Treatment of the Body in Beckett's Murphy and Joyce's Portrait of the Artist

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The ultimate desire for Beckett, Jim Hansen remarks is ‘to transcend the body and enter a zone where conscious itself partakes of a flux of forms’ . Moreover, in his novel Murphy, Beckett attempts to articulate the inner workings of Murphy’s mind by subduing coping mechanisms of the body as well as the spaces that contain it . The novel recalls the life of an Irish expatriate male who lives in London and is excessively preoccupied with his own conscious whilst avoiding the demands of his body . The novel thus becomes thematically concerned with the connection between the body and mind as the displacement of presence within the self. Similarly Adams writes that Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is a text concerned with the body and ‘the idea of self as a body’ . However Joyce provides a penetrating insight into the life of the main character Stephen Dedalus who accepts the limitations of the physical body as a means to transcend from his present state. In my essay I aim to examine Beckett and Joyce’s differential treatment of the body as they underline the physical struggles of two protagonists. According to Shearwood ‘one of the principles of modernist literature is the desires to capture and represent the subjective nature of reality’ . As far as Shearwood is concerned many 20th century writers moved away from the traditions of romantic and Victorian literature in favour of the everyday life of individuals and the mundane as a result of the reality of society at the time in wake of the First World War and the emergence of psychoanalysis . If we are to believe Shearwood’s article than the isolated protagonists may well be a reflection of society during the period in question. It is immediately apparent that Murphy’s settings are intimately bound with the body and inherently it’s capacity for agency: the condemned apartment in West Brompton, as a nurse at the mental hospital in North London, the rocking chair where a prostitute once...
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