By reading Samuel Beckett’s famously “unreadable” novel Watt (1953) in context as a novel of the Irish Emergency, the neutral Irish Free State’s euphemism for World War II, this essay argues that Watt’s unreadability and encodedness are embodiments of the languages of post-traumatic stress and of Irish neutrality. Weaving together Beckett’s intertextual relationship with Dante’s Divine Comedy, the commonplace that Emergency-era Ireland was a cultural “purgatory,” and the language of trauma studies, this essay suggests that Watt can be productively read through the paradigm of purgatory. Beckett’s purgatory in the novel, however, is a failure by design: if purgatory represents the opportunity for expiation and for an eventual end of suffering, in Watt’s purgatory the possibility of such opportunity is a subject of mockery. “Beckett in Purgatory” thus offers Watt as a case study for how the trauma of war and, indeed, of neutrality, of missing the war, embeds itself in literary language that signs itself as “unreadable.”

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