Murphy’s Philosophy of Life in the Light of Existentialism

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In the novel, Beckett portrays Murphy’s desire to move from the self to madness, to escape the reality and the world around him. At stake here is an experiment, one in which Murphy attempts to enter self-consciously into a state of madness. In terms of existentialism, Murphy creates his life and his happiness. Beckett creates two worlds, real and unreal. This division separates reality and madness, consciousness and unconsciousness. Murphy demonstrates just how difficult it is for the self to escape into madness, and insofar as the novel ultimately delivers its hero into the superfine chaos (Andonian 54).
The philosophy of Murphy is that if he is able to achieve his goal, if he succeeds in dissolving himself as an individual, then he will cease to exist as a character. The second problem, which relates to plot, concerns Beckett’s struggle to overcome the dualism inherent in the literary tradition. Murphy finds himself caught in the grip of a dualism that he struggles to overcome, or at least to redefine. So it is that the opening of the novel divides itself between two separate and distinct spheres, what the narrator calls the big world and the little world: The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new. Murphy sat out of it, as though he were free, in a mew in West Brompton (1). Murphy himself accepts dualism of the world and existence (Andonian 58). This position is expressed in chapter 6 of the novel: Murphy felt himself split in two, a body and a mind (Beckett 109). And it is suggested at other points when Murphy comments to Celia, What have I now . . . I distinguish. You, my body and my mind (Beckett 39-40), or when readers are informed that his suit is bodytight: It admitted no air from the outer world, it allowed none of Murphy’s own vapours to escape (Beckett 72). It is important to understand while Murphy starts from the position, he carries its assumptions to a logical extreme. Hence, the dualism that attracts Murphy is a radical one (Andonian 59).
The existentialism is apparent in description of the third zone. In the third zone, Murphy is free not in the limited sense, which we might attach to an individual, but in a broader sense, which extends beyond the restrictions of personality, which comprehends the self as a mote in the dark of absolute freedom (Beckett 65). Opposed to this radical portrayal is the character who is fixed in a world where outside and inside are causally related, where environment becomes personality and the fate of the individual is decided in advance. Existentialism is consistently associated in Beckett with the figure of the puppet in the box, a mindless and mechanized creation that serves as a counterpart to Balzac’s clockwork cabbages (Andonian 58). In Murphy the narrative marionettes include those characters who are most clearly the parodic remains of a realist tradition, characters like Mr. Kelly, Miss Counihan, and Wylie, who are compared, respectively, to a doll (Beckett 12), a traffic signal (Beckett 55), and an empty-headed automaton (Beckett 226-227). It is Murphy alone who appears to rise above this determinism, to transcend the wobbling rigidities of the mannequin: All the puppets in this book whinge sooner or later, except Murphy, who is not a puppet (Beckett 112). Murphy is marked by an internal split, a sense that it simultaneously inhabits two worlds, one modern and one the world of