Seen and Unseen Narratives in Beckett’s Cryptic Novel Murphy

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Abstract

Close observation of Murphy, commonly described as the most traditional of Beckett’s novels, reveals it to be a cryptic text, a member of the same category of literature as the later novel Watt, Henry James’s “The Figure in the Carpet,” and Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Gold-Bug.” Minimally, this means that it poses problems designed to engage the reader in hermeneutic quest. For the Murphy reader, the object of quest is a covert narrative that exists within the overt story. My study aims to bring it to light. I begin by considering the last two chapters, which present a case of double closure: chapters 12 and 13 both convey the sense of finality associated with end-of-the-novel chapters. I initially correlate the twofold ending with the main issue dealt with at the overt level: the mind/body conflict that afflicts the eponymous hero. The correlation is reflected in the distribution of chapter content: chapter 12 deals with the death and destruction of Murphy’s body; 13 with the fate of his non-physical self. Tracing the complex narrative processes leading to and indeed necessitating the bifurcated ending, I conclude, however, that the non-physical self is not the mind but a barely mentioned third element: the soul. Accordingly, the semi-farcical overt story of a man headed toward physical annihilation also turns out to be the tale of a soul’s progress toward salvation. The redemptive ending is figured in the closing vision of a kite rising into the upper reaches of the sky and vanishing joyfully. Theoretical implications regarding closure and cryptic literature are discussed in my closing section.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)103-124
Number of pages22
JournalNarrative
Volume28
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2020

Keywords

  • Beckett
  • Closure
  • Cryptic text
  • Hermeneutic quest
  • Murphy

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