Places: Molloy

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1951 (English translation, 1955)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Absurdist

Time of work: Mid-twentieth century

Places DiscussedForest

Forest. MolloyUnnamed forest in which most of the story is set. Although its location is never identified, the fact that the novel’s two main characters have Irish names suggests that the forest is in Ireland, Beckett’s homeland. However, other clues in the play suggest that the forest could as easily be in France, Beckett’s adopted country. In any case, the forest is probably in northern Europe.

Like the enchanted forest of traditional fairy tales, Beckett’s forest is a powerful agent that acts upon both the body and soul of any person who enters it. In this regard, the forest is more symbolic than specific and may even be said to represent a state of mind or a metaphysical situation rather than an actual location. However, although the forest is nonspecific, its character is bleak and unwelcoming, occasioning a profound sense of homelessness and despair for those who enter it. In this regard, the forest can be said to echo the “dark forest” Dante enters at the beginning of The Divine Comedy (c. 1320). It is in this forest that the hobo Molloy gives up his apparently fruitless quest for his mother; instead, time grinds to a halt, and becomes filled with anxiety and a sense of pointlessness. Ultimately, Molloy irrationally assaults a charcoal burner who apparently lives in the forest, and then sinks helplessly to the bottom of a ditch, from which he is somehow rescued and returned to his room.

It is also in this forest that the dapper detective Moran gives up his quest for the fugitive Molloy. While in the forest, Moran quarrels with his son, loses his bicycle, and is forced to live on roots and berries. He finds the forest even more disorienting than does Molloy, but, like Molloy, he also kills a man there–a man who closely resembles Moran himself, or at least the Moran he used to be. Although their time in the desolate forest does include some activity on the part of Molloy and Moran, in the end they seem to have been walking in circles, so that each quest is only ambiguously successful, or succeeds only if one assumes that the unconscious motive for each man’s journey was to seek his own personal disintegration.

Molloy’s room

Molloy’s room. This room, like this novel’s settings of the forest, the sea, and the town, is denuded of any specificity. Typical of all Beckett’s work, this setting is deliberately presented so that it evokes no particular time or place–it is an archetypal room. The most important thing about this room is that it was originally Molloy’s mother’s room, to which he (and possibly Moran) has been brought after his disastrous experiences in the forest, returning the narrative to the novel’s beginning, in which Molloy is in his room writing his report.

Moran’s house

Moran’s house. Located in an unnamed town, Moran’s house is typically bourgeois and is run according to scrupulous domestic requirements. Moran must leave this little haven when he is assigned the task of tracking down the mysterious Molloy. After disintegrating emotionally and physically in the forest, Moran wends his way back to his house, where he begins to write a report on what has happened to him.

Lousse’s garden

Lousse’s garden. This is a garden in an unnamed town belonging to an old widow called Lousse, who adopts Molloy as a replacement for the pet dog Molloy accidentally runs over with his bicycle. Rather than seeing the garden as a haven, however, Molloy feels that the garden hinders him from his true journey, which requires him to wander disconsolately into the forest.

Seacoast

Seacoast. Just as the unnamed forest seems vaguely Irish, the unnamed sea suggests one of the coasts of Ireland–in each case, however, the impression is of a bleak and uninviting setting. It is by the sea that Molloy renews the stock of sucking stones he keeps so that he never suffers from hunger pangs. Actually, Molloy barely notices the sea, instead spending much time obsessing over a mathematical order for the carrying and sucking of the stones.

BibliographyAbbott, H. Porter. The Fiction of Samuel Beckett, Form and Effect. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973. Examines Beckett as a cunning literary strategist who wrote with an acute awareness of the effect his fiction had on its audience. Includes a useful examination of the parallels in the two stories of Moran and Molloy.Astro, Alan. Understanding Samuel Beckett. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1990. Offers an accessible analysis of Molloy and suggests that incomprehensibility is one of the novel’s major themes. Includes a useful chronology and a brief bibliography up to 1988.Ben-Zvi, Linda. Samuel Beckett. Boston: Twayne, 1986. Concludes that the fictive process is the central issue and is intimately connected to the novel’s quest motif. Includes a useful, simple summary of Molloy, a chronology, and a selected bibliography.Fletcher, John. The Novels of Samuel Beckett. London: Chatto & Windus, 1964. Important guide to Beckett’s fiction, tracing the evolution of the hero in his novels, and concluding that the question of identity is at the center of Beckett’s fiction. Includes a helpful analysis of Molloy, which Fletcher suggests is Beckett’s greatest work of fiction.Rabinovitz, Rubin. Innovation in Samuel Beckett’s Fiction. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1992. Suggests that what seems baffling or purposeless in Beckett results from judiciously considered formal strategies. Posits that although the novels may seem chaotic and rambling, they are ingenious works of art that use repetition as a deliberate strategy to create structure and meaning.
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