Winnie’s dead! – a Happy Days interpretation

March 8, 2015 - Literature

Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days is the story of Winnie, who is buried to her waist, cheerily pontificating to her husband Willie, who for the most part resides in a nearby cave.

Winnie spends time reminiscing, self-reassuring and generally rambling with the occasional try to get a response from her more-or-less mute husband who, even more occasionally, rewards her with a short reply.

At the end of the play Winnie, who is now buried up to her head, less cheery, but still spouting the same litanies as before, is confronted by Willie face-to-face for the first time. Whether it is her he is after or the pistol that she has been guarding for the duration of the play is left unclear. The play finishes with the past-lovers looking into each others eyes, frozen in time, which has lost all meaning anyway.

My thought is that Winnie died in whatever incident caused her to be buried in sand and that a grief stricken Willie can’t bare to leave her half-exposed corpse. This explains why Willie, does not dig her out as the Showers (or was it Cookers) (the couple of tourists who are reported to have turned up and commented on the situation), suggested and why he does not leave as Winnie has suggested. It also accounts for why the more mobile Willie tries as much as possible to not look at Winnie – would you want to look at your wife’s rotting corpse? There is no mention in the play how Winnie manages to survive; given that there’s no apparent water, she’s out in the parasol-inflaming sun all day there’s no food and insects are planting eggs in her burial site; her being dead gets rid of all these practical survival issues.

In the final scene, Willie finally crawls round to confront Winnie and the pistol – her face in the classical interpretation looking a bit haggard due to lack of her being able to ply make up, in my interpretation decayed beyond recognition – and cries the first syllable of her name as he sees her for the first time in minutes/hours/days/weeks/months/years.

Happy Days the story of a woman going madder and madder due to isolation but the story of a man who’s been driven mad by sorrow and finally faces his fear to kill himself.

Equally cheery. Thanks Beckett.