how does ill seen ill said mean

In the eyes of a grade 12 student

“Man is nothing else but what he makes himself.” A bold sentence spoken by none other than Jean-Paul Sartre, a man who some consider to be the father of existentialism. Existentialism is the belief that the world man makes around him is all that matters. Everything else is considered irrelevant. A human is rewarded and punished for his actions and there is no other force that chooses his or her destiny. Samuel Beckett, a poet and an author, based many of his writings on existentialism. One such writing is his novella, Ill Seen Ill Said. In Ill Seen Ill Said, Samuel Beckett depicts how existence precedes essence, by describing an old blind woman who lost all the objects and people she kept dear and thus lost everything she felt she needed to live for.

The old woman’s suffering was so great that even the narrator feels pity for her and says, “As had she the misfortune to be still of this world.”(Beckett, 58) The old woman has but one desire left, to leave her body and the pain that she finds in the world. She goes as far as to feeling jealous and envious towards a person, possibly her husband, who had passed on and his grave stone was all that remained. Every day, this old, blind woman, would make her way outside and stare at the gravestone, hoping that she too can one day achieve the thing as the man who lied in front of her, eternal bliss from this world. She had made her way to the grave so many times that the stone in front of her house were beginning to get etched by her boots. Such was the daily activities of this poor old miserable woman. The old women felt such a strong desire of to be rid of this world, that she was going insane.

Or as the narrator in Ill Seen Ill Said would say, “The old so dying woman. So dead. In the madhouse of her own skull and nowhere else.”(Beckett, 67) From the beginning of the novella, Samuel Beckett has tried to establish a dark tone for his story. Many times throughout this book, the narrator mentions winter, night evening and fall. All of these words are symbols, symbolizing death, bad fortune and bad events. It not only symbolizes the death of her own mind, but also, little by little, the death of her own body. Throughout the depiction of the old woman, the narrator extensively describes that not only does this old women have nothing left she desires to see, but her eyes have deteriorated to only being able to recognize light. It was always evening or night for her.

The narrator also goes on saying, “Silence at the eye of the scream,” indicating that her voice too was slowly dying off. Her body was at the point where it no longer felt the pleasures that the world offered it. Finally, when the old woman was on her death bed, the narrator describes the scene as, “Lick chops and basta. No. one moment more. One last. Grace to breathe that void. Know happiness.”(Beckett, 97) What the narrator is trying to communicate is that the long awaited moment has finally come and this old women finally achieved her last joy, the happiness found in death and departure from this world. Thus, Samuel Beckett has done a wonderful job in showing how existence precedes essence, through the depiction of an old lady, living her final days. -Dhwanish Patel

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