Lucky's Bones: A Sense of Starvation in Watt, Waiting for Godot, and Oliver Twist

by John Robert Keller

January 1, 1999


It is possible to view Samuel Beckett's fictional universe as an exploration of the earliest human experience in the form of the relationship between an emerging infantile--self and a mother who is felt to be absent, withdrawing, or hostile/invasive. In this paper the internal experience of the primary nursing relationship, which is the foundation of an internal sense of security and autonomy, is explored in Beckett's Watt and Waiting for Godot (with reference to Dickens' Oliver Twist) and several poems of Thomas Hardy. Clinical material is presented to demonstrate the centrality of this relationship in the internal world, and the effects that disruptions of the relationship have on the self in both the fictional and clinical cases. It is further suggested that the Beckettian ambivalence about living is understandable in light of the underlying experience of uncertainty within the primary nursing relationship and that this can make sense of the admixture of hope and despair in his work.



    It is possible to view Samuel Beckett's fictional universe as being organized by an emerging infantile-self attempting to maintain an enduring contact with a good primary object/mother, and his writing can be seen as an exploration of the experience of this self, its genesis, defences, and reactions to failures of such contact. The disruption between the self and the mother can be seen in various manifestations within the texts, such as the imagery, character relations, dialogue, and associative flow. This paper examines the exposition in his work of the internal experience of a particular aspect of this relationship--failures in the primary nursing situation--which is an amalgam of early moments of love, warmth, touch, smell, and nurturing with the mother. Internalization of such failures can be a result of actual neglect on the part of the primary caretaker, or an infantile reaction to inevitable failures in a caring environment. The internalization of the nursing couple plays a major role in the construction of the inner world of the infant, particularly the sense of the possibility of goodness in the world, and severe disruptions in this relationship lead to the development of mistrust, a paranoid sense of the world as fundamentally withholding and envious, and a core feeling that life is futile. By looking at clinical examples in conjunction with selections of Beckett's work we will explore the importance of this internal experience of nurturing in human psychic life.

    One of the characteristic features of the Paranoid-Schizoid position (Klein, 1946) is a loss of contact with the most despairing and depressed parts of the self, since annihilation-anxieties and feelings of rage dominate the internal world of a self that is predominantly in a fragmented state. Such withdrawn/depressed parts of the self are often in relation to deeply unconscious early fantasy figures, and often the relationship centres around primary feeding experiences that reflect the earliest ways in which one engages the world. This paper will begin by examining the connection between paranoid states, the sensation of starvation, and the feeling of the loss of love, by using examples from the poetry of Thomas Hardy. Next there will be an examination of this experience in Beckett's second novel, Watt, which will focus on the use of binge eating as a defence against primary feelings of loneliness, depression, and rage at the bad mother. In the last two sections we will look at Waiting for Godot: firstly Lucky's dance and its metaphorical display of inner despair and entanglement through images of defecation and primary nursing, and secondly the "chicken-bone" scene will be compared, through a clinical vignette, to scenes from Charles Dickens" Oliver Twist in order to develop the notion of the "lost heart of the self" (Guntrip, 1968). In all of these discussions the central underlying concept is that Beckett's fiction and drama display a sense of primary maternal/infantile-self disruption in the imagery and expression of starvation and feeding, and that this suggests an emerging self that is caught in a "neither" world on the edge of life, struggling to love and to be loved.

A lorn land

    The internal sense of security that allows the infant to engage the world in a productive and creative fashion begins to develop from the earliest moments of life. This development is intimately connected to the primary nursing situation that the child enjoys with its mother, which is a composite of feelings of being nourished, held, kept warm and touched. It is through this experience that the child begins to develop a sense of trust in the possibility of love, and begins to expect, through the repair of inevitable frustrations, that an interaction with a nonhostile world is possible. This is why, at the core of the paranoid state, we often find experiences of disruptions in the feeding experience. Thomas Hardy's short poem "The Puzzled Game Birds" (Hardy 1994, 31) illustrates the dramatic paranoid shift that occurs when the birds realize that they are being killed by those who have also loved and fed them:

They are not those that used to feed us
When we were young--they cannot be--
These shapes that now bereave and bleed us?
They are not those who used to feed us,
For did we then cry, they would heed us.
--If hearts can house such treachery
They are not those who used to feed us
When we were young--they cannot be!

    Here we see the struggle to maintain the Depressive Position (Klein, 1935, 1940), which would allow the birds to accept the traumatic reality that they are, in fact, being killed by those whom they love, and who they feel have loved them (i.e. to be able to accept that others can be whole objects made up of contradictory parts). There is a sense of dissociation as the others become depersonalized "shapes," and the deepest level of the birds' attachment centres around the mother's recognition of the infant-self's need (i.e. the birds were heeded when they cried). The splitting of the whole objects remains intact to the end, as the birds maintain with ever more vigour that those who would feed and love the young cannot be the same as those who would now drain them of life.2 The birds" poetic statement reflects the internal experience of the infant who is confused ("puzzled"), terrorized, and raging at the world/mother for her absence or misattunement to his needs, and who feels that this is tantamount to her killing him, either directly or in retaliation for his own anger.

    In another poem from this period, "Winter in Durnover Field" (Ibid. 31-32), Hardy elaborates the sense of hostility that is the centre of the paranoid state, and which hovers around the notion of a more generalized world-as-mother who withholds food from the infant-self:

    SCENE:--A wide stretch of fallow ground recently sown with wheat, and frozen to iron hardness. Three large birds, walking about thereon, and wistfully eyeing the surface. Wind keen from the north-east: sky a dull grey.

Rook. Throughout the field I find no grain;
The cruel frost encrusts the cornland!
Starling.   Aye: patient pecking now in vain
Throughout the field, I find . . .
Rook.                 - No grain!
Pigeon. Nor will be, comrade, till it rain,
Or genial thawings loose the lorn land
Throughout the field.
Rook.         --I find no grain:
The cruel frost encrusts the cornland!3

    Here the birds are starved by the world, which is experienced as a barren and frozen place.4 The voice of the Rook, with its constant refrain of "no grain," reflects the deepest and most despairing part of the self, engaged with an "encrusted," unavailable mother-"cornland" whom he feels to be dead and starving him. The Pigeon's hopeful (and perhaps realistic) musings go unnoticed, as the Rook is stuck in a paranoid stance: the time is now, and now is always, I am hungry, and world/mother is dead to me. In "Birds at Winter Nightfall", Hardy makes the mother more human: "the flakes fly faster/the berries are all gone/Shutting indoors that crumb-outcaster we used to see upon the lawn" (Ibid. 31). The nurturing mother remains unavailable, inside a house, and to the birds there appears to be an emotional withholding agency on the part of the world. The primacy of dependence, in the face of such a harshly experienced world, is the centre of the mother-infant universe at the beginning of life, and is the beginning of love. It is within the early nursing situation that the central relational dynamics that organize the internal world are developed, and it is here that Beckett's fictional world often elaborates the foundations of human emotional life.

Hungry for love

    In the work of Samuel Beckett these issues receive an intensive fictional investigation, with this sense of a depriving or uninterested world/mother forming a consistent internal background. The sense of disconnection from the world/mother is often experienced in the work as a primary state of anxiety, depression, or paranoia, and there are numerous examples where this state is entwined with images of feeding or primary nurturing. The state that ensues will be a confused one, where boundaries are unclear, as the infantile self is uncertain about the origins of the rage, loneliness, and anxiety that it feels. In his second novel, Watt, the primal importance of words begins to become explicit, as does their relationship to the early nurturing situation. Watt's endless internal ruminations serve as sorts of autistic objects (Tustin, 1992) that protect him from the profound frustrations and invasiveness of a hostile world, as well as a 'second skin" (Bick, 1968) that is a sensual and containing maternal presence. As the narrator of "Heard in the Dark 2" states: 'simple sums you find a help in times of trouble. A haven . . . even still in the timeless dark you find figures a comfort." (250-51). It is possible that one of the functions of the seemingly endless internal monologue that is created in some of Beckett's non-dramatic work, and in certain dramatic pieces, is to act as a nurturing maternal containment, which protects the self, and re-creates (or creates for the first time) a "haven" that approaches the sense of primary containment of the infant-self by the mother. It is also within the enclosed monologues that the nature of the early ruptures can be found (Keller, 1998).5

    Watt tells the story of the title character's journey to, stay in, and expulsion from the house of a Mr Knott, to which he has been drawn, or summoned, to act as a servant. Central to the book is the "unknowability" of Knott, and as his stay in the house continues Watt slowly enters a psychotic state, finally leaving to end up in what appears to be a sort of asylum. The novel is narrated by Sam, who befriends Watt at this place, but who admits that the text may not approximate the reality of the experience in Knott's house, since he can trust neither Watt's recollection nor his own. Thus the work is permeated with ambiguity and "unknowability" itself, and creates within the reader a sense of confusion somewhat akin to the emotional and cognitive state of the main character. Much of the criticism sees the novel as a sort of philosophical allegory. Thus Hoefer (1959) views Watt's quest as principally a philosophical one, seeing his journey to Knott as an epistemological adventure aimed at coming to terms with the nature of external reality, and she views Watt's ultimate psychological deterioration as predicated on his inability to access a reality that underlies mere surface phenomenon. Levy (1980) notes that readings of Watt have tended towards seeing the novel as an expression of the failure of Logical Positivism or as an exploration of the implications of the structuralist tenet that reality is linguistic. Fletcher feels that Watt makes the journey to Knott's house primarily for religious reasons, but finds, instead of salvation, "a negative God, the great Nothing of which nothing can be predicated" (Fletcher, 1964, 86). (I would suggest that this "impossibility . . . of all knowledge" is understandable primarily in terms of Watt's failed relationship with the Knott/mother who is the infant's "personal God"). Webb reads the novel along similar lines in seeing Watt's quest as a reflection of man's desire for knowledge, and for 'some kind of absolute knowledge that will bring him peace" (Webb, 1970, 57). There is a religious trend to his reading: "the knowledge of him [i.e. the Christian God] was thought to bring complete certainty, peace, and bliss . . . but Knott is no Absolute, and the knowledge gained from the experience of him is the knowledge that no certainty is possible"(Ibid. 58). Barnard (1970) sees in all of Beckett a powerful expression of the subjective experiences of schizophrenia, and feels that for Watt the house of Knott becomes "the irrational world of fantasy inside the schizophrenic's head." He also recognizes the central importance of human relations in helping Watt to maintain a stable sense of self by noticing that, following a dissociative experience where meaning begins to disappear, Watt "longs for Erskine to talk to him [to] reassure him of his own reality" (Ibid. 21). (While I agree with Barnard about the similarities between Watt's inner world and the schizophrenic experience I feel it is important to emphasize that I am not labeling the work as pathological, but rather as an exploration of very early human experience, which, while it may share qualities with what would medically be seen as pathological, is not identical with it.) Hill (1990) sees the novel as probing the "precarious effects of a larger network of inconsequence, arbitrary coincidence, and self-defeating discontinuity" (20). Like Barnard, Hill begins to lay more emphasis on the nature of the relationship between Watt and Knott as underlying the fragmentation and loss of meaning, which is the central theme of the work.

    It is also possible to view the novel as a manifestation of the internal world of the emerging-self that underlies all of Beckett's writings. It can be explored as a metaphorical representation of an inner life dominated by feelings of loneliness, rage, abandonment, but also a sense of hope, and all of these are centered around the earliest of human relationships. The story of Watt can be seen as an attempted repair of the infantile-self, represented by Watt, through a reconnection with a maternal figure in the guise of Mr Knott (Keller, 1998). Watt yearns for an emotional connection with Knott that does not come, since his master desires only "not to need . . . and a witness to his not needing" (202). The novel explores the disintegration of Watt's self/ego under the pressure of the loss of his internal objects, and his disconnection from the world of sensation, both of which result from his estrangement from an internal sense of a holding maternal presence. Within this reading Knott is viewed essentially as a powerful, early, maternal imago that is variously experienced as withholding, uninterested, and sadistic, while Watt is seen as an infantile-self that hovers near psychic disintegration due to a failure of holding.6 The novel explores aspects of very early experience within the Autistic-Contiguous Position (Ogden, 1992) and Paranoid-Schizoid Position, and so it is important to note the fluidity of the imagoes, since there are times where Watt appears to be predominantly in the maternal role, depleted through an endless and unconditional loving of his master, while Knott acts as a devouring and insatiable infant.

    The despair that develops from an internal experience of maternal unavailability, and its effect on feeding, is made clear in Watt. Early in the novel, as he prepares to the approach to the house/mind of Knott, Watt lies in a ditch, in a sort of hallucinogenic state, and he hears the following singing by voices in his head:

oh a bun a big fat bun
a big fat yellow bun
for Mr Man and a bun
for Mrs Man and a bun
for Master Man and a bun
for Miss Man and a bun
a big fat bun for everyone . . . 
till all the buns are done and everyone is gone
home to oblivion (35)

    This "song" reveals Watt's core internal hope for an unimaginable bounty of feeding for all ("a big fat bun for everyone," i.e. all "Man"-kind), and for a happy, full-filled internal family living together in loving harmony. This wishful fantasy is drained with catastrophic effect as the source of nutrition becomes depleted or withheld with a resulting total annihilation ("all the buns are gone and everyone is gone"), and the core intrapsychic theme is revealed by Watt's inability to maintain a coherent and enduring image of a good and loving mother/nutrient giver. His internal world is dominated by an imago which is withholding, sadistic, or depleted by greedy infantile demands, and his ensuing conflicted sense of disintegration and attachment is quite clear in the final paradoxical line ("home to oblivion"). In this he is reminiscent of the infant in the paranoid state, fearing and needing the nutrient Mother and her milk, and who is afraid of abandonment in the face of internal imagoes that are filled with retaliatory rage at the child for his own anger.

    Throughout his stay in Knott's house Watt is subjected to a reversal of the normal "holding environment" (Winnicott, 1987) as he becomes the mother who attends to Knott's physical and psychic needs for nurturing. Knott, for example, is a type of omnivore--his weekly allotment of seven luncheons and seven dinners is prepared on Saturday nights in one large pot, and consists of a very long list of "all the good things to eat, and all the good things to drink, and all the good things to take for the good of the health" (87). This "mess" must be boiled for four hours and it becomes a sort of primal nutrient, transcending the basic "goodness" of its individual ingredients, "[a] quite . . . new good thing, and of which the tiniest spoonful at once opened the appetite and closed it, excited and stilled the thirst, compromised and stimulated the body's vital functions, and went pleasantly to the head" (87). The preparation of this "good food," a most precious and fulfilling mother's milk, falls on Watt who has himself come to Knott seeking sustenance and security. It is a "task that taxed Watt's powers, both of mind and body" (88)--tears and perspiration fall from his face and body as he stirs and labours over the sacred pot. It is a ritual of the most profound emotional consequence for Watt and it provides Knott "the maximum of pleasure compatible with the protection of his health" (88). So deep and destructive is Knott's narcissism that even with their roles reversed he denies Watt the opportunity to experience the emotional closeness that might help his servant begin to feel an internal sense of containment and holding--the dining times are constructed such that "Watt never saw Mr Knott, never never saw Mr Knott at mealtime" (88). Watt is thus deprived of the love, resonance, and the attunement that might accompany the sharing of the meal, and for Knott the primary intimacy of the "nursing couple" is lost and robbed of its affective intensity by his self-enclosure and his unwillingness to engage another in intimacy and sharing. The effect of Watt's failure to repair his sense of a disconnected internal nursing relationship is not only his fragmentation and despairing depression, but also a deeply repressed rage which he enacts in a reversal after he is required to leave the house of Knott:

sit[ting] down in the midst of [the rats], and giv[ing] them to eat, out of our hands . .  or seizing suddenly a plump young rat, resting in our bosom after its repast, we would feed it to its mother, or its father, or its brother, or its sister, or to some less fortunate relative. (156)

In this borderline state, where object and self are blurred, Watt can become both a loving and sadistic mother/child who simultaneously repairs and destroys the primary nursing relationship in a symbolic feast of feeding and annihilation.

    During his stay in the house of Knott, Watt learns about a previous servant named Mary, who is long departed, and who had been employed as a parlour maid. Like Watt himself she was but one in a long series of workers who are drawn into service for Knott only to be discarded as others come along to take their places. The atmosphere of emotional absence that permeates the house has a bad effect on Mary:

little by little the reason for her presence in that place faded from her mind, as with the dawn the figments of the id, and the duster, whose burden up till now she had so bravely born, fell from her fingers, to the dust, where having at once assumed the colour (grey) of its surroundings it disappeared (51).

    The ambiance of the house is one of severe affective absence and Mary responds to it by becoming psychically disorganized as her conscious sense of herself fades along with her sense of purpose, and like her duster she begins to dissolve into the background greyness.7 The depth of isolation seems to prompt a regression as there is a reemergence of the core care-taking function of feeding, and Mary deteriorates physically as her general appearance begins to resemble that of a number of other Beckettian other heroines (i.e. May in Footfalls or the heroine of Rockaby), who are also representatives of the "lost heart of the self" (Guntrip, 1968). Mary is

propped up in a kind of stupor against one of the walls in which this wretched edifice abounds, her long greasy hair framing in its cowl of scrofulous mats a face where pallor, languor, hunger, acne, recent dirt, immemorial chagrin seemed to dispute the mastery (55).

    She has entered a near catatonic state--she has a "dreaming face," her body acts as an automated feeding machine as her hands flash "to and fro," like "piston rods" (55) from a food sack to her mouth, while not a muscle stirs that is not intimately involved in a process of self-nurturing which occupies her every waking hour. That Mary's face still reflects her hunger is not surprising since the food she ingests is but a symbolic replacement for the emotional responsiveness and love that she really craves, and which are unavailable from Knott. Guntrip (1968) describes such a "love-hunger" in one of his patients, a woman, who felt compelled to eat whenever her husband came into the house, and who came to realize that she was "hungry for him" and his love but could not show it. He reports a dream of the patient in which 'she was eating an enormous meal and just went on endlessly. She is getting as much as she can inside her before it is taken away . . . she has no confidence about being given enough." Mary's decompensation, and her attempt to maintain a primary maternal connection by bingeing, are mirrored in the following clinical example:

    Ms. A suffered from a form of binge eating that had its roots in childhood neglect and deprivation. She had terrible difficulty "thinking" independently and generally would position herself to act as a mirror for the other's desire. She experienced my talking to her as nurturing and filling, and she stated that the content was less important than the containing function (Bion, 1959) that my words provided her. As an adult she used the television as a hypnotic distraction as she lay on the couch covered by her favourite duvet bingeing on chocolates. She described how she felt dissociated from her eating as if her body was an automaton with her arms, hands, and mouth working in synchrony to feed her while she focused her attention on television talk shows. These programmes provided a sense of companionship since they dealt with others like herself who were suffering and despairing, and she eventually saw her bingeing as a form of self soothing that allowed her to "take care of herself" in a way she felt that she had not experienced as an infant. Her mother had had a post-partum depression and abandoned her to an incapacitated grandmother with the result that Ms A's feedings were infrequent and unpredictable. At eight years of age she was again abandoned to a hospital for a fairly serious illness, and she remembered the depressive anxiety which accompanied her feeling unloved and forgotten. Her only visitors were a kind and elderly aunt and uncle who brought her an endless supply of candy which she remembered eating ravishingly, not stopping until they were all consumed, feeling calmed by her feeding, but also anxious lest the candy (and the kindly couple) be taken away before she finished filling her empty self. Thus began a lifelong coping mechanism in which she was able to tolerate unbearable feelings of abandonment and loneliness by continually and symbolically repairing her early and severe sense of primary maternal absence.

    Like Mary this patient uses bingeing behaviour as a means to counter depression, and her dissociative state during her binges is a direct echo of Mary's "automatic" behavior, which reflects an attempt to repair the rupture in her internal world. For Ms. A. the duvet becomes a sort of 'second skin" (Bick, 1968) that contains her fragmenting self, while the participants in the television shows people her depleted internal world as a loving and sharing inner family.8 Analysis of this state led to a further understanding of the meaning of the binge as she recalled early experiences of battles with her mother who would try to force feed her so that she could leave to go out on the town. The patient would delay the feeding as long as possible, both to keep her mother with her but also to express her rage at being abandoned, and her own adult bingeing mimicked the automatic and repetitive fashion in which her mother would nurture her on these occasions. For Mary, as for Ms. A, a ruptured internal nursing relationship leads to somatisized enactments of inner despair, as she tries to symbolically reconnect to a loving mother, and she represents an underlying part of the emerging self that is despairing and withdrawn.

Lucky's bones

    Waiting for Godot, a "tragicomedy" in two acts, was first performed in Paris in 1953, and quickly became an international success that established Beckett as a major figure in 20th century literature. Befitting this status, the play has received an enormous amount of critical attention. Early commentators viewed the play in existentialist terms to such a degree that it became almost synonymous with that movement (Kiesenhofer, 1993). Others have viewed the play in political terms; Mittenzwei (1969), for example, presents a Marxist perspective, and there have been a wide variety of religious readings: Zeifman (1975) highlights the sense of suffering and its connection to the divinity, and Cohn (1962) sees Beckett as mocking classical Christian traditions. Anders (1965) feels that the play is a parable, and that this is something that has reached a general consensus. Most criticism of the play views it in this way, as representative of certain abstract features of the human condition, or as a specific allegory. In the play, two tramps, Vladimir and Estragon, wait upon a barren stage for Mr. Godot with whom they apparently have a rendezvous. They amuse themselves with word-play and arguments and are being visited in each of the two acts by the selfish landowner Pozzo and his servant, Lucky, who is tied to him by a rope/leash, dressed in rags, and is constantly devalued and humiliated. Save for a long and fragmented monologue in the first act Lucky does not speak, and in this monologue Lucky bemoans the loss of recognition by a "personal God" and describes his descent into a psychotic state of abandonment depression. This "personal God" can be read as a metaphorical description of an early maternal object, represented by Pozzo, with whom the primary emotional bond has been ruptured, as Lucky, representative of an infantile "lost heart of the self," descends into the hell of a dead internal "abode of stones" in "the deeps the great cold" (44). The tramps, alone on stage at the end of each act, state their intention to leave but do not move, as they are tied to Godot as an allencompassing maternal figure. The play therefore can be read as a depiction of the internal experience of the absence of early maternal love and nurturing, and this is developed in more detail in the clear depiction of maternal envy and neglect that are manifested in the various character relations of the play. The play can be viewed in a more direct manner, examining it as an exposition of certain feeling-states within an emerging self that are actually manifested in the character relations, imagery, and so forth. I suggest that it reflects an entirely internal world of an underlying emerging-self struggling to integrate in the face of disintegration anxieties triggered by separation from a loving primary object (Keller, 1999). Nealon (1988) has written that "In Waiting for Godot, Beckett shows us that Vladimir and Estragon are trapped by their modernist nostalgia for legitimation in Godot: they have a totalizing, modernist world view in an infinite, postmodern world"( 526). In view of my general psychoanalytic perspective this statement is not entirely correct. I see the play as depicting a nostalgia for something that is absolutely required by the self (of which Vladimir and Estragon are manifestations), which is not any sort of legitimacy (which would imply a type of "false self" compliance), but a secure internal sense of love. It is clear that the characters of the play cannot be literally nostalgic, since this primary connection is something they clearly have not had; they are like Watt, or the hero of The Nouvelles, who were forced to leave too soon; it is for a sense of connection that the tramps wait, and this should not be dismissed as demonstrating any sort of psychic weakness. Again the "infinite, postmodern world," is, in my view, understandable as only a part of the totality of the human mental universe: it is the province of those positions of the mind that are prior to the full integration and selfhood of the Depressive Position, but which are concomitant with it in the total psyche. All of this brings the experience of the play in line with Anders' comment that "Where the world no longer exists, there can no longer be a possibility of a collision with the world" (145).9 Godot can be viewed as the primary maternal object that is the world for an emerging self, and without whom the infantile-self cannot "collide" or engage the world in a full and individuated way. The character Godot, who does not literally appear on stage, can be seen as representing the maternal side of an early dyadic relationship in which the mother is experienced as emotionally absent, and this forms the affective background of the internal world depicted in the play.10 Various complex dyads are engendered by this experience, between differing combinations of characters, and all tend towards the enmeshed and dependent. In other words, the relationships within the play can be viewed as essentially dyadic and fluid, with characters assuming various mother/infant roles in condensation, and with the types of couples that are formed reflecting the primary experience of the absence of the Godot/mother and of a failure of containment.11 The play is a reflection of a state of being, or rather not-being, with the primary object of attachment.12 The endurance and appeal of the play can be partly understood because of its reflection of such primary states of early human experience. It elucidates the experiences of a state of disconnection from the world/mother, which is felt as traumatic, and the emerging self responds with powerful admixtures of rage, despair, and hope, and develops powerful imagoes that connect these feelings. In the following sections there will be an examination of several enactments of failures in a primary nurturing relationship between characters representing the infantile/emerging self and the mother.

The last farandole

    Towards the end of the first act Pozzo suggests that Lucky, "who taught [him, i.e. Pozzo] all these beautiful things," perform for the entertainment of the two tramps:


Pozzo: Dance, misery!

Lucky puts down the basket, advances towards the front, turns to Pozzo. Lucky dances.
He stops

Estragon: Is that all?
Pozzo: Encore!
Lucky executes the same movements, stops.
Estragon: Pooh! I'd do as well myself . . .
Pozzo: He used to dance the farandole, the fling, the brawl, the jig, the fandango, and even the hornpipe. He capered. For joy. Now that's the best he can do. Do you know what he calls it?
Estragon: The Scapegoat's Agony.
Vladimir: The Hard Stool.
Pozzo: The Net. He thinks he's entangled in a net (40).

    Lucky's dance is a grotesque representation of both his internal self state and his relationship to Pozzo-as-mother, upon whom he is entirely dependent, and it demonstrates his role in the play as a deeply depressed part of the self. He is called "misery," a particularly apt title, since it reflects exactly what Pozzo has attempted to project inside of him through denigration and countless humiliations. We are told that Lucky once danced "for joy" filled with a love of movement and physicality that is part of the endowment of every infant but that now, after years of suffering the neglect and abuse of Pozzo, his movements are mechanical and lifeless and suggest a series of highly symbolic titles. Estragon sees the dance as "The Scapegoat's Agony" and Lucky does suffer the debasement of a scapegoat in being a repository of Pozzo's negative projections. It is Lucky who is stupid and lazy, though it is actually Pozzo's constant attacking of his servant/child's sense of confidence and security that leads to despair and loss of the capacity for joy. Vladimir sees the dance as "The Hard Stool" and this accurately suggests, in concrete terms, another aspect of Lucky's suffering, an internal sense of badness, equated with feces, which can form part of the internal world of the infant.13 This badness is the poisoned and debased image of himself that is constantly being forcibly projected into him by Pozzo, as well as the complementary imago of the sadistic mother. As infant Lucky is too weak and fragile to re-project these bad feelings into Pozzo and, in any case, they would be immediately returned, since Pozzo cannot tolerate the anxiety implicit in accepting that he is anything but perfect. This aspect of Lucky's dance is reflected by the experience of a patient who came to analysis suffering from severe narcissistic depression and rage, which were enacted in homosexual relationships covered by the anonymity of public washrooms. He had been abused physically as a child and as the analysis progressed began to describe feeling that at his core he was a "piece of shit," or a useless and worthless person who should die. In one session, seething with anger and despair, he described how he felt something horrible was inside of him, that he was feeling physically ill, and felt he had to defecate or vomit. He felt that it was now his father who was the "piece of shit" who had to be expelled from his own body so that he could be free of him and his tormenting. In similar fashion it is Lucky who wants to be rid of the bad feelings about himself which have been relentlessly forced into him by Pozzo and which have ruined his joy of life.

    The final description of the dance comes from Pozzo himself who calls it, perhaps most appropriately, "The Net." The intensive projections of Pozzo's own inadequacy and dependency have incapacitated Lucky who has become embroiled and enmeshed in a net with a mother not unlike that of Ms. A, described above, who entered therapy because of a bingeing disorder and following a series of relationships with sadistic men who abused her, but upon whom she felt entirely dependent. As an infant she imagined that she would have tried anything to win her mother's affection since it was only by making her mother happy that she felt she would be loved. It was the inevitable failure of these attempts that led to her feeling like a slave, since she knew she needed her mother to survive, and she could not now tolerate growing out of this dependency on sadistic figures because she felt she was still a helpless child. She feared both this dependency and its frustration, which would mean an outpouring of rage and sadism that would result in the destruction of the very person upon whom she depended to fulfill her basic needs. In one session she reported the following dream: She was dancing before a large audience and genuinely enjoying the freedom and beauty of her movements as well as the bodily sensations they evoked. Her mother came upon the stage dressed in black and carrying a very small infant who was hooked up to a large and frightening machine by a complex array of tubes and lines. The patient attempted to continue her dancing but slowly it became more lifeless and mechanical as she felt obliged to care for the infant which she finally took custody of from her mother. The patient's associations led to an appreciation of this dream. She was the infant that her mother carried and who was hopelessly dependent and tied to this sadistic and withholding figure who envied and hated her attempts to feel free and to escape the deadly bond. The dancer was the hidden part of herself, which was filled with a sense of freedom and joy of life, and it was these feelings that evoked the appearance of the envious mother upon the stage of her internal world. The dancer's inability to continue the dance demonstrated her dependency on the mother. But the infant also represented the mother who was seen as the dependent part of the dyad, and the cessation of the dance was felt to be engendered by guilt and the need to care for her mother-as-helpless infant. The machine was a highly condensed symbol, alternatively felt to be her cold and mechanical mother, whose minimal affection was needed in order to keep the patient alive, but also the dead and mechanical part of the patient herself. In the transference the patient would see me in varying lights. Firstly I was the audience appreciating her dance of life but later I became the machine, a sort of transitional "mother," who cared for her infant self but whom she was afraid to trust completely since her mother was still on the stage. Finally I would become the "dancer" herself who was trustworthy and loving since I came to help her-as-infant by taking custody of her infant self from the deadly mother.

    This dream elucidates aspects of Lucky's dancing, which also progressed from the joyous exhibition of a living self (the "farandole," the "jig") to a grotesque and mechanical set of desperate spasms. The rope that ties Lucky to Pozzo, like the tubes and lines connecting the infant to the machine, is a malignant umbilical that cannot be severed without the development of some alternative source of internal nurturing. Lucky has no opportunity to develop autonomy, he remains entangled in the lines, ropes, and tubes of enmeshment in this broken early dyad, and his dance breaks down into a series of slowly dying expressions of his despair and entanglement. The tramps comment on this in their exchange about the rope that ties Lucky to Pozzo:

Estragon: Oh I say.
Vladimir: A running sore!
Estragon: It's the rope.
Vladimir: It's the rubbing.
Estragon: It's inevitable.
Vladimir: It's the knot.
Estragon: It's the chafing (25).

    The rope has become a grotesque parody of the early nursing bond to the mother, torturing and emaciating Lucky, as it reflects the destructive connection between Pozzo-as-mother who fails to contain and enrich the Lucky/child's internal experience, and who seeks rather to feed him poisonous thoughts that undermine his sense of vitality and self-worth. Thus the most primary of early nurturing experiences, the actual physical connection that exists from the moment of conception, and upon which the infant self depends for life itself, is here distorted and made into a macabre display of despair, which can also be interpreted as a plaintive cry for love.

Bones to the carrier

    Lucky, who once "danced for joy," remains "tied" to Pozzo in this deadly and enmeshed fashion, and he has somatisized his internal world of despair by becoming essentially mute and disheveled. The tramps, who cannot appreciate why he would tolerate such treatment, are told by Pozzo it is because Lucky is "trying to impress [me], so I"ll keep him" (31), and this is an integral part of the net of despair that Lucky's dance symbolizes. Lucky still yearns to win the mother's love, no longer because he truly hopes to share with her the inherent joy of life found in the early mother infant bond, but because all that is left is a faint hope that the mother will tolerate him enough simply to keep him close. In fact it would appear that Lucky has entered such a profound state of depression that he is unable to accept food from Pozzo, and he demonstrates an early infantile reaction to the bad breast, which cannot be trusted and which is felt to be poisonous (as Pozzo's words are).14 The most damaging result of this on the infantile self is the constant inability to feel a sense of inner security since the world/mother is always potentially a threat to poison the child. In the following exchange, which occurs in the first act of Waiting for Godot, we can see the damage inflicted upon Lucky's sense of himself as it is manifested in his apathy towards feeding. Pozzo, having finished eating, has just tossed several chicken bones on the ground, where Estragon "stares at them greedily":

Estragon: (timidly). Please, sir ...
Pozzo: What is it, my good man?
Estragon: Er... you've finished with the... er... you don't
need the... er... bones, sir...
Pozzo: Do I need the bones . . . No, personally, I do not need them any more . . . but ... in theory bones belong to the carrier. He is therefore the one to ask  . . . Go on, go on, don't be afraid, ask him, he'll tell you.
Estragon goes towards Lucky, stops before him.
Estragon: Mister ... excuse me, Mister ...
Pozzo: You're being spoken to, pig! Reply!
(To Estragon) Try him again.
Estragon: Excuse me, Mister, the bones, you won't be
wanting the bones?
Lucky looks long at Estragon.
Pozzo: (in raptures) Mister!
(Lucky bows his head) Reply!
Do you want them or don't you? (Silence of Lucky. To Estragon.) They're yours.
(Estragon makes a dart at the bones, picks them up and begins to gnaw them.) I don't like it. I've never known him to refuse a bone before. (He looks anxiously at Lucky.) Nice business if he fell
sick on me! (26-27)

    Lucky's despair is so deep that he is past the point of accepting nutrition and he is essentially in a marasmus. Interestingly, Pozzo reveals his own deep anxiety about losing Lucky for without him it is unlikely that he can survive. He requires his servant both to be the repository of the bad parts of himself, which he projects, and to fulfill his basic needs.15 Pozzo is enmeshed as well as "enmesher," like the mother-as-infant in Ms. A's dream of dancing, but he appears to maintain a narcissistic equilibrium through a grandiose sense of omnipotence. Perhaps he would be able to carry on without Lucky by continuing to devour the world in an omnivorous fashion that is quite reminiscent of Mr Knott:

Pozzo: I too would be happy to meet him [i.e. Godot] The more people I meet the happier I become. From the meanest creature one departs wiser, richer, more conscious of one's blessings. Even you . . . even you, who knows, will have added to my store (29).

    Pozzo can thus diminish and suppress any feeling of dependency on his slave by imagining himself as an omnipotent omnivore for whom the world serves only the purpose of fulfilling his inner need for goodness. Like a vampire who sucks the life out of the world, but is never fulfilled and must seek out new victims, he is unable to experience an enduring sense of love for those he comes to meet, since they are but mirrors to reflect his grandiosity and false sense of autonomy. The following clinical vignette may further elaborate the psychological significance of the "chicken-bone" exchange:

    Early in his analysis Mr. D often experienced me as hostile, grandiose, and withholding. During one period of our work he spoke about his mother on a number of occasions, and said that he felt she had only left "the crumbs" for him, referring both to his sense of emotional deprivation and to actual early periods of unpredictability in feeding by his caregiver. Now, as an adult, he imbibed large amounts of sweetened colas much like the sweetened water he would get on an irregular and arbitrary basis as an infant, and which had calmed him while he spent hours alone in a darkened room while his mother/baby-sitter neglected him. During a period of anger at me Mr. D commented that I felt I was superior to him and only left him "crumbs," and I connected this not only to his recollections of his mother, but also to a fantasy he had mentioned several times before and which he himself related to a story he had read as a child. In this fantasy he was a small boy who would go before a large ogre to ask for "more food" (clearly a reference to Oliver Twist) only to be denied, mocked, and attacked. Now, after my interpretation, he felt deeply saddened saying that he always felt as though he would not receive enough from the world, and that it was like a big horrible monster in front of which he would have to beg. This patient learned independently of my interest in Beckett, and having read a summary of Waiting for Godot, described his feeling that his mother was like Godot in her emotional unavailability but that I had arrived, unlike Godot, to contain and nurture him.16

    Mr. D's Oliver Twist fantasy reflects quite clearly a starving self which is locked in a desperate struggle with a withholding and emotionally absent mother in the Paranoid Schizoid position. The child is attacked for wanting life, which is itself represented both as actual food and as the mother's nurturing love. Oliver, of course, never knew his mother, who died of hypothermia soon after his birth:17

As Oliver gave this first proof of the free and proper actions of his lungs . . . the pale face of a young female was raised feebly from the pillow; and a faint voice imperfectly articulated the words, "Let me see the child, and die" . . . the surgeon deposited it [the baby] in her arms. She imprinted her cold and white lips passionately on its forehead, passed her hands over her face . . . and died . . . her blood had been frozen forever (46).

    Oliver's entry into the world parallels the Mr. D's own deep sense of maternal abandonment, and his feelings of both physical and emotional starvation begin early as he is referred to in the third person and seen as a nuisance--the surgeon who delivers him says "You needn't mind sending it up to me . . . It's very likely it will be troublesome. Give it a little gruel if it is" (47).

    Like Mr. D, Oliver is cut off from the earliest and most fundamental dyadic experience with the mother, which is one of a warm and loving nurturing close to her body. The confrontation with the "ogre," which the patient describes, takes place in the workhouse where Oliver has been selected by the other boys to go forward:

The evening arrived; and the boys took their places . . . the gruel disappeared; the boys whispered each other, and winked at Oliver . . . child as he was, he was desperate with hunger, and reckless with misery. He rose from the table, and advancing to the master, basin and spoon in hand, said . . . "Please sir, I want some more."     The master was a fat, healthy man; but he turned very pale . . . the assistants were paralyzed with wonder; the boys filled with fear.     "What!," said the master at length, in a faint voice.     "Please, sir," replied Oliver, "I want some more."     The master aimed a blow at Oliver's head with the ladle, pinioned him in his arms, and shrieked aloud for the beadle (56).18

    Here is the central confrontation of the infantile emerging self, despairing with hunger and loneliness, reaching out for life and connection to a feared but needed maternal object, only to be attacked for its very love of life. Later in Waiting for Godot, there will be a clear echo of this exchange in Vladimir's song, which opens Act Two:

A dog came in the kitchen
And stole a crust of bread.
Then cook up with a ladle
And beat him till he was dead.

Then all the dogs came running
And dug the dog a tomb
And wrote upon the tombstone
For the eyes of the dogs to come:

A dog came in the kitchen
And stole a crust of bread . . . (57-58)

    This starving and weakened dog/child, like Mr. D, Estragon, and Oliver, dares to ask for more food but to be so bold as to ask for or steal a few "crumbs," a few "bones," or a "crust" is tantamount to dying, for it will enrage the terrible, all-devouring mother.19 This nearly intractable and deeply encrypted internal "closed system" is made clear by the never-ending circular nature of the song, and the sense of hopeless foreboding is evidenced by the dog becoming entombed as a warning that to seek to feed is to die or to kill. The cook's use of the ladle as a weapon rather than as a means of nurturing ironically echoes the master's own attack on Oliver with the ladle, and highlights the hostility inherent in this particular constellation of self and other.

    Oliver's state, following his plea for more food, mirrors even more closely the internal worlds (and real worlds) of Mr. D and Lucky. He is placed into solitary confinement

and cried bitterly all day; and when the long dismal night came on, spread his little hands before his eyes to shut out the darkness, and crouching in the corner, tried to sleep . . . drawing himself closer and closer to the wall, as if to feel even its cold hard surface were a protection in the gloom and loneliness which surrounded him (59).

    He is locked away, like a "lost heart of the self," in a dark and frozen chamber that is so much like that of Mr. D's cold and lonely room (both internal and real), or like Lucky's abandonment by Pozzo-as-mother "in the great deeps, the great cold" (44). Oliver turns to the wall in obvious yearning for touch lest he, like Lucky, be pulled into the terrors of psychic annihilation that would accompany the loss of all contact. Its hard cold surface, reminiscent of his actual mother's frozen body, appears to offer him the solace that Tustin (1992) described in her papers on autistic objects, whose hard surfaces give a sense of containment to the autistic child. Here is the deepest part of the self that is locked away and isolated from the world and that is surrounded by withholding mothers who envy the child's lust for life itself.

    In the fantasy of Mr. D, the story of Oliver, and the exchange between Pozzo, Estragon, and Lucky, we see the terrifying power of the withholding/envious mother, and the sense of being overwhelmed and annihilated by her rage as well as one's own feelings of anger and depression. In the case of Mr. D the conscious recovery of these memories/fantasies led to deeply depressive feelings once the anxiety and rage had been worked through. For Lucky there is no such opportunity and he represents the deepest and most defeated part of the self, where all hope of loving and nurturing is lost. He refuses to take even the bones, and he loses the threads of connection to the good mother that Mr. D maintained with the hope of the eventual restoration of a living and secure self.

Getting used to the muck

    A major consequence of a persisting internal sense of damaged nursing is the continuation of the paranoid relationship with a withholding or envious world/mother, and this often results in a feeling of chronic emptiness coupled with a sense of resigned futility. For example, early in the second act of Waiting for Godot, there is the following exchange between the more infantile Estragon and the more maternal Vladimir:

Estragon: (violently). I'm hungry.
Vladimir: Do you want a carrot?
Estragon: Is that all there is?
Vladimir: I might have some turnips.
Estragon: Give me a carrot. (Vladimir rummages in his pockets,
takes out a turnip, and gives it to Estragon
who takes a bite out of it. Angrily.)
It's a turnip!
Vladimir: Oh pardon! I could have sworn it was a carrot. (He rummages again ...) All that's turnips . . . You must have eaten the last. . . . Wait I have it. (He brings out a carrot and gives it to Estragon.) There, dear fellow. (Estragon wipes the carrot on his sleeve and begins to eat it.) Give me the turnip . . . Make it last, that's the end of them (20).

    At this point Estragon has been feeling frightened and requires soothing by Vladimir-as-mother, who seems depleted and has little in the way of nutrition to offer save for "good" food (carrots) and "bad" food (turnips), and at first Estragon is outraged and feels he has been poisoned by the "bad" food. It is interesting that it is at this point that the idea of being "tied" to the Godot is raised as Vladimir speaks of their having "got rid of" their "rights (19), and they are, in fact, children together, desperate for Godot-as-mother to provide food, protection, and a containing recognition generated by love. There is a sense that the Godot is forever destined to provide them with substandard nurturing and this becomes experienced in the paranoid sense of submission to a dominant and withholding/sadistic world. Twirling the stub of the carrot, Estragon says "Funny, the more you eat the worse it gets," to which Vladimir replies "I get used to the muck as I go along" (21), and it is this poisoned dichotomy that frames an internal world of paranoid resignation. Thus a patient, Mr. B, who was deeply enmeshed with a narcissistic and envious mother, developed an overwhelming sense of negativity about the world and felt that for him there was no chance of joy, since he was doomed either to random events of bad luck or to selfish usage by those whom he might love. He once reported having been told that his mother threw a plate of sweet potatoes in his face when he refused to eat them as an infant, and he then stated that this was the core of his negative despair. He either complied with the "shit" the world offered and lost a sense of his own desire (got "used to it"), or he accepted it, as it was, with increasing despair but maintaining a remnant of self-respect ("the more you eat the worse it gets"). This compression of possibility within the internal world reflects perfectly the two poles of the paranoid stance that the tramps here enact, and which is the source of their incapacity to stay or to leave. Within this quiet despair and resignation lurks the primal feeling of forever receiving bad feeds from the world and of never being able to contain a good and enlivened sense of the primary object/mother through early memories of love at the good breast. They will comment on this in saying:

Vladimir: Nothing you can do about it.
Estragon: No use struggling.
Vladimir: One is what one is.
Estragon: No use wriggling.
Vladimir: The essential doesn't change.
Estragon: Nothing to be done (21).

    These are the beginnings of an internalization of a sense that it is the self that is bad and that the situation is unchangeable and deserved, and it is this entrapment within a broken primary nursing experience that leaves little room for hope by creating a world where one feels that life is but a slow entropic slide into starvation and invisibility.


    I have suggested that the fictional universe of Samuel Beckett provides a compelling exploration of some of the earliest experiences that shape the human mind. His writing appears organized by a coherent emerging-self that is engaged in a dyadic struggle to maintain contact with an elusive and absent good mother, and it reflects the consequences of the experience of failures in this relationship. We have looked at a specific aspect of that bond, the early nursing situation, which is of central importance in the development of the foundation of a sense of inner security, goodness, and the concomitant feeling that there exists a possibility of goodness in the world. Beckett's work is not only a powerful exposition of core aspects of human experience, but also provides a window for understanding some of the consequences of failures in the earliest relationships of life on the connection between the infant and the world. In his work the infantile self struggles to engage the world, torn between turning away from the mother/other, and emerging into a realm of experience and risk. The opening words of The Image(1995) condense this core experience of emergence/retreat poetically, and within the framework of an early nursing relationship with the world/mother:

The tongue gets clogged with mud only one remedy then pull it in and suck it swallow the mud or spit question to know whether it is nourishing (165).

This is an underlying image that dominates the internal world portrayed within his texts--a struggle between emergence and hiding, despair and hope, predicated on a sense that the world, being unknowable, may be as dangerous as it may be nurturing.


1 Sections of this paper were presented at the Third Annual Day in Applied Psychoanalysis, held in Toronto on September 26, 1998, and organized by the Toronto Psychoanalytic Society, the Psychoanalytic Thought Program of Trinity College, and the Department of Psychiatry of the University of Toronto. The author thanks Ian Alexander, D.Phil.; Jane Baldock, MB.BS.; Don Carveth, Ph.D.; and Otto Weininger, Ph.D. for comments and suggestions on the manuscript.  

2 The sense of `puzzlement' that engulfs the birds in this state of maternal disconnection can be seen in the tramps' confusion in Waiting for Godot, or in Watt's regression in Watt. It also often acts as a defense against overwhelming feelings of rage.  

3 This poem was brought into a session by a patient following a long vacation. It was connected (by the patient) to a university lecturer who had discussed it in a class that he had attended years before, and whose nickname among the students was `Dr. Death' for his allegedly grim demeanour. It was only after the session had ended that the patient realized that he had experienced sadness during the analyst's silence in the session, and he related this, in a later session, to a feeling of emotional starvation and inner `death' during the analyst's absence while on the vacation.  

4 This barren world/mother, this `lorn-land' is reminiscent of many Beckettian settings, from the world of mud of How It Is, to the `bog' and `Cackon' country of Waiting for Godot, and to the grey nothingness of Endgame. It reflects an inner space devoid of loving contact, in which nothing good exists to be taken into the self.  

5 Beckett himself alluded to this fundamental containing and nurturing quality of words in his work when he spoke to an actress who played May in Footfalls: `Words are as food for this poor girl _ [T]hey are her best friends' (Asmus, 1986, p. 339).  

6 This is not to deny the important paternal aspects of Mr Knott. My focus will be on the earliest aspects of human relating (i.e. where Knott is experienced functionally by Watt as a mother, for purposes of reparation). It is also reasonable to look at the paternal aspects, in which Watt turns to Knott as a father, as Hill does (Hill, 1990, pp. 27, 33), but in that case there is clearly an earlier internalized relational failure.  

7 It is possible to view the house itself as the mother's mind in which the servants are not recognized or held.  

8 There are many other occurrences in Beckett's work where items of clothing (Watt, Murphy), urns (Play), bottles (The Unnamable), etc. serve this `second skin' function.  

9 The title of Anders' paper captures perfectly the dominant early mental position of the play, in which the characters exist (tentatively) in a timeless state. Full integration as an `I' is not possible without the internal presence of the Godot/maternal figure.  

10 Of course the possibility of triangular and more complex constellations is not excluded. For example one could, at times, see Godot as an absent paternal figure, to Vladimir/mother and Estragon/child, or the tramps themselves reflecting a parental couple. The features of the play that this chapter examines relate to the predominant importance of an early child and primary object pairing.  

11 Though famously silent about his own work, there are several recorded comments allegedly made by Beckett that are relevant to the present study. When asked who Godot represents he is quoted as saying that had he known he `would have said so', underlining the sense of elusiveness of the character (Schneider, 1967, p. 38). He also commented that the tramps represent his wife, Suzanne, and himself at the time of writing, suggesting, perhaps, certain primary transferential elements in the play (Bair, 1978, p. 254). Finally, in his own comments to actors in several productions, he is said to have asked for an emphasis on `boredom' as the major affect he was trying to establish, highlighting a sense of internal emptiness and disconnection from life. Boredom can also operate as a repressing affect to control feelings of rage and sadness (Fenichel, 1954). Fenichel writes that boredom is a state of instinctual tension where an instinctual aim is missing, and the person seeks an object `not in order to act upon it with his instinctual impulses, but rather to be helped by it to find an instinctual aim which he lacks'. I would tend to focus on the absence of the Godot/mother, which classically would be seen as such an object of a libidinal aim, as engendering feelings of separation and disintegration anxiety. The attempts to control these feelings are by finding substitutes, such as the world games, play, and the various entrapping dyads.  

12 Beckett was at great pains to stress this core aspect of waiting, though he famously refused to speak in any detail about `meanings'. James Calderwood (1986) discusses various approaches to the waiting experience in the play. Jack MacGowran quotes Beckett as saying ` [Godot] doesn't mean God at all. The whole play's about waiting' (Toscan, 1973, p. 16). This was again emphasized in his deletion of `Wir' from the German title `Warfen auf Godot' (McMillan and Fehsenfeld, 1988, p. 60). The complementary of waiting, is of course, not waiting, or leaving, and this chapter explores this aspect of the experience. Beckett wrote to Alec Reid: `In Godot the audience wonders if Godot will ever come, in Endgame it wonders if Clov will ever leave'. This is interesting since a major question would seem to be why the tramps do not leave, which is an area this chapter will hope to develop beyond notions of duty or pure dependency. I feel that at bottom, the reason is one of a primary love for a maternal figure. It is important to note that there is apparently a dominant character within the play, and that would seem to be Vladimir, a view that was born out by Beckett himself (Schneider, 1967, p. 38).  

13 Building on the work of Abraham (1924), Klein (1927, 1946) described quite explicitly how young children can experience, in phantasy, the equation of feces and bad, poisonous persons as parts of the self that need to be expelled.  

14 Klein (1979) describes many such early feeding difficulties in such terms. For example: `In the context of the analytic material, it is possible by, working through former situations, to reconstruct the patient's feelings as a baby towards the mother's breast. For instance, the infant may have a grievance that the milk comes too quickly or too slowly; or that he was not given the breast when he most craved for it, and therefore, when it is offered, he does not want it any more. He turns away from it.'  

15 This is much more clear in the second act where the blind Pozzo's deep dependence on Lucky is more apparent.  

16 This splitting of the world into a devouring, grandiose monster/weak, hungry minion forms the core of the Paranoid/Schizoid position. These internal roles are alternatively identified with, as the analyst becomes one or other in complement to the patient's self, in the opposite role. Lacan's elucidation Hegel's Master-Slave dynamic looks at similar phenomenon (Evans, 1996). The French translation of Freud's `Uber Ich' (English `superego') is `Sur moi' or `above me'. I believe this more clearly captures the sense of an agency that is experienced as grandiose, withholding, and mockingly arrogant, as well as critical and a seat of authority.  

17 It is important to note that Oliver's father abandoned Oliver's mother herself. Mothers abandoned by the father of their children will of course often face a variety of hardships that play on their own emotional availability to the child. (Dr. Betty Chan, personal communication)  

18 In the 1948 film version of Oliver Twist, starring Alec Guiness, there is a further parallel to Waiting for Godot. Prior to electing Oliver to go forward the children see their masters engaged in a lavish feast, which of course is reminiscent of Estragon's observation of Pozzo's `picnic'.  

19 In Waiting for Godot, the situation is slightly altered, since Lucky represents the abandoned child-self, and it is Estragon who is given the bones by Pozzo. For Estragon the withholding mother is of course displaced onto Godot.

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To cite this article, use this bibliographical entry: John Robert Keller "Lucky's Bones: A Sense of Starvation in Watt, Waiting for Godot, and Oliver Twist". PSYART: A Hyperlink Journal for the Psychological Study of the Arts. Available April 12, 2024 [or whatever date you accessed the article].
Received: January 1, 1999, Published: January 1, 1999. Copyright © 1999 John Robert Keller