Watt’s Garden

Samuel Beckett’s novel, Watt, is a perfect example of postmodernist literature. From the unreliable narrator (an inmate at an insane asylum certainly qualifies) to the temporal shifts (the story’s beginning does not appear in chapter one), Beckett takes the reader on a strange, frequently incomprehensible postmodern journey. However, the postmodern characteristic that really makes an impact is Beckett’s use of magical realism. This method fuses incredible, whimsical, or impossible scenarios into a narrative so that the abnormal seems normal. The scene in which this technique is illustrated beautifully is in part three, in which the narrator, Sam, wanders alone in his garden in the insane asylum until he is compelled towards the fence.

Sam and Watt once walked together in a mutual garden, but eventually, Watt is transferred and so walks in a different garden. Sam begins to make an account of meeting Watt after being separated, “Then one fine day, of unparalleled brightness and turbulence, I found my steps impelled, as though by some external agency, towards the fence.” From the beginning of his account, the reader is given a picture of incomparable and unusual brightness. Then, he is compelled by some unknown force to walk to the fence, which he would “never have gone near…under any circumstances.” The garden and the strolling in the garden are both very real and reasonable things. However, intermixed with the unusual brightness and the great commotion or agitation, or perhaps irregular atmospheric motion, depending on which definition of turbulence is applied, as well as the unknown force compelling Sam’s trajectory, there is most definitely a sense of something magical afoot.

Sam inspects the wall and concludes that there is an adjoining garden. Within the adjoining garden is Watt walking backward toward Sam, “His progress was slow and devious, on account no doubt of his having no eyes in the back of his head, and painful too.” Sam describes Watt as bumping into the trees, getting caught in brambles, briars, nettles, and thistles. It appears to be a struggle, and a painful one, for Watt to walk the distance of the garden because, for an inexplicable reason, he chooses to walk backward. Can Watt be under some invisible compulsion, as it seems Sam is?

When Watt finally reaches the fence, the fence where Sam is observing, Watt turns around to most likely walk backward back the way he came. Sam can see his face and the image that is described inspires a mixture of feelings, “His face was bloody, his hands also, and the rest of his front, and thorns were in his scalp.” Sam remarks on the resemblance of Watt to a Bosh painting of Christ. At the moment the image of Christ comes to Sam, he seems to have an existentialist moment where he feels he is standing before a mirror in which his garden, the birds, and his very self is being reflected so much so that he feels his face to make sure that he is not, in fact, the one with blood and thorns. It is a moment when Sam cannot tell his reality from Watt’s, where the two magically, if only for a moment, become one.

In Watt’s fashion, he asks Sam (starting from the end of the sentence to the beginning) for a hanky to wipe away the blood, which strikes a compassionate chord in Sam. He astonishingly manages to find a large, irregular hole in his fence where he can crawl to the opening between the two gardens. He is surprised to find the same hole in the fence to Watt’s garden and speculates wildly about raging bulls filled with carnal desires or relentless rain that might have made such a hole.

Watt is no longer visible, but when Sam cries out to him, he emerges from behind a tree with his pants on backward. He proceeds to walk backward to Sam until Sam can pull him through the hole so that they are both standing together in the area between the two gardens. Sam pulls out a cloth, ointment, a hand comb, and a cloth brush from his pocket. It is undoubtedly absurd he would have these items going for a leisurely walk, but there is also a sort of magic to it. Sam anoints Watt’s face and hands (like the face and hands of a crucified Christ) as if he were a prophet, set apart to do a task for God.

Then ensues a dance, or what might be considered a dance. With their hands on each other’s shoulders, they move back and forth as if man were dancing with Christ, and as Sam describes, “Then turning, as one man, we paced back the way we had come, I looking whither we were going, and he looking whence we were coming.” Though it is clear, on the surface, that one sanitarium inmate found another, and perhaps they are both insane, pacing back and forth in an embrace, the image the reader takes away is a magical moment in between two gardens (perhaps one is Eden and the other earth) where man and God are reconciled.

Though Beckett used many components of postmodernism, such as absurdity, irony, and black humor, his use of magical realism in the garden scene between Sam and Watt is the most beautiful and touching throughout the novel. Through this magical realism component, Beckett is able to rejoice in the constantly shifting and fragmented world with its subjectivity. Sam says it best, “To be together again, after so long, who love the sunny wind, the windy sun, in the sun, in the wind, that is perhaps something, perhaps something.”

Categories: Essays

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