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An essay on a work of Samuel Beckett (1 Viewer)

Jolly McJollyson

Senior Member
What’s in a Name? An Absence of Thing:
Issues of Label in Molloy

Names, in Beckett’s Molloy, carry overtones of deception, restriction, and instability. Throughout this section of the Trilogy, the disjunction between things and names confounds the reader with ambiguous or insufficient qualifiers. The theme of naming illustrates two major functions of names: to confine an object to a particular label and to capture the essence of that object in a word. Names, imposed by a higher, dominant force (people) on things, seem forced and inadequate—unintentionally used as fetters and mockeries rather than qualifiers. The linguistic ideal, in which a thing, through virtue of its own unique existence, names itself, simply does not appear in Molloy, and the object which comes closest to reaching that ideal is a farce.

The idea of names confining to preconceived limitations the things they try to represent is most easily seen in part I of Molloy, and inextricably coincides with images of motherhood, home, and the female. Molloy finds himself chained to his mother, constantly bound to the woman who gave him life and language; she acts as a symbol of his mother-tongue. This figure of ancestral, native language refers to Molloy as “Dan, [he doesn’t] know why,” although “Dan was [his] father’s name, perhaps” (17). By calling him what is possibly his father’s name, Molloy’s mother binds her son to the past, the idea of which is reinforced by his memory of her questions, all of which concern what Molloy, or Dan, “remember” (17). On a more basic level, by referring to him by a name simply not his own, Molloy’s mother reveals the ambiguity and interchangeability of arbitrary terms of identification. His mother represents Molloy’s past, his history, whether literally familial or symbolically linguistic, and her type of naming confines him to that history, limiting his freedom to go elsewhere. Molloy himself describes movement concerning his mother as flight “on the clipped wings of necessity” (27), equating attendance to her who named him with restricted mobility.

While Molloy’s mother represents the kind of naming the mother-tongue produces, Lousse, in whose house and garden he stays for a long period, represents the attitude formal style takes towards naming. Molloy’s stay with Lousse is a stay in the figurative house of traditional, elevated language. Lousse, paralleling a structuralist binary view of linguistics from the dominant perspective, attempts to “mollify Molloy, with the result that [he] was nothing more than a lump of melting wax” (47). The elevated language of Lousse wishes to smooth Molloy over in an attempt to turn him into the seal with which she chooses to imprint him. Her ideal naming system conquers, melts, and reshapes the object into a constant display of its name. Because of her need for things to reflect the labels with which she saddles them, Lousse cannot stand it when names and things do not correspond; for example, she thinks of her dog, Teddy, “like a child” (33): pure, innocent, and young. However, she is on her way, when she meets Molloy, to have the dog euthanized because it is “old, blind, deaf, crippled with rheumatism and perpetually incontinent” (33). Because Teddy’s non-correspondence can no longer be ignored, Lousse must destroy and bury him. Her garden itself symbolizes control. In her garden Lousse can decide which flowers stay and which are pulled, she holds dominion over the names and things in the garden, and has it constantly cared for “in order to preserve the garden from apparent change” (52). Names in the garden and house of Lousse attempt to dominate both the wild and the horrific, forcing those uglier concepts to submit to the more pleasing label with which she binds them.

While in the first section of Molloy names seem to center around making the essence of things fit into preconceived notions of rules and familial history, the second section portrays naming in a different light, one of an attempt to capture (rather than create) that essence. Simply put, the first section tries to make things correspond with their given names, whereas the second couples names with their relative things by means of a transcendental union. The stamp-book of the Moran section shares Lousse’s idealism, but in the spirit of unity rather than dominance. The book serves to bring all the stamps (labels, words, etc) under one common cover, binding all language to the same pages, so the type of linguistic ideal does differ from that of Lousse. While Lousse wishes to fit all things into one certain, preconceived, linguistic pattern, the stamp-book seems a symbol of the attempt to fit all the various linguistic patterns into one, complete, indisputable language. But the stamps themselves taint the book with their arbitrary nature. Moran’s favorite stamp, the Nyassa, features “a giraffe grazing off the top of a palm-tree” (121), which, while aesthetically pleasing, does not really occur in nature, since the giraffe eats Acacia leaves. The names of both stamps mentioned on page 121, the Togo and the Nyassa, both contain puns that belittle the idealistic notions surrounding them. The more obvious joke, Togo (to go) isn’t going anywhere. The glue of the stamp sticks it firmly to the page of the stamp-book, revealing the inaccuracies even in the so-called ideal. Nyassa, perhaps more of a stretch but no less ironic, is doubly humorous because Moran “[is] very fond of the Nyassa” (121), and yet the stamp’s name is "nigh on ass." The stamp that Moran finds so agreeable eludes the very quality he thinks it instead exudes.

Being put in a book to fix quality and permanence of names illustrates one failed attempt to force names to correspond with things, but another, more apparent, example occurs when Moran refers to Molloy as “Mollose” and admits “a weakness for this ending” (112). Wishing for names to end in the suffix –ose would have those names reflect the quality of the thing itself, similar to ending the word in –like. Molloy’s name clearly does not end in –ose, and Moran, then, must acknowledge that names do not necessarily hold precise, descriptive meanings as well as he’d like. Moran, however, differs from Lousse in that when he realizes his name does not correspond with the person it describes, he, “unmindful of his preferences…, force himself to say Molloy” (113). Unlike her, Moran does not simply bury the evidence of non-correspondence in this situation, but admits the reality thereof. Sometimes, however, Moran does not realize the lack of correspondence in his qualifying names. When he travels to Bally, the name again conveys the idea of a word that inherently relates to the nature of the thing it describes, this time the suffix –y (e.g. “tricky,” “glassy,” “sticky” etc). To be ball-like conveys an image of perfect, spherical unity,]; however, the system by which one differentiates the lands of “Ballyba” also applies to Moran’s home of “Turdy, hub of Turdyba” (134). The naming system that Moran thinks of as one “of singular beauty and simplicity” (134), or, as one could call it, “ball-y,” is, in reality, “turd-y,” fecal, and, far from beautiful, simply waste.

Both concepts, forcing things to fit with names and names with things, share the common theme of imposition. To actually produce an ideal name, a thing must, by virtue of its own quality, name itself. In other words, a thing needs somehow to earn a name that somehow perfectly represents it. This ideal is ultimately no more than a mere flight of fancy—literally impossible, but Molloy shows the reader an attempt at achieving it in clothing. Moran speaks of having “always been very sensitive to clothing, though not in the least a dandy” (170), indicating that he chooses his clothing carefully, paying close attention to the stamp by which others define him before actually knowing him. In this way, Moran, so partial to fixing the essence of signifiers, can choose his own name. These ideal clothes “cleave so close to the body [that they] are so to speak inseparable from it” (170), echoing the theme of names actually contacting the things they represent. However, his clothes slowly begin to disintegrate. After his drawers have “rotted,” and “the seat of his breeches…sawed [his] crack from Dan to Beersheba” (170), Moran fails to realize that the crack in the whole (Dan to Beersheba) belies the notion of achieving ideal naming through clothing. The ideal would be whole and indestructible by its very nature; Moran’s clothing is not so. His clothes quite literally don’t make the man.

The image of rain illustrates well the attitude of humanity towards the reality of the naming process. Rain represents how labels are applied to objects. Like rain falling from above, language comes from a higher, mental world. However, until the rain touches the ground, it is disjointed and in particles. Running parallel to this idea, the words produced by intellectuals are inconsequential and arbitrary until they meet the physical things which they represent. The entire process of naming simply applies arbitrary droplets to an object until the droplets puddle up and become fluid as they contact the thing itself. However, as with all the problems of naming so far, the thing being rained on has no say in whether or not it gets wet, no say in what its name should be. Like Moran trying to name himself through his clothing, most people in the rain in Molloy, do not want to be affected by the arbitrary naming system. When rain falls, they begin “hastening angrily to and fro, most of them, some in the shelter of an umbrella, others in that perhaps a little less effective of the rainproof coat” in order to avoid the system they necessarily must eventually face (62); the water cycle makes rain cyclical as well, and the rain will keep coming back. Also trying to escape the inevitable, Moran, when caught in the rain, faces “the following dilemma. [To] go on leaning on [his] umbrella and get drenched or…stop and take shelter under [the] open umbrella” (171). Moran ponders on the issue, but “most often” he stops and waits under the umbrella rather than pushing on with no protection from the rain (171). However, unlike those in part I, Moran realizes his dilemma “a false [one], as so many dilemmas are” (171). Moran will be soaked either way, but he refuses to accept the process of arbitrary naming without some form of resistance. Trying to block as best he can the concept of broken, arbitrary language falling to the ground and puddling in names which ultimately bear no relation whatsoever to the things they represent, Moran realizes that one cannot escape the rain’s effects ultimately breaks the cycle of self-denial in which those earlier rain-escapers are caught. Grasping the dilemma itself is Moran's form of freedom from it.