Martin McDonagh’s: a Beckettian perspective – Mankind and animals: the impossibility of empathy

If one of the themes for a critical reading of Martin McDonagh works is the ecocritical approach [Karen O’Brien, A Symbiotic relationship: the works of Martin McDonagh and ecocriticism, in The Theatre And Films Of Martin McDonagh, Patrick Lonergan], again we can find a connection with Beckett.

Samuel Beckett teaches us that we shouldn’t try to help a hedgehog:

You take pity on a hedgehog out in the cold and put it in an old hatbox with some worms. This box with the hog inside you then place in a disused hutch wedging the door open for the poor creature to come and go at will. To go in search of food and having eaten to regaing the warmth and security of its box in the hutch. […] It was on an autumn afternoon you found the hedgehog and took pity on it in the way described and you were still the better for it when your bedtime came. Kneeling at the bedside you included it the hedgehog in your detailed prayer to God to bless all you loved. And tossing in your warm bed waiting for sleep to come you were still faintly glowing at the thought of what a fortunate hedgehog it was to have crossed your path as it did. […] Now the next morning not only was the glow spent but a great uneasiness had taken its place. A suspicion that all was perhaps not as it should be. That rather than do as you did you had perhaps better let good alone and the hedgehog pursue its way. Days if not weeks passed before you could bring yourself to return to the hutch. You have never forgotten what you found then. You are your back in the dark and have never forgotten what you found then. The mush. The stench.

Samuel Beckett, Company

As we can’t help a hedgehog, because we don’t know what a hedgehog needs, and we risk to let it die while we are trying to help it, so every relationship between human beings and animals brings the latter to annihilation, also when human beings try to have positive, empathic relationships with them.
Quoting Matrix‘s Agent Smith on a side, and The Crying Game‘s Jody on the other, human beings are “a virus” and, as a virus, they destroy everything in their spreading.

This is their “nature”, and they follow their nature because, as the scorpion with the frog, they can’t act in a different way.

If it happens to you to be a hedgehog in Beckett, or a frog in Neil Jordan, the scorpion-like, virus-related mankind will, simply, kill you as an animal. And it happens the same if you are a basking shark, a cat or a rabbit in McDonagh.

The hedgehog, the basking shark, the cat or the rabbit are the metaphor for the lack of empathy in mankind, and from mankind to mankind: if people try to be “kind” to animals, the very same people can’t even try to be “kind” to other people. Better, Padraic (The Lieutenant of Inishmore) and Donnelly (Brendan Gleeson, Six Shooter) will be very far from being “kind”, because they will kill a cat and a rabbit, and Padraic will kill many people too!
There is, anyway, a difference between animals’ and people’s killing: in Six Shooter the rabbit will be killed to avoid him a worse life. We can tell that the difference of the killing’s meaning is in the not-awareness of the victim. The rabbit doesn’t know what will happen and if there is a “human” character in McDonagh’s plays to deserve the same fate, that is Michal in The Pillowman, a character who is not “completely” human, for sure he is not an adult (Katurian: I,1: He’s just a child!).

Seven Psychopaths

Moreover, in McDonagh’s works there is anyway more empathy for animals than for people: empathy for the basking shark killed uselessly in The Cripple Of Inishmaan, empathy for Donnelly’s rabbit and even for Zodiac’s rabbit in Seven Psychopaths (yes: Zachariah Rigby can be a homicide psychopath and take care of a rabbit!) and for the two cats in The Lieutenant of Inishmore.
What brings us back to Beckett is the meaning of death. If Beckett tell us that death is a way to avoid the real original sin – the existence – McDonagh has an even more grim approach: his characters prefer to put out from existence as an act of piety, animals instead of humans: because for humans (adult – human – beings) death is just punishment, not relief. Is there in McDonagh even less hope than in Beckett?
Because in McDonagh even from suicide the hope can arise.

But this post is about animals, not about suicide.

About QRob

Massimiliano "Q-ROB" Roveri writes on and about Internet since 1997. A philosopher lent to the IT world blogs, shares (and teaches how to blog and share) between Ireland and Italy.

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