Memory and Subjectivism in Krapp’s Last Tape
Samuel Beckett’s concise play on the subject of aging is driven by regret and humility. In his 1957 one-act play, Krapp’s Last Tape, he offers an examination of the human condition from a perspective that is distinctly haunting. A solitary old man who sits alone and records his thoughts on the prior year with each passing birthday serves as a channel through which the playwright conveys his ideas about memory, subjectivity and the recursive nature of human life.
Krapp is the idea figure, compulsively taking the time to review an earlier year’s tape before beginning a new one. It is thus that the dark comical figure suggests the experience of memory, exploring a prior self as though unable to access this person any other way. In a manner, one’s memory falls prey to the vagaries of subjectivity. The old man, now 69, just at the arrogant 39 year old whom he hears in the tape, takes a spiteful look at himself as a failed writer and an empty person, using the opportunity to look to his past as a way of perhaps finding redemption. He finds this in the suspicion that, with the passage of time, he has conquered his failures and overcome his ignorance. Sadly, as the outside observer, we are given the impression that this is the power of subjectivity, which has allowed the old man to delude himself. Here, he has convinced himself that his derision is directed at the young man he once was. Instead, Beckett suggest to us that he is misdirecting a very current sense of regret and self doubt.
This concerns us with the recursive nature of human life, with the old many pinned to a spool, looping without reconciliation much like the tapes on which he has recorded his life. Perhaps at the foundation of Beckett’s notion on these human experiences is the idea that without a soul to take interest in the telling of his life’s story, Krappy has largely committed a vain, repetitive and self-demeaning act with no hope of redemption for those years, opportunities and relationships squandered.
Beckett, S. (1957). Krapp’s Last Tape. Faber and Faber