Power Play in Samuel Beckett’s Endgame
In a shelter devoid of sunlight and laughter, the family in Samuel Beckett’s Endgame all struggle to find their niches within their world. Central to the play physically and emotionally, Hamm has the ability to make the others revolve around him. Clov, physically the healthiest in the family, has a power that even Hamm could not define until very late in the play. Nagg and Nell, the elderly parents of Hamm, hold the power of memories. Although some characters may appear weaker than the others at times, Hamm, Clov, Nagg and Nell all hold a source of power, resulting in a weak type of mutualism in the family dynamics.
Hamm is blind and unable to stand. However, sitting in a chair at the centre of the room, he is the axis of power in the family. Hamm repeatedly says, “Outside of here it’s death” (2475) and, according to Clov’s observations, the world outside has indeed been forsaken by nature and is awash in desolation. Therefore, as the owner of the shelter, Hamm has the power to protect Clov, Nagg, and Nell. Hamm makes the house rules even though he does not have the physical ability to enforce the rules: “I’ll give you just enough to keep you from dying. You’ll be hungry all the time” (2474). There is nowhere else to go, so in order to survive, everyone abides by Hamm’s commands.
Clov humours Hamm, because it is Hamm who took him into the shelter when Clov was a child. With a paternal power over Clov, Hamm has the power to make Clov suffer. He controls Clov like a puppeteer, telling the latter to withdraw or to go close to him. Using Clov as a physical extension of himself, Hamm is able to “bottle” his father Nagg when the latter complains he is unable to eat the hard biscuit (2476). When Nagg and Nell are too noisy, Hamm tells Clov to screw down the lids of his parents’ bins. Hamm’s cruelty does not end with this treatment of his parents. Because of his thirst for power, Hamm gives commands without truly thinking about their consequences, which in some cases result in the opposite of his desires. For example, in order to reassert his power in the household, Hamm harshly tells Clov to “wait till [he is] spoken to” (2482) before speaking, even though he is eager to see what lies outside through Clov’s eyes. If Clov is silenced, the purpose of having Clov describe the outside world to the blind Hamm is defeated. Although Clov has the power of sight, Hamm seems to hold a special kind of power over Clov by wearing dark glasses. By shielding the windows to his soul, Hamm prevents Clov from seeing his emotions and his thoughts. Thus, Hamm becomes a figure to be admired from a distance.
This power to be worshipped extends further: Hamm also holds power over the toy dog that Clov has made for him. Hamm tells Clov to leave the three-legged dog “standing there imploring [him]” (2486) and finds this amusing. Hamm’s storytelling cannot fall upon deaf ears either; in order to demonstrate his...