Voices from the void : Lewis Carroll, Samuel Beckett, and language.

Date of Award


Document Type



Caspersen School of Graduate Studies

Degree Name

Doctor of Letters


This dissertation explores the thematic similarities between Lewis Carroll, in many ways a pioneer of literary modernism, and Samuel Beckett, whose own "nonsense" language and linguistic experimentation brought the movement to new heights. Though these writers lived and wrote nearly a century apart, similar themes pulse beneath the surface of their texts: a fundamental desire for control and order belied by a reluctance to embrace arbitrary structures (and a critical attitude toward the ability of these structures to yield "real" meaning); a focus on the search for central self that takes place in nightmarish landscapes both literal and figurative (and the integral role of language in the quest for self-identity); a common fascination with wordplay and linguistics (coupled with the bold desire to choose meaning in spite of absurdity); and, finally, a steadfast belief in the transcendent value of human connection (and a sensitivity to the way words both impede and augment these bonds). Both writers stare into the abyss of modern life and human nature and emerge with visions that, however dark, spare, and defeating, are meaningful and do empower human beings to seize their fragile, shaky words to leave their mark--their voice--on the void. They make of life and death a game, one that's played and won and/or lost with and within a whirlwind of words. However imperfect, however fragile and frustrating, these words become the writer's best--maybe only--tool to not only find himself, but also breach the gap between him and his fellow man.