During the play, Krapp listens to recordings of himself at thirty-nine years old on an old tape-recorder, hunched over, leaning in to hear. His thirty-nine-year-old self is celebrating his birthday alone, and recalls a time when he was twenty-seven or twenty-nine, when he was living with his lover Bianca. Thirty-nine-year-old Krapp recalls a “memorable equinox,” which the older Krapp doesn’t seem to remember. He reflects on his past as a boy, and wonders about the future, reflecting on his old neighbor who sings: “Shall I sing when I am her age?” (486)
Time and memory are stressed in Krapp’s Last Tape, which are two important absurdist themes. Time can be a barrier, and is subjective, which makes it absurd. This can be seen in Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, where the two tramps wait, doing all they can to make time pass quickly. The two also have a hard time remembering things from their past or even things that happened the day before. Similarly, Krapp has a hard time remembering (he doesn’t remember the “memorable equinox”) and he spends his time reflecting on his past, living in the past while in the present.
Krapp listens to the recording, and records himself at sixty-nine years old, saying “ Nothing to say, not a squeak. What’s a year now? The sour cud and the iron stool” (496).
Jeanette R. Malkin’s essay "Matters of Memory in Krapp’s Last Tape and Not I" discusses memory in Beckett’s works:
It is not the memories revealed or the words which suddenly "come" that are of the essence. Rather, it is the complex net of memoried states of being--the interplay of inner voices, the pluralisms of self-perception, the complexity of agency, of volition or its lack, the simultaneity of pasts and present, the multiple modes of repetition and recall, of traces and patterns: which evoke a sense of our own trivial yet inevitable multiplicity, simultaneity, fragmentedness.
Malkin brings out that time is important in Beckett’s works because it stresses our nature of being. Being involves thinking and remembering. Remembering involves thinking of things that are not happening now, but happened before. We therefore exist both in the past and in the present. This is why time and memory are absurd.
Listening to his younger self, Krapp must look up the word viduity, which his younger self uses in the recording. Krapp reads the definition from the dictionary: “State—or condition of being--or remaining—a widow—or widower” (489). Krapp reflects on the two words being and remaining: “(Looks up. Puzzled.) ‘Being—or remaining?’ ” (489). The question of what it means to be has been a question in philosophy for a long time. Existentialists stressed being as all we are, we are only beings existing, and this is all we can know. Krapp wonders what these two words mean. What does it mean to be? What does it mean to remain?
The play ends with Krapp listening to his younger self, who explains that his best years are probably gone, but he says “I wouldn’t want them back. Not with the fire in me now. No, I wouldn’t want them back.” Krapp ruminates on these words, while “the tape runs on in silence” (499). The title of the play suggests that Krapp will no longer record himself, as it is his “last tape.” The tape records silence. Inevitably, Krapp will die, and his voice will be silenced. He will no longer be and he cannot remain.
Malkin, Jeanette R. "Matters of Memory in Krapp's Last Tape and Not I." Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism 11.2 (Spring 1997): 25-39. Rpt. in Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism. Ed. Linda Pavlovski. Vol. 145. Detroit: Gale, 2004. Literature Resource Center. Web. 19 Mar. 2010.
Seaver W, Richard, ed. A Samuel Beckett Reader. New York: Grove Press, 1976.