"I can't go on, I'll go on" : narrative consolation in the works of James Joyce and Samuel Beckett.


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This dissertation examines the role of narrative consolation in the works of James Joyce and Samuel Beckett. Specifically, I argue that narrative holds immense consolatory power for Joyce and Beckett. Despite the clear manifestations of the trials and anguish of the human condition in their works, these two authors ultimately share a tenacious, optimistic faith in story. While Joyce and Beckett’s works both affirm the consolatory power narrative holds, each author seeks to redress specific ills with his chosen literary form. That is, their widely varying styles reveal both similar affirmations of storytelling as well as different modes through which narrative responds to different elements of suffering. I examine the specific claims these authors stake for narrative’s consolatory capacity and elucidate the specific powers each author ascribes to narrative. I first focus on the role of art as consolation and a replacement for things lost for Stephen Dedalus, the protagonist of Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. I then posit that in Ulysses, Joyce proclaims his faith in narrative’s ability to offer the consolation of place through literature’s imaginative power and its ability to build possible worlds. Next, I examine narrative as persistence and witness in Beckett’s dramas Happy Days and Endgame, arguing that these plays are explorations of language’s power in the midst of decline, suffering, and death through which Beckett makes an argument for the necessity of narrative for survival then uses narrative to respond to the horrors of the human condition with witness. Finally, I argue that Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape and Rockaby make a powerful argument for the power of narrative, specifically dramatic narrative, to offer consolation for the particular human suffering of isolation through the way in which these plays engage and deploy the power of the audience. Thus, both Joyce and Beckett make powerful arguments for narrative’s ability to offer consolation in times of suffering.



Consolation. Narrative. Suffering. Joyce. Beckett.