Professor Marcia Childress: Samuel Beckett’s Short Plays as Tutorials in Geriatrics and End of Life Care
Modernist Irish author and Nobel laureate Samuel Beckett’s spare, compact, and provocative plays Footfalls (1976) and Rockaby (1981) are virtuoso studies in the loneliness of old age, physical and psychological disengagement from life, the difficult “delivery” of dying, and the human costs of caregiving. Departing from conventional critical approaches to Beckett, this presentation develops quite literal and realistic readings and explications of Footfalls and Rockaby, with reference to clinical cases of geriatric patients and their caregivers. Footfalls enacts the complicated dynamic of a daughter responsible for/responsive to her dying mother, while Rockaby—possibly a sequel to Footfalls, the daughter, now aged, at her own life’s end—is a minimalist monologue amounting to the last sputterings of the human impulse to narrate, to be. Beckett’s pared-down dramas, starkly realized characters, and spare, terse language can powerfully instruct clinicians in the understanding and care of frail, solitary geriatric patients nearing the end of life and in the appreciation and support of those who look after their dying elders.