Susan Hennessy


Dysfunctional, fragmented, and restricted bodies are a cornerstone of Samuel Beckett’s stage, a place where characters and actors alike find themselves forced to express the inexpressible, with notoriously diminished resources. Historically, existentialist readings of the Beckett canon have offered an insight into works which seem to raise essential questions regarding what it means to be when normative metanarratives have ceased to govern and “realist” escapism is denied. When it comes to discussions of phenomenological existentialism and its proponents, however, the works of Simone de Beauvoir often seem to be eschewed, or assimilated into those of the more famous Jean-Paul Sartre. This essay argues that if we revisit Beauvoir’s The Second Sex we can gain fresh insight into Beckett’s construction of his female characters (who, like Beauvoir, tend be overlooked), and a new existentialist reading of parts of his oeuvre can begin to emerge. Beauvoir, as well as being a figurehead of feminist theory, was a phenomenologist in her own right, and by using Happy Days as a case study her theories can be applied to Beckett just as readily as those of her male existentialist counterparts. This essay argues that in Happy Days, we are presented with a protagonist, Winnie, who does much to illustrate the limitations placed on the female body, which in this case is enclosed literally within the earth, and figuratively in its own immanence. I propose that Winnie presides “happily” over reduced but familiar circumstances which see her rendered captive not only by the demands of a relentless and punishing text, but also by a “cultural script” that would fix her to the spot. In her attempts to transcend herself as object, Winnie actually makes of herself her own "other", and demonstrates what it means, for her, to “become” a woman.

Author Biography

Susan Hennessy is an academic, writer, and performer, whose work explores the application of philosophical theory to twentieth century text and performance. Susie’s doctoral research re-examines the philosophies of some key French thinkers, as it places these alongside both historical and contemporary theory and criticism, in order to launch a new phenomenological investigation of the theatrical and literary works of Samuel Beckett. Susie is an Associate Lecturer in Drama and English at the University of Lincoln.