asylum would have been a chaotic sc ene, with wounded soldiers taking up the vast majority of beds. The war may also explain the lack of lights in Mal ones room: when I examine the ceiling and walls I see there is no possibility of my making light, artificial light [ ] someone would have to give me a lamp, or a torch ( Beckett, Malone Dies 215). With resources running low, it is likely that many asylu ms had to cut back on their use of electricity, or suffered from power outages. It is also possible that electricity was not yet available to Malones hospital. Elizabeth Malcolm e xplains that many late nineteenthand early twentieth-century Irish asylums had meag re furnishing of wards and day rooms. Plain deal tables and deal forms without bac ks comprised the main furniture of dayrooms; floor coverings were rare; and windows se ldom had blinds or curtains (323). If asylums could not afford even cheap decorations, it is likely they would not waste money on lamps when windows could provide enough li ght to fill a room. However, despite the possibility that World War On e or budget cuts are the cause of Malones ill-treatment, the most likely reason f or Malones starvation and neglect is his poor memory. He admits this fact when he menti ons his lapses in memory (177); as a result, Malone may have simply forgotten the last t ime his soup and chamber pot were refreshed. Malones poor memory should be no surpr ise to the reader at this point in the novel; throughout the text, Malones mind constantl y wanders and he often forgets what he has said, or what he owns. Likewise, Malone nev er mentions sights or sounds that would cause one to think of war. Instead, Malones narrative depicts a lonely, yet often
25 quiet, atmosphere. Even his short story of Macmann displays a fairly serene setting where patients roam the grounds and go out on excur sions. Despite their frequently shocking or humorously ex aggerated representations, Becketts works often depict historically accurate portrayals of asylums. Through their mixture of history and horror, works such as Murphy and Malone Dies not only question what it means to be sane, but also what it means to be insane. The common roles of dutiful, rational nurses and violent, insane patien ts are frequently reversed; thus readers are obliged to question why peaceful patients such as Mr. Endon and Macmann are overseen by delusional, sometimes cruel, nurses lik e Murphy, Ticklepenny,10 and Lemuel. Moreover, Becketts works illuminate the changing social and historical outlooks on insanity and the differences between pu blic and private asylums. Through exaggerated patient ratios, for example, Beckett is able to both acknowledge and undermine Irelands fear of mass institutionalizati on. Likewise, his satirical description of Mr. Endon and the M.M.M.s retention of solvent patients mocks the common view that asylums were becoming little more than retreat s for the wealthy. However, Becketts works cover more than just historical asylums, as w ill be examined in the following chapter when the theme of self-imposed asylums is a ddressed. 10 Although Tickelpenny is not nearly as malicious as Lemuel, he does have his streaks of cruelty: I sit on them that will not eat, [ ] jacking their jaws apart with the gag, spurning their tongues as ide with the spatula, till the last tundish of drench is abs orbed ( Murphy 54).
26 Chapter Two: Self-Imposed Asylums in First Love a nd Murphy The theme of imprisonment in Becketts works has th us far been examined primarily from a historical point of view. Yet his interest in isolation extends well beyond socially created institutions such as prison s and mental hospitals. This is evident when one notes that his heroes are not always impri soned against their wishes. Murphy, for example, purposely ties himself to his chair, a nd often seeks ways to confine himself. Since society is made up of individuals who create and adhere to strict rules, Becketts works show how people both limit, and allow, themse lves to be limited. Moreover, in The Whole Story, Robert Winer explains that Becke tts plays portray a destruction of connection in contemporary life (73). According t o Winer, this destruction is not only a defense, in the service of avoiding the grea ter pain that connection can threaten us with, the pain of guilt or hurt or longing, but als o a response to living in the preapocalyptic age. Warner goes on to discuss the ways in which several of Becketts theatrical characters confuse time (past, present, and future) as a means of escaping the pain of reality. However, Winers revelation can b e extended beyond a characters unconscious forgetfulness to his or her physical or mental removal from society. In several of Becketts works, characters seek various forms of self-imposed asylums from a world they cannot cope with. To explore this recur ring motif, this chapter will focus upon two major forms of self-imposed asylums: self-inflicted asylums and personal asylums For the purposes of this study, a self-inflicted asylum is a physical cell or
27 barrier that the character has created in the hopes of shutting out the world. This type of asylum can be found in First Love and Murphy when the protagonists arrange various pieces of furniture to create cell-like atmospheres Physically restraining ones self and self banishment will also be considered self-inflicted asylum For example, when the protagonist of First Love refuses to seek the com fort or protection of society after being thrown out of his fathers house, he creates a self -inflicted asylum. Instead of attempting to rejoin society, he physically removes himself fr om it by seeking a distant park where he lives in near solitude. Personal asylum on the other hand, is a form of institutionalization that is self-contained in the sense that the character has no physical fortifications around him or her, yet he or she rem ains (or attempts to remain) mentally shut off from the outside world. 1. The Quest for Non-Being and the Power of SelfI nflicted Asylum in First Love and Murphy In Madness and Civilization Michel Foucault explains that, Ultimately, confinement did seek to suppress madness, to elimin ate from the social order a figure which did not find its place within it; the essence of confinement was not the exorcism of a danger. Confinement merely manifested what madnes s, in its essence, was: a manifestation of non-being (115). Becketts prota gonists take Foucaults views, but with a twist: it is they who carry out the task of seeking confinement, not society. Moreover, they not only eliminate themselves from the social order, but also do it to become as close to nothing as possible. Granted, t he protagonists of First Love and
28 Murphy are not traditional mental patients; yet their att empts to be erased from the outside world are anything but normal. What little literary criticism that has been previo usly written on First Love frequently turns to an Oedipal or sexual reading. Phil Bakers interpretation of the short story is a prime example of the overwhelming focus upon the maternalistic imagery throughout the tale. In Beckett and the Mythology of Psychoanalysis Baker meticulously traces the protagonists movements throughout the t ext, while noting various links to the womb. As compelling as these interpretations are, he does not acknowledge the heros conscious decisions to leave society behind. Inste ad, Baker focuses upon the protagonists unconscious link to his father, and c onsiders it the reason behind the heros disgust for women (97). Baker does raise an impor tant connection between the heros childhood home and the bench he later uses for refu ge. In the opening of his explication of First Love, he briefly mentions the fact that both the hallway in which the protagonist changes and the park bench are guarded on three sides (93). Instead of tracing this and other connections to the protagoni sts later shelters, however, Baker instead turns to the texts uses of female genitali a (93). Therefore, my study hopes to further explore First Loves uses of enclosures a s a means of escape from society. First Love begins with the hero discussing the jo ys of walking through a graveyard. Aside from the peaceful silence and sof t odor of decaying flesh, the protagonist relishes the solitude. Yet the true so lace he finds in the cemetery is the lack of pretension of living persons. The graveyard doe s not attempt to hide its macabre sights and odors, while The living wash in vain, i n vain perfume themselves, they stink (230). Since he cannot stand how seriously people take themselves in life, the
29 protagonist seeks the only company he can bear, the dead. It is the dead who seem to have a real sense of humor, since it is they who ar e remembered by their often comical epitaphs (230). But there was a time when First Loves lead character enjoyed the company of the living, a time when he remembers the lips that had kissed [him], [ ] hearts that had loved [him], [and] hands that playe d with [his] (233). It is only after his family forces him to leave his fathers house that he banishes himself from society. Instead of seeking refuge at a church or poor house the protagonist decides to take up residence at a park presumably on the outskirts of town. This is the first physical barrier that the hero uses to distance himself from society at large. Not only does he create a gap between himself and his family by moving to a dista nt location, but he also attempts to shut off the vast majority of those who pass by. T he bench he chooses to live on, for example, is well situated since it is backed by a mound of solid earth and garbage, flanked by a pair of trees [ ] at either end of th e bench, and nearly closed off in the front by the canal a few yards away (233). By ch oosing a bench that is surrounded by foul smelling garbage and natural barriers such a s trees and the canal, the unnamed protagonist does what society often does to strange individuals: he confines or ostracizes himself. But even these measures are not enough to stave of f the curious passerby. Shortly after setting up residence on his secluded bench, a prostitute called Lulu (or Anna) seeks companionship with the protagonist, causing him to once again retreat from the prospect of society. The hero admits that I abandoned the bench, less I must confess on [Lulus] account than on its; however, instead of simply mo ving to another section of the park, this time the protagonist banishes himself to a des erted cowshed in the country, even
30 further from society than before (236).11 Aside from the added physical distance from the protagonists hometown, the countryside is an i mportant site mentioned in Foucaults Madness and Civilization in relation to the banishment of physically or men tally ill patients. Ironically, First Loves protagonist b anishes himself to the countryside, and even though he is not a traditional mental patient, he seems instinctively drawn to nature. Shortly after relocating to the countryside, for ex ample, the hero admits to falling in love with it, due to its scant population and the fact that all is derelict (236). It is toward the end of this short story that one truly finds the extent of this characters need for self-inflicted asylum. After h e realizes that he loves Lulu (now called Anna) and she offers him a room in her house, the p rotagonist moves in with her. However, due to his aversion of society and everyth ing that reminds him of it, the protagonist insists upon an environment centered ar ound himself. Hence, he removes from his room all the furniture but the couch. Visu ally and metaphorically, he creates his own cell within a barren room. By turning a couc h around and pushing it against the wall, he forms an extremely confined space that onl y he can comfortably survive in (242). This concept of the cell is continued whe n Anna is directed to provide him with a bedpan. By turning his new enclosure into a plac e for sleeping, eating (Anna brings all of his meals), and physical relief, the protagonist has no reason to interact with the outside world. The site of Annas apartment is also important to t he characters increasing social detachment since it is at the top of an old house, with a view of the mountains (241). With such a view, the house must be physically loca ted in between the heart of the town 11 The protagonist of First Love is not the only Be ckettian hero to seek refuge in the countryside; Molloy of Molloy likewise wanders the countryside while searching f or his mothers home.
31 and the distant mountains. Socially, moreover, Ann as house serves as both a public and private location; as a brothel, her house is a place for men of various classes to be entertained. At the same time, however, Anna only entertains one man at a time, and often spends her days either catering to the protag onists needs or entertaining herself. In short, the house is physically and socially in the middle of where the protagonist began his life (in the city) and where he wishes to be (f ree of society). Moreover, Annas house provides the protagonist the inspiration for his fi nal escape from society: the distant mountains. Despite his best efforts, however, the protagonist is unable to completely disconnect from humanity. In the final lines of th e story, he confesses, For years I thought they [Annas and her babys cries] would ce ase. Now I dont think so any more (245). Yet the cries of society are not all that b ind First Loves hero to civilization; when he attempts to shut himself off from the world the materials he uses to do so are always reminders of society itself.12 The secluded bench in the park, for example, was both created and placed there by people, as were th e canal and garbage mound. The abandoned cow shack, Annas apartment, and her couc h are both the products of society and props the protagonist uses to hide from it. Wh at is more is that each of these objects and places are reminders of a home. As Baker notes the protagonists eviction takes place while he is in the lavatory, for the hero rec alls returning to his room after visiting the necessary house only to find his belongings in a little heap, on the floor (First Love 232). However, instead of this forcing the h ero to begin a new life as Baker suggests (92), the protagonist simply continues his quest for solitude. This is evidenced 12 Murphys cells are also man-made (eg. His apartm ent room, chair, and garret at the M.M.M.). The padded cells at the M.M.M. are even called a c reditable representation of what he kept on calling indefatigably, the little world (109).
32 by the fact that his father had apparently defended the boy on several occasions, once saying, leave him alone, hes not disturbing anyon e (231). The words hes not disturbing anyone lead one to believe that the pro tagonist has not been interacting with anyone at all. This is further supported by the he ros belief that his father had stipulated in his will for me to be left the room I had occupi ed in his lifetime and for food to be brought to me there, as hitherto (231). In both c ases, the protagonist was already clearly used to being left alone and waited upon. Yet the physical objects and locations to which the protagonist is drawn are also unconscious links to his fathers house. His familys lavatory and the cowshed are connected, for example both by their relative size and shape (a small, presumably wooden, room), and the f act that they are equated with excrement.13 Likewise, the hallway in which the hero is forced to change his clothes at the beginning of the short story is described as g uarded on three sides only (232), as is the bench in the park (233). Even the mound of gar bage behind the park bench may be considered a reminder of the protagonists home, si nce he and his belongings are cast off as if waste. Perhaps the most obvious links between the protagon ists childhood home and his future dwellings, however, are the room and couch h e lives on and in when staying with Anna. Although the hero never describes his room i n his fathers house, he does provide some helpful clues as to what it was like. For ins tance, his belongings are described as scanty, a sign that he had few possessions, and t herefore a relatively barren room (232). The starkness of the heros childhood room and the one Anna provides later is broken, however, by the presence of flowers. When describi ng his fathers house, the narrator 13 The protagonist is quite open with his discussion of constipation and diarrhoea when explaining his need to visit the stool on the day of his evi ction (232). Similarly, he describes with great r elish the cow manure strewn about the cowshed (236-37).
33 explains that he enjoyed tending tomatoes, hyacint hs, pinks and seedlings (232). This explains why he later asks Anna to bring him a live hyacinth in a pot (244); it serves as a reminder of his fathers home. Yet, the protagonis t himself creates the strongest connection between his new room in Annas home to t he one he was cast out of at the beginning of the story. After settling into his ne w room, the hero mutters Try and put me out now (243). This threat echoes his previous promise, Id have barricaded myself in the room, they would have had to gas me out, wh en discussing what would have happened had he regained access to his childhood ro om (232). Now that he has literally barricaded himself in his room,14 he is determined to keep it, regardless of the noi ses he hears from other rooms. Just as the protagonist in First Love attempts t o create a personal asylum, the lead character in Murphy also struggles for personal freedom through a self -inflicted asylum. As noted by many critics, Murphys apartme nt is called a cage, a sign of his separation from the outside world (e.g., Knowlson; Begam; Baker). Like the main character of First Love, Murphy creates personal asylums by creating barriers between himself and the outside world. His first man-made asylum appears on the first page of the novel in the narrators description of his apar tment. Murphy is introduced in a small room in which he has eaten, drunk, slept, and put his clothes on and off for the past six months ( Murphy 3). Aside from living like a hermit, Murphy sits curtained off from the sun and tries to tune out the cries of society arou nd him. Lest one wonder if perhaps Murphy is locked in a room that cannot be opened, i t is noted that his cage has a door 14 See pages 241 and 242 for a description of the bar rier created by Annas furniture.
34 that cannot lock and is literally hanging off of it s hinges (6). 15 Similarly, while staying at the Magdalen Mental Mercyseat, Murphy insists up on living in a garret. The narrator explains that Murphys delight at staying in the ga rret stems from his having lived in one previously in Hanover, thus allowing him to experi ence all of its advantages (98). What makes the M.M.M.s garret twice as good as th e one in Hanover, however, is the fact that it is half as large (98). In fact, the dimensions of the room are so tiny that they spark a debate between Murphy and Ticklepenny over whether it is large enough to support a fire without becoming a hazard (99). Yet even the already small living space is too large for Murphy to feel at home. His longing for an ever more confining space is shown when he approvingly notes the position of his bed: The bed [ ] was wedged length-ways into the cleft of floor and ceiling, so that [he] was saved the trouble of moving it into that position (98). The wedged spa ce created by the bed and ceiling is a sort of pre-made cell, and like the cells creat ed in First Love, signals an attempt to distance the protagonist from the outside world.16 Unlike the protagonist of First Love, however, Mu rphy also physically restrains himself. For example, he fastens himself to his ro cking chair, making sure to restrain his arms, legs, and torso (3). Ironically, Murphy beli eves that physical restraint is the only way to gain his wish for freedom from the big worl d which detain[s] him (4). Murphys physical restraint, however, may also be a n unconscious form of selfpunishment or a way to prevent himself from physica lly returning to society. Unlike the 15 Macmann from Malone Di es also attempts to seek comfort through isolation wh en he hides in his lair in the gardens of St. John of Gods (267 ). Likewise, the old boy from Murphy never leaves his room and will not allow anyone to enter. Like the protagonists of First Love and Malone Dies the old boy has his meals left for him (44). 16 Murphy is also said to be a strict non-reader: y et another way in which he shuts himself off from society.
35 hero of First Love, Murphy often goes out into pu blic, whether it be to study the stars17 or perform a mock job search. Both protagonists he ar the call of society: First Loves in the cries of Anna and her baby, Murphy s in the big worlds demands for Quid pro quo (3, 6). Despite the protagonists similar wish for privacy, Murphy is unable to simply walk away from society like the hero of Fir st Love. Instead, he attempts to drown out the demands of those around him by tying himself to his chair and coming alive in his mind (4). Moreover, by tying himsel f to his chair, Murphy takes Foucaults theory of self-restraint literally. In The Birth of the Asylum, Foucault examines the shift in the types of restraint used in mental asyl ums ( Madness and Civilization 241-78). Instead of continuing to use physical restraints, m ental hospitals began using guilt and the fear of punishment to control unruly patients. By forcing patients to recognize their madness and take responsibility for their actions mental institutions were able to convince patients to restrain themselves from distu rbing morality and society (246-47). Instead of simply controlling his behavior to suit societys demands, however, Murphy reverts back to physical restraint to control his d esires. The protagonists of Murphy and First Love further subvert Foucaults theory of self-restraint through their unspoken demands for p ower. Foucaults madmen control themselves out of fear of punishment or ridicule; B ecketts men restrain themselves for personal satisfaction and a sense of power. Tyin g himself to a chair provides Murphy a sense of control over his mind and body, as well as a way to cheat society out of its demand for Quid pro quo (3, 6). Murphy and First Loves protagonist al so realize the power in creating ones own cell that is not found in simply being admitted to an asylum built by someone else. Creating ones own a sylum allows the heroes to not only 17 See pages 11-13 for accounts of Murphys interest in astrology.
36 decide which barriers to use, but how to use them. Murphys apartment and garret, for example, are arranged to suit his needs, not those of an asylum nurse or attendant. Moreover, neither Murphy nor the hero of First Lov e is captured or admitted against his wishes; instead, they create self-inflicted asy lums which become positive barriers between themselves (or what they know) and the outs ide world (or what they do not know or fear). Directing others what to bring and when also places the protagonists of Murphy and First Love in the position of powerful ruler, instead of helpless patient. Patients like Malone and Macmann simply follow the orders gi ven to them by the nurses and doctors of their respective institutions. The prot agonists of Murphy and First Love, however, seek absolute power over themselves and th erefore attempt to create worlds in which everything revolves around them. For exampl e, First Loves hero directs Anna as to how to behave in her own house and threatens to leave if she does not obey him (244). There is a paradox in the quest of First Loves h ero, however. Foucault explains that nineteenth-century asylums treated th e insane as minors or children (252). By demanding that his meals be brought to him at t he appointed hours and his bed pan cleaned, First Loves protagonist subconsciously asks to be treated as a child (243). At the same time, however, his desires for asylum unde r his own terms convey his conflicting desire to be an authority figure. Ulti mately, the hero resolves his quandary when Anna gives birth to their child (246). He i s now forced to realize that he can no longer be the primary center of Annas attention no r control the noises in the rest of the house. Without the perfect mix of attention and neg lect, the protagonists self-inflicted
37 asylum can no longer exist. As a result, the hero turns to the mountains for consolation (246). Perhaps the most interesting aspects of the protag onists self-banishments are their reasons for leaving society behind. The hero of First Love is cruelly cast out of his familys house while Murphy is dismissed by pos sible employers (49). In Labor, Alienation, and the Status of Being, Lin points ou t that What hurts Murphy, however, is not so much the rejection itself [ ] as the scat hing manner in which the message is put across (257). Even before his encounter with the chandlers, Murphy attempts to find solitude when he himself leaves Miss Counihan under the false pretense of finding a habitation meet for her (34). After their respect ive rejections,18 Becketts protagonists seem unable or perhaps even unwilling to suffer the fickleness of society any longer. The unnamed hero of First Love longs for the life he had before his fathers death, thus explaining his interest in graveyards at the beginn ing of the story and his childhood memories at the end of it. The protagonists lost paternal connection likewise explains his choice of locations and materials used in his a ttempts of becoming invisible. Like Murphy, who abandons Miss Counihan and later Celia, the hero of First Love seems to be avoiding the pain personal connections can cause As a result, the protagonists first refuges are unconscious reminders of his fathers h ouse, yet physically distant from society. His movements away from society can be vi ewed as attempts at protecting himself from future abandonment. Ironically, by ab andoning Anna after she has given birth to the baby, the protagonist consciously seek s a connection with his father in the mountains while unconsciously continuing the cycle of paternal abandonment. Although 18 The hero of First Love is rejected by his family while Murphy both rejects Miss Counihan and Celia and is rejected by the Chandlers.
38 his father was apparently supportive during the her os life, he nevertheless abandons him in death. Without his father to protect him, First Loves hero is helpless to defend himself against his uncaring family. His helplessne ss is also the reason for his need to seek refuge. Perhaps unconsciously, the protagonis ts inability and unwillingness to care for his own child are a result of his unconscious n eed and desire to become like his father, absent. Ironically, the heros desire to remember his fathe r first leads him away from social contact, then toward it. While abandoning A nna, for instance, the hero searches for the Wains constellation. According to Kennedy, the Wains is frequently called the Bear and was considered by Homer as the only cons tellation which never sets (85). Now that his father is dead and therefore physicall y gone, the protagonist is unable to view the one constant reminder of the man he loved.19 Searching for distant stars is soon not enough; his return to his fathers grave shows his need for something more concrete. Tombstones and his fathers body, albeit buried and decaying, seem to be the only objects which can satisfy his desire to connect with a lost loved one. 2. Murphys Personal Asylum In Madness and Civilization Foucault posits that madness in the classical per iod ceased to be the sign of another world, and that it became the paradoxical manifestation of non-being (115). He goes on to suggest that, by confinement, madness is acknowledged to be nothing (116). Through their respective forms of self-in flicted 19 The Bear is a powerful figure and may also embody the protection and navigational guide the hero lost when his father died.
39 asylum, First Loves and Murphy s protagonists attempt to physically erase themsel ves from societys view, or in a sense to become invisi ble. Yet Murphys asylum extends beyond that of physical restraint into the depths o f his mind, thus becoming a type of personal asylum. By retreating into his mind, Murp hy attempts to create what he calls the little world. In his little world, nothing exists but what is created by his mind, for it excluded nothing that it did not itself contain (67). Murphys refusal to connect with others is depicted as a personal decision, and is t herefore a self-imposed form of madness or imprisonment. Since he refuses to realize that his life is what Foucault would call the symbol of madness [ ] that mirror, which without re flecting anything real, will secretly offer the man who observes himself in it the dream of his own presumption (27), Murphy believes that he can attain freedom from soc iety by mentally detaching himself from the outside world.20 In many senses, he is right in his assumptions: o ne who is outside of society cannot be restricted by it. Wha t Murphy fails to acknowledge, at least at first, is that he needs society in order to surv ive. Like the protagonist of First Love, Murphy needs society to provide shelter and food in order to keep him alive. Likewise, when he gazes into the schizophrenic Mr. Endons ey es, Murphy realizes that his dream of living solely within his mind is impossible; one simply cannot shut off the world around him without acknowledging its existence at t he same time. In other words, if one cannot acknowledge the outside world, there is no w ay to appreciate the separation. His mind itself, however, is both a self-inflicted asylum and a personal asylum, for Murphys mind pictured itself as a large hollo w sphere, hermetically closed to the 20 Murphy is not the only Beckettian protagonist to dr eam of living in his mind. First Loves hero tells readers that What mattered to me in my dispeopled kingdom [ ] was supineness in the mind, the dulling of the self and of that residue of exec rable frippery known as the non-self and even the w orld (234).
40 universe without (67). Since his brain is physical ly confined within his head, his skull becomes a physical barrier protecting him from the outside world. At the same time, however, Murphys skull21 is not a barrier which he has physically built (li ke the cells in First Love), but one that he was born with, th erefore making it a personal asylum as well. Every human is born with a mind; therefore, one must choose to shut out the world by living solely within it (barring mental illness, of course). Moreover, as Pattie notes, Murphys mind is pictured as a series of concentri c circles, and his main goal is to live within the central circle (58). Once again, Murp hy seeks both a mental and physical restraint, since he is not only confining his worl d to the physical location of his head, but seeks an even more confined space within it. Perhaps unconsciously, Becketts heroes realize the ir dependence upon society, and as a result are both drawn to it (by using its materials to build their asylums) and repulsed by it (hence their need to physically or m entally run away). Yet both the unnamed protagonist of First Love and Murphy cons ciously bind themselves in their attempts at attaining freedom. Ironically, their e ndeavors are ultimately futile, whether due to the very materials used while creating their cages, or to their inability to completely forget their social ties. The protagoni st of First Love, for example, fondly remembers the love he was once shown (233) and begi ns his retreat to the mountains with memories of his father (246). One should also note that the beginning of the story in fact takes place after the protagonist leaves Anna s home. Although the hero speaks of 21 The skull motif appears regularly in Becketts wor ks. For example, the set of Endgame is often portrayed as the interior of a skull, and Ackerly a nd Gontarski suggest that the narrator of Malone Dies is in a skull (343). The padded cells in Murphy can also be likened to the interior of a skull due to their oystergrey upholstery and concave walls (109).
41 enjoying the solitude of graveyards (as a place fo r an outing, when out I must, leave me my graveyards and keep --you--to your public pa rks and beauty-spots), he nevertheless visits areas where he watches burials and even complains that his fathers gravesite is too remote, way out in the wilds of t he country (230). The protagonists return to the outskirts of town, along with his com plaints of the graveyards remoteness, suggests that he may eventually return to society i tself. Murphy s narrator similarly reveals that Murphy needed a brotherhood and a f eeling of kindred (106). He eventually becomes so desperate for a sense of belo nging that he distort[s] all that threaten[s] to belie [his fantasies] (106). Murphy also resolves to return to Celia shortly before his death (151). In both cases, the protagon ists tales end in quests for companionship, even if their companions are unaware of the heroes presence. First Loves protagonist, for instance, is content to wa tch mourners from afar, and even speaks to his remote listener (the reader). Murphy s brotherhood of mental patients is likewise distant due to the patients inability to connect with those around them. Overall, First Love and Murphy convey the futility of detaching oneself from the outside world. Even Mr. Endon, who does not ac knowledge the big world, is still a part of it, since his actions impact those around h im, most notably Murphy. Despite the mental and physical attempts each protagonist makes to live in an idealized isolation, each eventually realizes that once one has lived in the big world there is no escaping it. There will always be a connection between the self and the other, whether it be through DNA (e.g. Annas baby and Murphys ashes), the memo ries of others, or the very materials used to create ones personal asylum.
42 Conclusion: Asylums as Struggles for Power Although Becketts heroes are ultimately unable to attain the asylum from society they seek, their physical and mental barriers provi de great insight into Becketts views on institutionalization, as well as societys struggle to confine and control insanity. Fundamentally, the asylums in Becketts works repre sent a fear of losing control over ones life and sanity. His semi-realistic portraya ls of asylums and mental patients allow readers more than just a glimpse into asylum life i n the early to mid 1900s. In these depictions of historical asylums, for example, Beck etts protagonists convey the terrors of losing control over ones body. Whether they are physically confined or force fed (e.g., Malone), patients such as Malone and Macmann no lon ger have command over their physical surroundings or beings. In some cases, th e wards bodies themselves become asylums in their own right, their minds unwilling o r unable to communicate with the world around them (e.g., Malone and Murphy). The h istorical aspects of Becketts asylums also push readers to acknowledge the horror s mental patients faced in early asylums while adding the realism needed to gain the ir sympathy. Macmanns and Malones discussions of their hopes, desires, and l ove affairs, for example, provide humanistic touches which push readers to worry abou t their well being. Becketts use of negligent or sadistic nurses furth er the protagonists sense of helplessness; in Murphy and Malone Dies for example, inadequate caretakers dictate whether their patients will eventually regain freed om. Lemuels, Ticklepenneys, and
43 Murphys shortcomings not only acknowledge the shor tage of qualified nurses during World Wars One and Two, but also address the terror of a relatively sane person being admitted against his or her wishes. In Malone Dies for example, patients awake in institutions, unable to understand why they are the re. For instance, Malone and Macmann both have lucid moments and seem to be more elderly or mentally handicapped than insane. Macmanns inability to ho ld a steady job, for example, conveys a lack of understanding instead of insanity Likewise, his questions as to the status of St. John of Gods show his ability to thi nk critically and a desire for freedom. Malones fantasies of escape, as played out in his stories of Macmann, further illuminate the patients struggle for power. Several of Becketts works also address the fear of being unable to control insanity itself. For example, the M.M.M.s stagger ing number of self-admitted patients not only mock Irelands recurring fears of mass ins titutionalization, but also capture the eras hysteria regarding insanity and war. Aside f rom Irelands and Englands terror of being viewed as a countries gone mad, the rising nu mbers of self-admitted patients seemed to bolster the long standing view that asylu ms were becoming retreats for the rich and indolent. Although there was a significant ris e in self-admitted patients, studies have shown that the M.M.M.s numbers are anything but hi storically accurate. As a result, Becketts depictions of an asylum overrun with sane individuals pretending to be insane suggest the authors view that people used whatever means necessary to escape the burdens of society. The shifting depictions of asylums in Becketts wor ks also convey the protagonists statuses in correlations with their r espective power, or lack thereof. As a
44 nurse, for example, Murphy is in a position of powe r over the wards around him. His power, along with his desire to become like the pat ients themselves, allows him the luxury of misinterpreting the wards suffering. L ike other nave observers of mental wards, Murphy wrongly views the inmates as intrinsi cally happy and believes one and all are having a glorious time (108). Patients thems elves, such as Malone and Macmann, however, are quick to reveal institutions as places of violence and absurdity rather than retreats. Their inability to control the world aro und them (in this case, their cells), explains their oppressive depictions of the atmosph ere around them. Ironically it is through self-inflicted asylums tha t Becketts fears of incarceration and their implications are most fully explored. Mu rphys and First Loves cells, for example, echo the authors phobias of enclosure and claustration through their physical and mental restrictiveness. One could argue that se lf-imposed asylums are the ultimate symbol of an oppressive society: Becketts protagon ists have become so accustomed to being watched and controlled that they imprison the mselves when cast out of society and left to their own devices. However, Murphys and First Loves control, or attempts at control, over their environments can be empowering. In First Love, for example, the protagonist is able to create an ideal habitat in A nnas home by rearranging her furniture and becoming an authority figure. Moreover, instead of attempting to stay within society, or finding communities of their own, Murphy and Fi rst Love consciously banish or seclude themselves. First Loves hero, for instan ce, physically removes himself to the outskirts of town, and later to the distant mountai ns. In the end, however, his return to the fringes of society (the graveyard) suggests a d eep-rooted need for connection with the outside world as well as societys powerful influen ce.
45 As a whole, the various refuges and asylums in Beck etts works represent the realization that there will always be a struggle fo r power between the self and the other. Through their early-childhood need for a connection with others, the protagonists of Murphy Malone Dies and First Love are all lead back to the very th ing they sought to leave or forget: society itself. As a result, Beck etts works convey the absolute power of society and the inability to escape the big world.
46 Works Cited Ackerley, C.J., and S.E. Gontarski. The Grove Companion to Samuel Beckett : A Readers Guide to His Works, Life, and Thought New York: Grove, 2004. Andrews, Jonathan, and Anne Digby. Introduction. Sex and Seclusion, Class and Custody: Perspectives on Gender and Class in the H istory of British and Irish Psychiatry Andrews, Jonathan, and Anne Digby, eds. Amsterdam : Rodopi, 2004. 4-7. Auster, Paul, ed. Samuel Beckett: The Grove Centenary Edition 4 vols. New York: Grove, 2006. Bair, Deirdre. Samuel Beckett: A Biography New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978. Baker, Phil. Beckett and the Mythology of Psychoanalysis London: Macmillan, 1997. Beckett, Samuel. First Love. Auster Vol. 4 229-46 . Endgame. Auster, Vol. 3 89-154. Malone Dies. Auster, Vol. 2 173-281. Molloy. Auster, Vol. 2 3-170. Murphy. Auster, Vol. 1 3-168. Waiting for Godot. Auster, Vol. 3 1-87. Begam, Richard. Samuel Beckett and the End of Modernity Stanford: Stanford UP, 1996.
47 Crompton, Frank. Needs and Desires in the Care of Pauper Lunatics: Admissions to Worcester Asylum, 1852-72. Dale 4664. Dale, Pamela, and Joseph Melling, eds. Mental Illness and Learning Disability since 1850: Finding a Place for Mental Disorder in the U nited Kingdom London: Routledge, 2006. Foucault, Michel. Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason New York: Random House, 1965. Irish Newspaper Archives.com
48 Poe, Edgar Allan. The Fall of the House of Usher. The Complete Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe New York: Doubleday & Co. 1966. 177-91. Political Pressure on Land Commission. Irish Independent 8 Apr. 1938: 13.
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Historical and self-imposed asylums in Samuel Beckett's Murphy, Malone dies, and "First love"
h [electronic resource] /
by Suzanne Desmond.
[Tampa, Fla] :
b University of South Florida,
Title from PDF of title page.
Document formatted into pages; contains 48 pages.
Thesis (M.A.)--University of South Florida, 2008.
Includes bibliographical references.
Text (Electronic thesis) in PDF format.
ABSTRACT: This thesis examines the uses and implications of historical and self-imposed asylums in several of Samuel Beckett's works, most notably Murphy, Malone Dies, and "First Love." The first half of this study compares several historical Irish and British asylums to Beckett's frictional institutions in order to illuminate the recurring motifs of sanity, asylums as retreats for the wealthy, and the links between prisons and asylums. I also examine Michel Foucault's theory of the Panopticon guards as an alternate reading of Beckett's views on sanity. In Murphy and Malone Dies, for example, Beckett questions what it means to be sane through his role reversals of nurses and patients. His often under qualified and sadistic nurses are depicted as the real lunatics while their patients seem quite sane in comparison. In the second portion of this study, I suggest that the self-imposed asylums in Murphy and "First Love" are in fact the protagonists' attempts at both erasing society and becoming physically invisible. Through and extended analysis of each text, I explore the various "cells" created by each hero as well as their social implications. By ostracizing themselves, for instance, I argue that the protagonists of Murphy and "First Love" gain a form of power that the protagonists of Molly and Malone Dies lack. Murphy's and "First Love"'s demands for "imprisonment" under their own terms once again reverse the roles of helpless patient and powerful nurse.
Mode of access: World Wide Web.
System requirements: World Wide Web browser and PDF reader.
Advisor: Susan Mooney, Ph.D.
Magdalen Mental Mercyseat
t USF Electronic Theses and Dissertations.