Critical Analysis

Ramon Roa is a second year graduate student currently working toward an M.A. in English literature. He completed his lower-division work at Sacramento City College in 2010 and earned a B.A. in English with a philosophy minor from UC Berkeley in 2012. His primary areas of interest include American modernist literature, psychoanalysis, and the philosophy of language. Writers who have most influenced his thinking include Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, and Lacan.

Excerpt from "Symmetry and Parallel Third Syntactical Structures in Beckett's Murphy":

Symmetry is defined by the Oxford dictionary as a “similarity or exact correspondence between different things”. Any act of creating or integrating into a symmetrical relationship must necessarily involve imposing, or yielding to, an ordering principle of correspondence between at least two parts. Beckett's eponymous central character in Murphy attempts to resist this act of yielding to a seemingly opposing entity, as he persistently rejects any relationship of correspondence between himself and an external entity. Yet, strangely, this neurotic compulsion manifests itself most prominently throughout the novel as a conflict within himself, as he attempts to escape any relational correspondence between his own mind and body. Unable to see a precise correspondence the two parts, he continually seeks to find a means of restraining his physical body in order to “come alive in his mind”, and thereby transcend the confines of the material world (3). 

To illustrate the threat symmetrical relationships pose to Murphy's psyche, the majority of the novel's action is described through measuring interactions by their relational balance to one another – as the narration focuses extensively upon the spatial, temporal, and mutual correspondence of separate objects. At a closer textual level, however, the syntactical organization used to represent these relationships further replicates a strict imposition of symmetry. One particularly complex symmetrical technique is employed by the text repeatedly: the narration places two separate syntactical construction, each containing three parts, set sequentially beside one another, corresponding most precisely (and hence most symmetrically) at their center structures. This literary device takes its basic structure from the musical concept of “parallel thirds”, in which two notes a third apart on a given tonal scale move at the same interval and at the same time to create a harmony. The narration of Murphy uses the analogy to describe the difficulty of cohabitation, thus placing human relationships in analogous terms tomusical harmonies (117).

Much like the musical technique, Beckett's syntactical parallel thirds impose a sense of balance on a surface-level. However, a careful analysis of Murphy's inner-turmoil reveals that the narration also employs the syntactic technique to elicit a feeling of entrapment for the reader. Like Murphy's mind-body problem, the syntax of the parallel third structures constantly places two parts of a whole in an inescapable relationship of dependence to one another. This oppressive syntactical order serves to help draw the audience into Murphy's need for an escape from the world around him and ultimately contrasts with his own conception of 'freedom', which is characterized by the amorphous lack of parallels or symmetrical relationships.

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