Nonsense literature and nonsense poetry have provided release from the shackles of logic for centuries. But the greatest masters of English nonsense are Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear. Carroll gives, in Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-glass, the principles underlying a carefully-built structure. In Lewis Carroll's nonsense world, the creatures break the determinism of meaning and significance.
Nonsense can be defined by the following characteristics: a strong adherence to the concrete in every way possible in order to allow the intellect to be in complete control of its material and thus prevent reference; the elaboration of a pseudo-logic based on contradiction and the association of causeless and unrelated phenomena which allows the writer to exploit the illogicality of conventional usage and the arbitrary nature of word-meanings. The purpose is to change both the nature and the function of language, to reduce it to a sonorous matter in order to empty it of the meanings it is supposed to carry. Thus language acquires a quality of strangeness and offers resistances against formal patterns of interpretation. Nonsense takes language apart to look at the inner mechanism.
The literature of verbal nonsense thus described has contributed to the peculiar quality of some modern plays, more particularly those produced by the dramatists of the Absurd. The theater of the Absurd is not concerned with presenting the destinies of characters or showing the clash of opposite temperaments and human passions locked in conflict. The dramatists of the Absurd--more specifically Samuel Beckett in Waiting for Godot and Eugene Ionesco in The Bald Soprano--are striving to convey directly to the audience their intuition of the human situation which is ultimately absurd.
Such is the subject matter of their plays, and it determines their form. The absurdity of the human situation is best exemplified by the failure of communication. Form and content become therefore tightly interwoven, thus forming a structure in which language itself is set up as a theatrical object and becomes a dramatic reality.
The playwrights of the Absurd find themselves making use of such techniques and stylistic devices as were used by Lewis Carroll in the elaboration of nonsense. They manipulate language without taking away the sense, but they make it betray its own absurdity. They present language as being powerless to set up communication between men by putting in the mouth of their characters a disintegrated, disarticulated, and empty language.
The techniques of the literature of verbal nonsense suit particularly well the new experimental form called theater of the Absurd because they constantly call attention to language; and because, in spite of its apparent disorder, and the disorientation it creates, nonsense communicates a content which lies in the structure itself.
Thus, the literature of the modern plays represent, I think, a commendable effort to recapture true artistic expression in the creation of fictions.
Delmer I. Davis
J. Paul Stauffer
Master of Arts (MA)
Year Degree Awarded
Date (Title Page)
Library of Congress/MESH Subject Headings
Beckett; Samuel; 1906-1989; Ionesco; Eugène; 1909-1994; Carroll; Lewis; 1832-1898; Nonsense literature.
Loma Linda University Libraries
This title appears here courtesy of the author, who has granted Loma Linda University a limited, non-exclusive right to make this publication available to the public. The author retains all other copyrights.
Scalliet, Madeleine R., "The Literature of Verbal Nonsense in Lewis Carroll, Samuel Beckett and Eugène Ionesco" (1974). Loma Linda University Electronic Theses, Dissertations & Projects. 1005.
Loma Linda University Electronic Theses and Dissertations
Loma Linda University. Del E. Webb Memorial Library. University Archives