Molloy (book)

Molloy (Samuel Beckett)/1951

Molloy is a book of two halves: the first half is a first-person narrative told by Molloy and the second told by Malone. The book as a whole can be broadly said to outline and explore the reason and self of each character and how these things only make sense within the context of the meaning of existence as a whole.

Molloy's reason is abnormal from the outset of the novel. He does things without knowing why; he constantly questions himself back and forward without reaching a conclusion as he sees no objective basis for selecting one option above the other. Molloy is driven by the purpose of finding his mother, but has no reason for doing so and no idea where she currently is.

Through the character of Molloy (and later Malone), Beckett points to the absurdity of action without objective morality or purpose: that reason, after the death of God in European society, is stranded without a final goal for action. We chase goals that have no fundamental purpose and there is no overarching goal that can truly be said to be a rational foundation for action. In this state of affairs, we either end up psychologically paralyzed or we make decisions for no solid reason apart from that life demands action.

The second half of the book follows Malone. At first Malone strikes the reader as a man that is extremely rational and is driven by firm religious beliefs. He is horrendously hypocritical and ambitious, but unlike Molloy he makes decisions for a reason and therefore has a kind of internal consistency. However, as the book progresses Malone begins to buckle under the unbearable weight of the expectations he places on himself and others, and the absurdity of life.

Malone is sent by an organisation to find Molloy. His quest for Molloy seems rational at the outset but slowly reveals its absurdity as Malone has no idea why he is chasing Molloy or what he is supposed to do with him once he finds him. Eventually Malone becomes more like Molloy. He ceases to care about what happens to his body yet finds a kind of peace from the acceptance of the lack of purpose in life. In one beautiful passage Malone expresses his delight at the dancing of bees and his endless study of this; Malone says that this will remain beautiful as he won't destroy his delight in the unknown of how the bees communicate; he contrasts this to how humans have destroyed the delight of God by turning God into a larger version of a human being.

At some parts of the book Beckett makes it seem that Molloy could actually be the psychologically transformed version of Malone: both use crutches due to stiff knees and are estranged from their sons. After some reflection I decided this was not the case but instead is Beckett pointing out that the self is not a single, separate entity but there is a shared human experience and language from which each of us emerges. It is also possible that Beckett is saying that each individual is Molloy and Malone: on the one hand an individual that acts for no foundational reason and on the other an rational capacity that is internally contradicted without a metaphysical purpose structuring it but is still acting with the pretence of rationality.

Apart from the main themes described above, Molloy is laced with philosophical reflections and an incredibly funny sense of humour. Beckett said that the book came quickly out of his unconscious as he realised what he really wanted to say was what he was blocking in his unconsciousness. In this sense, many of the ideas in this work may have come from deep unconscious thoughts that Beckett had about the world and are not woven as a coherent plot. Some things in the book seem unconnected and one can dwell for a long time on the greater meaning. For me is was better to let the layered reflections wash over me and allow the experience to unfold without perfect clarity about what each aspect of the book means in relation to the rest of the novel.

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