Graduation Year

2008

Document Type

Thesis

Degree

M.A.

Degree Granting Department

English

Major Professor

Susan Mooney, Ph.D.

Keywords

Asylum, Dundrum, Bethlem, Magdalen Mental Mercyseat, Imprisonment

Abstract

This thesis examines the uses and implications of historical and self-imposed asylums in several of Samuel Beckett's works, most notably Murphy, Malone Dies, and "First Love." The first half of this study compares several historical Irish and British asylums to Beckett's frictional institutions in order to illuminate the recurring motifs of sanity, asylums as retreats for the wealthy, and the links between prisons and asylums. I also examine Michel Foucault's theory of the Panopticon guards as an alternate reading of Beckett's views on sanity. In Murphy and Malone Dies, for example, Beckett questions what it means to be sane through his role reversals of nurses and patients. His often under qualified and sadistic nurses are depicted as the real lunatics while their patients seem quite sane in comparison. In the second portion of this study, I suggest that the self-imposed asylums in Murphy and "First Love" are in fact the protagonists' attempts at both erasing society and becoming physically invisible. Through and extended analysis of each text, I explore the various "cells" created by each hero as well as their social implications. By ostracizing themselves, for instance, I argue that the protagonists of Murphy and "First Love" gain a form of power that the protagonists of Molly and Malone Dies lack. Murphy's and "First Love"'s demands for "imprisonment" under their own terms once again reverse the roles of helpless patient and powerful nurse.

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