Waiting For Godot

Waiting For Godot



Waiting For Godot

Samuel Beckett was born in Dublin in 1906. He befriended the famous Irish novelist James Joyce, and his first published work was an essay on Joyce. In 1951 and 1953, Beckett wrote his most famous novels, the trilogy Molloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnameable.
Waiting for Godot, Beckett's first play, was written originally in French in 1948 (Beckett subsequently translated the play into English himself). It premiered at a tiny theater in Paris in 1953. This play began Beckett's association with the Theatre of the Absurd, which influenced later playwrights like Harold Pinter and Tom Stoppard.
The most famous of Beckett's subsequent plays include Endgame (1958) and Krapp's Last Tape (1959). He also wrote several even more experimental plays, like Breath (1969), a thirty-second play. Beckett was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1969 and died in 1989 in Paris
Vladimir - One of the two main characters of the play. Estragon calls him Didi, and the boy addresses him as Mr. Albert. He seems to be the more responsible and mature of the two main characters.
Estragon - The second of the two main characters. Vladimir calls him Gogo. He seems weak and helpless, always looking for Vladimir's protection. He also has a poor memory, as Vladimir has to remind him in the second act of the events that happened the previous night.
Pozzo - He passes by the spot where Vladimir and Estragon are waiting and provides a diversion. In the second act, he is blind and does not remember meeting Vladimir and Estragon the night before.
Lucky - Pozzo's slave, who carries Pozzo's bags and stool. In Act I, he entertains by dancing and thinking. However, in Act II, he is dumb.
Boy - He appears at the end of each act to inform Vladimir that Godot will not be coming that night. In the second act, he insists that he was not there the previous night.
Godot - The man for whom Vladimir and Estragon wait unendingly. Godot never appears in the play. His name are character are often thought to refer to God, changing the play's title and subject to Waiting for Godot.


Two men, Vladimir and Estragon, meet near a tree. They converse on various topics and reveal that they are waiting there for a man named Godot. While they wait, two other men enter. Pozzo is on his way to the market to sell his slave, Lucky. He pauses for a while to converse with Vladimir and Estragon. Lucky entertains them by dancing and thinking, and Pozzo and Lucky leave.
After Pozzo and Lucky leave, a boy enters and tells Vladimir that he is a messenger from Godot. He tells Vladimir that Godot will not be coming tonight, but that he will surely come tomorrow. Vladimir asks him some questions about Godot and the boy departs. After his departure, Vladimir and Estragon decide to leave, but they do not move as the curtain falls.
The next night, Vladimir and Estragon again meet near the tree to wait for Godot. Lucky and Pozzo enter again, but this time Pozzo is blind and Lucky is dumb. Pozzo does not remember meeting the two men the night before. They leave and Vladimir and Estragon continue to wait.
Shortly after, the boy enters and once again tells Vladimir that Godot will not be coming. He insists that he did not speak to Vladimir yesterday. After he leaves, Estragon and Vladimir decide to leave, but again they do not move as the curtain falls, ending the play.
Act I: Introduction & Pozzo and Lucky's Entrance
Estragon is trying to take off his boot when Vladimir enters. The two men greet each other; Vladimir examines his hat while Estragon struggles with his boot. They discuss the versions of the story of the two thieves in the Gospels, and Vladimir wonders why one version of the story is considered more accurate than the others.
Estragon wants to leave, but Vladimir tells him that they cannot because they are waiting for Godot, who they are supposed to meet by the tree. They wonder if they are waiting in the correct spot, or if it is even the correct day.
Estragon falls asleep, but Vladimir wakes him because he feels lonely. Estragon starts to tell Vladimir about the dream he was having, but Vladimir does not want to hear his "private nightmares." Estragon wonders if it would be better for them to part, but Vladimir insists that Estragon would not go far. They argue and Vladimir storms off the stage, but Estragon convinces him to come back and they make up.
They discuss what to do next while they wait, and Estragon suggests hanging themselves from the tree. However, after a discussion of the logistics, they decide to wait and see what Godot says.
Estragon is hungry, and Vladimir gives him a carrot. They discuss whether they are tied to Godot when they hear a terrible cry nearby and huddle together to await what is coming.
The beginning of the play establishes Vladimir and Estragon's relationship. Vladimir clearly realizes that Estragon is dependent on him when he tells Estragon that he would be "nothing more than a little heap of bones" without him. Vladimir also insists that Estragon would not go far if they parted. This dependency extends even to minute, everyday things, as Estragon cannot even take off his boot without help from Vladimir.
The beginning of the play makes Vladimir and Estragon seem interchangeable. For example, one of the characters often repeats a line that the other has previously said. This happens in the very beginning when the two characters switch lines in the dialogue, with each asking the other, "It hurts?" and responding, "Hurts! He wants to know if it hurts!" In addition to demonstrating the way that the two characters can be seen as interchangeable, this textual repetition will be found throughout the play as an indicator of the repetitiveness of life in general for Vladimir and Estragon.
Vladimir's discussion of the story of the two thieves brings up the question of textual uncertainty. He points out that the four gospels present entirely different versions of this story, and wonders why one of these versions is accepted as definitive. This question about the reliability of texts might cause the reader (or audience) of this play to question the reliability of this particular text. Also, the repetition of the story by the four gospels might allude to the repetitiveness of the action of the play.
The repetitiveness of the play is best illustrated by Estragon's repeated requests to leave, which are followed each time by Vladimir telling him that they cannot leave because they are waiting for Godot. The exact repetition of the lines each time this dialogue appears, including the stage directions, reinforces the idea that the same actions occur over and over again and suggests that these actions happen more times than the play presents.
In this beginning section we get the only clue of the nature of Vladimir and Estragon's relationship with Godot. They mention that they asked Godot for "a kind of prayer...a vague supplication," which he is currently considering. This creates a parallel between Godot and God, also suggested by their similar names, and it seems that Vladimir and Estragon do consider Godot a kind of religious figure when they mention coming in on their hands and knees.
Act I: Pozzo and Lucky Scene
Pozzo enters, driving Lucky ahead of him by a rope around his neck. Vladimir and Estragon wonder if Pozzo is Godot, but he tells them that he is Pozzo and asks if they have heard of him. They tell him that they have not. Pozzo commands Lucky to put down his stool, and sits down and begins to eat some chicken. While he eats, Vladimir and Estragon circle around Lucky, inspecting him. They notice a sore on his neck and begin to ask him a question, but Pozzo tells them to leave him alone.
Estragon asks Pozzo if he can have the bones from his chicken, and Pozzo tells him that Lucky gets priority over them. Estragon asks Lucky if he wants the bones, but he does not reply, and Pozzo tells Estragon that he can have the bones. He comments that he has never known Lucky to refuse a bone and hopes that he is not sick.
Vladimir suddenly explodes with anger at Pozzo's treatment of Lucky, but then seems embarrassed at his outburst. Pozzo decides to go, but then decides to stay and smoke another pipe. Vladimir wants to leave, but Pozzo reminds him of his appointment with Godot.
Estragon begins to wonder aloud why Lucky does not put down his bags. Pozzo begins to answer the question, after much preparation involving his vaporizer spray, but gives a convoluted and contradictory response. Vladimir asks Pozzo if he wants to get rid of Lucky; Pozzo responds that he does and is taking him to the fair to sell him.
Lucky begins to cry, and Pozzo hands Estragon a handkerchief to wipe away his tears. Estragon approaches Lucky, but Lucky kicks him in the shins. Pozzo tells Vladimir and Estragon that he has learned a lot from Lucky, and that Lucky has been serving him for nearly sixty years. Vladimir becomes angry that Pozzo is going to get rid of Lucky after so much time, and Pozzo gets upset. Vladimir then gets angry at Lucky for mistreating Pozzo.
Pozzo calms down, but he realizes that he has lost his pipe and begins to get upset again. While Estragon laughs at Pozzo, Vladimir exits, apparently to go to the bathroom. He returns, in a bad mood, but soon calms down. Pozzo sits down again and begins to explain the twilight. When he finishes, he asks them to evaluate his performance and then offers to have Lucky perform for them. Estragon wants to see Lucky dance, while Vladimir wants to hear him think, so Pozzo commands him to dance and then think.
Lucky dances, and Estragon is not very impressed. Pozzo tells them that he used to dance much better. Vladimir asks him to tell Lucky to think, but Pozzo says that he cannot think without his hat. Vladimir puts Lucky's hat on his head and he begins to think aloud, spouting a long stream of words and phrases that amount to gibberish. As he goes on, the other three suffer more and more and finally throw themselves on him and seize his hat to make him stop. Pozzo tramples on the hat, and the men help Lucky up and give him all the bags.
Pozzo is about to leave, but finds that he cannot. He decides that he needs a running start, so he starts from the opposite end of the stage and drives Lucky across as they exchange good-byes.
Pozzo's statement about his pipe, that the second pipe is never as "sweet" as the first, can apply to experience in general--it suggests that feelings and events dull with repetition.
Repetition of events in the play is emphasized by further textual repetition. When Vladimir and Estragon alternate short lines back and forth, Estragon often repeats himself at the end of a string of lines. This occurs for the first time in this exchange: "Estragon: The circus. Vladimir: The music-hall. Estragon: The circus." This same trope will recur several times in a row at the beginning of the second act, always with Estragon repeating himself.
We see here that Vladimir supports Estragon after Estragon is kicked by Lucky: when he cries that he cannot walk, Vladimir offers to carry him, if necessary. This illustrates Vladimir's attempt to protect and take care of Estragon.
Vladimir is often very quick to change his mind. When he learns of Lucky's long term of service to Pozzo, he becomes angry with Pozzo for mistreating his servant. However, when Pozzo gets upset and says that he cannot bear it any longer, Vladimir quickly transfers his anger to Lucky, whom he reproaches for mistreating his master after so many years. This illustrates how Vladimir's opinion can be easily swayed by a change in circumstances.
In this section we see the first suggestions that Vladimir and Estragon might represent all of humanity. When Pozzo first enters, he notes that Vladimir and Estragon are of the same species as he is, "made in God's image." Later, when Pozzo asks Estragon what his name is, he replies "Adam." This comparison of Estragon to Adam, the first man, suggests that he may represent all of mankind; and this link between Estragon and Adam also relates to the idea of Godot as God.
Pozzo's inquiry about how Vladimir and Estragon found him suggests that Pozzo is giving a performance. This notion is reinforced when he has Lucky perform for them. It seems that Pozzo and Lucky appear primarily to entertain Vladimir and Estragon--after Pozzo and Luck leave, the other two men comment that their presence helped the time pass more rapidly.
Pozzo's failure to depart anticipates the way that Vladimir and Estragon remain waiting at the end of each of the acts, after saying they will depart. However, even after saying, "I don't seem to be able to depart," Pozzo does actually manage to leave. Pozzo moves on while Vladimir and Estragon remain fixed even as the curtain falls at the end of each act.

Act I: Pozzo and Lucky's Exit to Conclusion
After Pozzo and Lucky depart, Vladimir once again tells Estragon that they cannot leave because they are waiting for Godot. They argue about whether Pozzo and Lucky have changed, and Estragon suddenly complains of pain in his other foot.
A boy enters timidly, saying that he has a message from Mr. Godot. Estragon bullies the boy, who reveals that he has been waiting a while but was afraid of Pozzo and Lucky. When Estragon shakes the boy, badgering him to tell the truth, Vladimir yells at him and sits down and begins to take off his boots.
Meanwhile, Vladimir talks to the boy. He asks him if he is the one who came yesterday, but the boy tells him that he is not. The boy tells Vladimir that Mr. Godot will not come this evening, but that he will surely come tomorrow. Vladimir then asks the boy if he works for Mr. Godot, and the boy tells him that he minds the goats. The boy says that Mr. Godot does not beat him, but that he beats his brother who minds the sheep.
Vladimir asks the boy if he is unhappy, but the boy does not know. He tells the boy that he can go, and that he is to tell Mr. Godot that he saw them. The boy runs off the stage and, as he goes, it suddenly becomes night.
Estragon gets up and puts his boots down at the edge of the stage. Vladimir tells him that the boy assured him that Godot will come tomorrow. He tries to drag Estragon offstage to shelter, but Estragon will not go. Estragon wonders if they should part, but they decide to go together. As the curtain falls, they remain still.
This section begins with the most commonly repeated dialogue in the play, in which Estragon wants to go and Vladimir tells him that they are waiting for Godot. This section provides evidence for a religious reading of the play as Estragon compares himself to Christ when he decides to go barefoot. When Vladimir tells him not to compare himself to Christ, Estragon responds that "all my life I've compared myself to him."
Vladimir's statement that he pretended not to recognize Pozzo and Lucky suggests that he has met them before. This indicates that the actions presented in the first act of the play may have happened before, calling attention to events that occur outside the frame of the play. The same thing occurs when Vladimir asks the boy if he came yesterday, revealing that they were waiting yesterday with the same result. This suggests that the same events have been going on for some time; the two acts of the play are merely two instances in a long pattern of ceaselessly repeating events.
The end of Act I establishes Vladimir and Estragon's hopelessness. Even when they both agree to go, and Vladimir says "Yes, let's go," the two men do not move. Even their resolution to go is not strong enough to produce action. This inability to act renders Vladimir and Estragon unable to determine their own fates. Instead of acting, they can only wait for someone or something to act upon them.

Act II: Introduction & Pozzo and Lucky's Entrance
Act II takes place the next evening, at the same time and place. The tree now has four or five leaves on it. Estragon's boots and Lucky's hat remain onstage when Vladimir enters, looks around, and begins to sing. Estragon enters and suggests that Vladimir seemed happier without him. He says that he does not know why he keeps returning to Vladimir, since he too is happier alone, but Vladimir insists that it's because Estragon does not know how to defend himself.
Vladimir suggests that things have changed since yesterday, but Estragon does not remember yesterday. Vladimir reminds him about Pozzo and Lucky, and they begin to argue about whether Estragon has ever been in the Macon country. Estragon once again says that it would be better if they parted, but Vladimir reminds him that he always comes crawling back. They decide to converse calmly but soon run out of things to say, and Vladimir grows uncomfortable with the silence.
Vladimir looks at the tree and notices that it is now covered with leaves, although yesterday it was bare. Estragon says that it must be spring, but also insists that they were not here yesterday. Vladimir reminds him of the bones that Pozzo gave him and the kick that Lucky gave him and shows him the wound on his leg. He asks Estragon where his boots are and--when Estragon replies that he must have thrown them away--points out the boots on the stage triumphantly. Estragon, however, examines the boots and says that they are not his. Vladimir reasons that someone must have come by and exchanged his boots for Estragon's.
Vladimir gives Estragon a black radish, but since he only likes the pink ones, he gives it back. Estragon says he will go and get a carrot, but he does not move. Vladimir suggests trying the boots on Estragon, and they fit, but Estragon does not want them laced. Estragon sits down on the mound and tries to sleep. Vladimir sings him a lullaby, and he falls asleep, but soon wakes up from a nightmare.
Vladimir is pleased to find Lucky's hat on the ground because he believes it confirms that they are in the correct place. He puts on Lucky's hat and hands his to Estragon, who takes off his hat and hands it to Vladimir. This switch occurs several times until once again Vladimir wears Lucky's hat, and Estragon wears his own hat. Vladimir decides that he will keep Lucky's hat, since his bothered him. They begin to play Pozzo and Lucky's roles, with Vladimir imitating Lucky and telling Estragon what to do to imitate Pozzo. Estragon leaves, but quickly returns because he hears someone coming.
Vladimir is sure that Godot is coming, and Estragon hides behind the tree. He realizes that he is not hidden and comes out, and the two men begin a watch with one stationed on each side of the stage. When they both begin to speak at once, they get angry and begin insulting each other. After they finish their insults, they decide to make up and embrace. They briefly do some exercises and then do "the tree," staggering around on one foot.
Vladimir's song about the dog who stole a crust of bread repeats itself perpetually. The two verses follow each other in succession so that it can be sung forever, although here Vladimir only sings each verse twice. This song is a representation of the repetitive nature of the play as a whole and of Vladimir and Estragon's circular lives. Like the verses of the song, the events of their lives follow one after another, again and again, with no apparent beginning or end.
The hat switching incident is another illustration of the endless, often mindless, repetition that seems to characterize the play. Like Vladimir's song at the beginning of Act II, the hat switching could go on perpetually and only stops when Vladimir decides arbitrarily to put an end to it.
Vladimir and Estragon's discussion about the noise made by "all the dead voices" brings back the theme of Estragon repeating himself to end a string of conversation. Three times in a row, Estragon repeats his phrase, with silence following each repetition. Estragon's repetition of the phrases "like leaves" and "they rustle" emphasizes these phrases, especially since Estragon comes back to "like leaves" in the third part of their discussion.
In this section we see again Vladimir's desire to protect Estragon. He believes that the primary reason Estragon returns to him every day, despite his declarations that he is happier alone, is that he needs Vladimir to help him defend himself. Whether or not Vladimir actually does protect Estragon, Vladimir clearly feels that this duty and responsibility defines their relationship.
Estragon's statement that he will go and get a carrot, followed by the stage directions "he does not move," recalls their immobility in Act I's conclusion, and is another illustration of the way that the characters do not act on their words or intentions. Vladimir recognizes this problem after he decides that they should try on the boots; he says impatiently, "let us persevere in what we have resolved, before we forget." Vladimir's clear awareness of his own problem makes his inability to solve it--to act and to move--seem even more frustrating and unfathomable.

Act II: Pozzo and Lucky Scene
While Vladimir and Estragon stagger about pitying themselves, Pozzo and Lucky enter. Pozzo is blind and runs into Lucky, who has stopped at the sight of Vladimir and Estragon. They fall, along with all the baggage. Vladimir welcomes their arrival since it will help to pass the time. Pozzo calls for help while Vladimir and Estragon discuss asking him for another bone. Vladimir decides that they should help him, but first he and Estragon discuss how they have kept their appointment.
Pozzo continues to cry for help, and eventually Vladimir tries to assist him. However, he falls also while trying to pull up Pozzo. Estragon threatens to leave, but Vladimir begs him to help him up first, promising that they will leave together afterward. Estragon tries to help him up, but ends up falling as well.
All four men now lie on the ground, and Vladimir and Estragon begin to nap. They are woken shortly by Pozzo's shouting, and Vladimir strikes Pozzo to make him stop. Pozzo crawls away, and Vladimir and Estragon call to him. He does not respond, and Estragon decides to try other names. He calls out "Abel," and Pozzo responds by crying for help. He wonders if the other one is called Cain, but Pozzo responds to that name as well, and Estragon decides that he must be all of humanity.
Vladimir and Estragon decide to get up, which they do with ease. They help Pozzo up and hold him, and Pozzo tells them that he does not recognize them since he is blind. They tell him that it is evening, and then begin to question him about the loss of his sight. He tells them that it came upon him all of a sudden and that he has no notion of time.
Pozzo asks the men about his slave, and they tell him that Lucky seems to be sleeping. They send Estragon over to Lucky, and Estragon begins kicking Lucky. He hurts his foot and goes to sit down. Vladimir asks Pozzo if they met yesterday, but Pozzo does not remember. Pozzo prepares to leave, and Vladimir asks him to have Lucky sing or recite before they leave. However, Pozzo tells him that Lucky is dumb. They exit, and Vladimir sees them fall offstage.
Here again Vladimir seems to recognize the problem of inaction when he decides that they should help Pozzo. He becomes suddenly vehement and shouts, "Let us not waste our time in idle discourse! Let us do something, while we have the chance!" This call to action seems like an urgent rally against the trend of inaction he and Estragon have been following throughout the play; however, Vladimir still takes plenty of time to begin to help Pozzo to his feet. This suggests that, even with good intentions and resolution, the habit of inaction cannot be broken immediately.
In this speech Vladimir also declares that at this point, "all mankind is us, whether we like it or not." This continues the theme of Vladimir and Estragon's representation of mankind as a whole and shows that Vladimir is himself aware of this comparison. Estragon also illustrates the parallel between the two men and the rest of humanity when he tells Vladimir that "billions" of people can also claim that they have kept their appointment. In this case Vladimir attempts to distinguish them from the rest of mankind, but Estragon insists that they are actually the same.
Another biblical allusion is presented here through the comparison of Pozzo and Lucky to Cain and Abel. However, when Pozzo responds to the names Cain and Abel, Estragon decides that "he's all humanity." This suggestion indicates once more that the characters in the play represent the human race as a whole.
Vladimir's need of Estragon's help in order to get up is somewhat of a role reversal. For a brief exchange, Estragon holds the power in the relationship as Vladimir calls to him for help. However, when Estragon does finally stretch out his hand to help Vladimir up, he only falls himself. This seems to indicate that Estragon does not belong in this position of power and responsibility and cannot act to fulfill it.

Act II: Pozzo and Lucky's Exit to Conclusion
After Pozzo and Lucky leave, Vladimir wakes Estragon. Estragon is upset at being woken up, but Vladimir tells him that he was lonely. Estragon gets up, but his feet hurt, so he sits down again and tries to take off his boots. Meanwhile, Vladimir reflects upon the events of the day. Estragon dozes off again after unsuccessfully struggling with his boots.
The boy enters and calls to Vladimir. Vladimir recognizes the routine and knows what the boy is going to say before he says it. They establish that the boy was not there yesterday, but that he has a message from Mr. Godot saying that he will not come this evening, but definitely tomorrow.
Vladimir asks the boy what Mr. Godot does, and the boy replies that he does nothing. Vladimir asks the boy about his brother, and the boy tells him that his brother is sick. Vladimir asks if Mr. Godot has a beard and what color it is. The boy asks Vladimir what he should tell Mr. Godot, and Vladimir tells him that he should say that he saw him. The boy runs away as Vladimir springs toward him.
The sun sets. Estragon wakes up, takes off his boots, and puts them down at the front of the stage. He approaches Vladimir and tells him that he wants to go. Vladimir tells him that they cannot go far away, because they have to come back tomorrow to wait for Godot. They discuss hanging themselves from the tree, but find that they do not have any rope. Estragon says that they can bring some tomorrow. Estragon tells Vladimir that he can't go on like this, and Vladimir tells him that they will hang themselves tomorrow, unless Godot comes. Vladimir tells Estragon to pull up his trousers, which have fallen down when he removed the cord holding them up in order to determine whether it would be suitable for hanging. They decide to go, but once again do not move as the curtain falls.
By this point in the play, the dialogue about waiting for Godot has been repeated so many times that even Estragon knows it. Every time he asked Vladimir to go previously, they went through the entire dialogue about why they could not go. However, this time, Estragon goes through a miniature version of this dialogue by himself: "Let's go. We can't. Ah!" It seems that the numerous repetitions of this dialogue have finally impressed its hopeless resolution upon Estragon's mind.
Similarly, by the time the boy arrives in Act II, Vladimir already knows what he will say, and the boy does not have to tell him anything. This suggests that this dialogue has occurred many times before and furthers the indication that the play is just a representative sample of the larger circle that defines Vladimir and Estragon's lives.
The play's conclusion echoes the end of Act I. Even the stage directions reflect this similarity: after boy's exit and the moonrise, the stage directions read, "as in Act I, Vladimir stands motionless and bowed." While a live audience would not read these directions, they serve to emphasize the parallel between the two acts for readers and for actors performing the play.
The repetition of the final two lines from the previous act at the play's conclusion shows the continued importance of repetition and parallelism in Waiting for Godot. However, the characters have switched lines from the previous act, suggesting that ultimately, despite their differences, Vladimir and Estragon are really interchangeable after all.

Questions for Study

  1. What do you think is the most effective way that Beckett presents repetition in Waiting for Godot? If the play is meant as a representative sample of what happens every night in the lives of Vladimir and Estragon, why does Beckett choose to present two acts instead of three, or one?

Answer for Question 1
The presentation of essentially the same action twice in the two acts is the most important form of repetition in the play. More than one act is necessary to show the repetition of actions in the play, but this does not explain why Beckett chooses to use two acts instead of more than two. The choice of two acts may be somehow related to the use of pairs of characters, emphasizing the importance of characters and actions that occur in twos.

  1. Describe the relationship between Vladimir and Estragon. Why do you think they stay together, despite their frequent suggestions of parting?

3. The two most important sets of characters in the play occur in pairs. Does this emphasis on pairs create some significance for the boy, who appears alone? Vladimir and the boy discuss his brother; could this brother be the boy's pair? Perhaps the most important "character" in the play, Godot, is also a single character rather than a pair. Does this distinguish him from Vladimir and Estragon, Pozzo and Lucky? Does Beckett seem to prefer single characters or pairs?
4. How does the relationship between Vladimir and Estragon compare with the relationship between Pozzo and Lucky? What is the effect created by the contrast between these two pairs of characters? Is it significant that the characters appear in pairs, rather than alone?
5. Do you think the play warrants a religious reading? Can Godot be considered a Christ figure or simply a religious figure? If so, what is implied by his failure to appear? What about Estragon's attempts to equate himself with Christ? Consider also the many biblical allusions throughout the play, such as the mention of Cain and Abel and the discussion of the story of the two thieves.
6. Though it seems as if nothing happens in the play, actions actually play a very important role in Waiting for Godot. The stage directions of the play constitute nearly half of the text, suggesting that the actions, expressions, and emotions of the actors are as important as the dialogue. Examine the significance of the stage directions of one particular scene; for example, why is Estragon always struggling with his boot? What is the significance of Pozzo's vaporizer spray? What is the point of the scene in which Vladimir and Estragon exchange hats eight times?
7. Beckett called his play a "tragicomedy." Do you agree with this classification? If not, how would you classify the play? Do you think the play contains more elements of tragedy or comedy?
8. What is memory's role in the play? Why do so many of the characters' memories seem to be erased each day? Vladimir seems to be the only character who remembers things from one day to the next. What is the purpose of having one character remember what all of the others forget?
9. What is the overall tone of the play? Is the reader left with a feeling of resignation that Godot will never come, and Vladimir and Estragon will continue to wait in vain, or is there some hope created? Do the changes in Pozzo and Lucky between the first and second acts contribute to an overall feeling of hopelessness? What about the changes in the tree? The coming of spring often suggests hope for the future; is this the case here?


Beckett's own script notes can best describe the setting of "Waiting for Godot": "A country road. A tree". There is an otherworldly alienation in this sparse setting. It could be anywhere, in any country of the world. No visible horizon exists; no markers of civilization are present. The setting is constant; the only change occurs between Act I and Act II, when the barren tree of Act I gives birth to five or six leaves in Act II.
The historical setting is unspecified. The time frame is most likely two days, one of which is probably a Saturday. The only visible reference to the passage of time occurs at the end of Act II when the sun sets and the moon rises. There are verbal references to the passing of time, such as when the characters make mention of
yesterday and the previous evening.
Vladimir is a somewhat philosophical tramp, spending a lot of time thinking about the state of his life in general. He is usually committed to waiting for Godot, and constantly reminds Estragon that they must wait rather than kill themselves or move on. He likes to talk about the past, and has vague recollections about Bible stories which he periodically shares; he enjoys good conversation and becomes frustrated with Estragon when he does not keep up with him. At times, he displays some pride, such as when he does not want Estragon to beg a bone from Pozzo. Estragon looks to him for intellectual guidance. Together, the two tramps become the central focus of the play; despite their absurd bantering and burlesque appearance, they seem at the mercy of the universe, and as such are almost sympathetic characters who just want a better life. At the most superficial level, the two tramps can be called the protagonists in the play. However, they represent the whole of mankind. They correlate actions of the other characters to the general concerns of mankind. Even though it is not definite, there are implications that Vladimir knows more about Godot and is the one to remind Estragon of their destiny-that is, that they must wait for Godot.
Pozzo is a wealthy man, commanding attention. He treats his servant, Lucky, with contempt and heaps abuses on him. Pozzo represents the adverse, absurd circumstances of life. He also represents the master, the controlling being. He is thus a sort of antagonist in the play. At times, God or fate, or whatever master of the universe exists, might also be an antagonist, bearing down on the two tramps and making their lives unbearable.
There is no real climax in the play. Act I happens, followed by a parallel and nearly identical Act II. Life goes on for the two characters, and there is no indication that the third day will be any different than the first two. The absurdist point is that nothing really changes. The circular structure of the play lends itself well to this eternal stasis.
The outcome of the play is yet to be determined. There is every indication that had Beckett chosen to write Act III, it would have been very similar to Acts I and II. This unusual structure is an integral part of Beckett's theme.
Two tramps named Estragon and Vladimir meet on the road, beside a tree. They are very happy to see each other, having been separated for an unspecified amount of time. Estragon has a sore foot and is having trouble getting his boot on. He tells Vladimir that he was beaten the previous evening. The two men remember that they are supposed to wait under a tree on a Saturday for a man named Godot. It appears they do not remember the man named Godot very well, but they think he was going to give them an answer. They cannot remember the question. While they are waiting, Estragon falls asleep. Vladimir, suddenly feeling lonely,
wakes Estragon. Tired of doing nothing, they begin talking about the tree and the wait, then settle on discussing their sorry condition. They are homeless and penniless, traveling from one place to another. They contemplate suicide by hanging. They nibble carrots and turnips for food. Most of the time, they simply
wait for Godot. After a while, Pozzo and Lucky join them. Lucky carries a heavy
bag and is led by his master, Pozzo, with a rope. Pozzo sits on a stool, relaxes a little and enjoys some chicken and wine. He is abusive to his servant by demanding things and being rude. Eventually Lucky dozes off to sleep, but is awakened by jerks on the rope from his master. A hungry Estragon is eager to gnaw the chicken bones thrown on the ground by Pozzo. Pozzo explains that he has long desired that
his slave would go away, but he never does. The master tells the tramps that Lucky is pitiful and old, and he would like to get rid of him soon. On hearing all this, Lucky cries. Estragon tries to comfort him, but is rewarded by a hard kick in the leg from Lucky. At this point, Pozzo instructs his slave to dance and think
and otherwise amuse the tramps. Lucky's entertainment consists of dancing, which is more like an awkward shuffling motion, and thinking, which is a long and jumbled exercise in rambling. To shut him up, Vladimir takes away his hat. Eventually, the master and slave leave the tramps, and they continue their wait for Godot. A little later, a young bog brings in a message that Godot might
see them the next day, at the same hour and at the same place. Meanwhile, night falls and the tramps decide to leave and come back the next day. Instead, they remain. The act ends. The next act begins in exactly the same fashion: the two tramps meet on the road after a separation. Nothing has changed except
that the bare tree has sprouted five or six leaves. Vladimir is singing a song about a dog that has been beaten. Estragon reveals that he has been beaten as well, again. They resume their wait, though Estragon seems to have forgotten the events of the day before. Vladimir tries to remind him of his wounded leg and the
unruly slave who kicked him. Estragon's only memory is a vague one about the bone he was given to chew. Bored with waiting, Vladimir spots Lucky's hat, and the tramps begin playing with it. For sometime, they initiate Pozzo and his
slave. Still bored, they discuss suicide again, call each other names, and wait for Godot. After some time, Pozzo and Lucky re- appear. This time, however, Pozzo is blind and being led by Lucky. They are still bound by a rope, though this one is even shorter. Pozzo falls to the ground and cannot get up. In the process of helping him, Estragon and Vladimir also fall to the ground. The scene deteriorates into a burlesque, with characters trying to get up but only managing to become even more entangled. Finally they are able to get up. Pozzo claims never to have met them before and shocks them by claiming that Lucky is mute. He becomes insulted and departs, stumbling away with Lucky.
The play opens on a totally surreal note, with a tramp trying to pull off his boot on a lonely road under a leafless tree. There is no horizon, no sign of civilization. For a moment, this scene might even be considered comic. Eventually, however, the action unfolds and a mood of despair and futility settles over the stage. The surreal feeling never changes, it is merely added to by a host of other feelings. Characters are beaten, cursed, wounded-all without any sign of relief. The few moments of comedy are dampened by an overwhelming sense of tragedy and gloom. In the
end, the eternal hopelessness of life permeates every aspect of both acts of the play.
Vladimir is most easily distinguished from Estragon by his somewhat more elevated perception and intellect. While Estragon laments his physical limitations, Vladimir can be found musing over the struggle in which he is trapped. He enjoys discourse about mental and emotional dilemmas, occasionally referring to his limited memories of the Bible in an attempt to make sense of his life. He is pragmatic and philosophical in regards to the troubles that plague he and Estragon. He exercises almost absolute control over Estragon and asserts his supremacy very
subtly. When Estragon is beaten for the second time and blames Vladimir for not saving him, Vladimir responds that if Estragon was beaten, it was because he had done something to deserve it. He further admits that if he had been around, he would have kept Estragon from doing that bad thing, and therefore saved him from his beating. In a sense, he takes responsibility for being Estragon's conscience. He is confident that without him, Estragon's existence is incomplete. Even in his position of limited superiority, Vladimir asserts his dependence on Estragon, saying "You're my only hope" and fearing that a suicide attempt would leave one of them alone. Most of the aphorisms and sagacious sayings emanate from
Vladimir. One such question is at the end of Act II, when Pozzo and Lucky are leaving - "Where do you go from here?" He is actually questioning the existence of Pozzo and Lucky and their approach to life, an inquiry at the heart of the play. He has pride, as exhibited when he is ashamed of Estragon for gnawing on Pozzo's discarded bones. He also suffers from guilt. He constantly interrogates and checks himself on his own shortcomings. "Was I sleeping, while the others suffered?" Assuming that he has done little or perhaps nothing to improve the miseries of others, he suffers from the stigma of shame and disgrace that he has turned
blind to all the sufferings around him. He regrets that "tomorrow" when he "wakes" he will have nothing good and worthy to recollect from his today.
Apart from a stronger sense of moral judgment than the other characters, Vladimir is still bestowed with a sense of indecisiveness. His constant peering into the hat and his walking back and forth are indications of his restless spirit and a longing
for stability. At one point he becomes so frustrated with his lack of action that he nearly despairs. Vladimir is the most committed, the most constant. He reminds Estragon that they must wait for Godot. Perhaps this is simply because his memory is sharper; he remembers many things that Estragon seems to have forgotten. In a sense, Vladimir becomes the conscience of mankind, where his friend Estragon is thebody.
Estragon is a portrait of physical pain and need. He is first seen complaining of a sore foot. His hunger and thirst never seem to stop or end. He is physically beaten every night. His corporeal suffering seems unending and he is trapped in the moment, with no memory of yesterday and no hope for tomorrow. He is only kept going by the fact that Vladimir remembers yesterday and hopes for tomorrow.
If it is true that Vladimir represents the soul and Estragon, the body, then it is clear that the two men are truly inseparable. Hence they embrace warmly after their periods of separation. They must be inseparable for existence to be certain. One cannot live without the other in the ever-moving drama of life.
The plot of Waiting for Godot has been called both parallel and circular. There are two acts, each made up of four identical sections. These sections can best be described as the following
Estragon and Vladimir alone
Pozzo and Lucky arrive and depart
Messenger arrives and departs
Estragon and Vladimir alone

Since this structural pattern is repeated in Act I and Act II without variation, Waiting for Godot is perfectly parallel. On the other hand, the fact that Act II ends exactly the same as Act I suggests that nothing will change, and the next Act (if there was to be one) would proceed in exactly the same fashion. In this regard, the structure is circular.
One of the complexities of Literature of the Absurd is that it is often difficult to define a theme, since the very absurdity of the work is focused (usually) on man's inability to make sense of things. Given that, however, there are some discernible threads of theme in Waiting for Godot. First, the human condition is a dismal and distressful state. The derelict man struggles to live or rather exist, in a hostile and uncaring world. A sense of stagnancy and bareness captivates man, and whenever he tries to assert himself, he is curbed. In Beckett's words, human life is the endurance and tolerance to "the boredom of living" "replaced by the suffering of being." These phrases speak volumes of a philosophy born out of the harsh human realities. Vladimir and Estragon are blissfully and painfully oblivious to
their own condition. They go about repeating their actions every day unmindful of the monotony and captivity. They also do not activate their mind to question or brood over their own actions and the motives underlying their actions. The "compressed vacuum" in their lives is constantly disregarded. The idea that God or fate or some Supreme Being with control toys with the lives of men is startlingly clear. Every moment of every day, mankind waits for some sign from God that his
suffering will end. And every day, God does not arrive. The parallel between God and Godot is not simply verbal (in the spelling and pronunciation of names), but also in the references to long white beards, shepherds, and supremacy. Godot has saving power; Godot has all the answers to questions that have not been asked. Godot is selective in his punishments and rewards, as God was with Cain and Abel. In connection with this theme is the virtual impossibility of man's ever having an understanding of or relationship with God. It seems impossible.

Waiting for Godot
Discuss the proposition that Waiting for Godot is an existentialist play, within the first Act. To what extent does the play offer a bleak assessment of the human condition?
The play, Waiting For Godot, is centred around two men, Estragon and Vladimir, who are waiting for a Mr. Godot, of whom they know little. Estragon admits himself that he may never recognize Mr. Godot, "Personally I wouldn't know him if I ever saw him." (p.23). Estragon also remarks, "… we hardly know him." (p.23), which illustrates to an audience that the identity of Mr. Godot is irrelevant, as little information is ever given throughout the play about this indefinable Mr. X. What is an important element of the play is the act of waiting for someone or something that never arrives. Western readers may find it natural to speculate on the identity of Godot because of their inordinate need to find answers to questions. Beckett however suggests that the identity of Godot is in itself a rhetorical question. It is possible to stress the for in the waiting for …: to see the purpose of action in two men with a mission, not to be deflected from their compulsive task.
" Estragon: … Let's go.
Vladimir: We can't.
Estragon: Why not?
Vladimir: We're waiting for Godot." (p.14).
The essence of existentialism concentrates on the concept of the individual's freedom of choice, as opposed to the belief that humans are controlled by a pre-existing omnipotent being, such as God. Estragon and Vladimir have made the choice of waiting, without instruction or guidance, as Vladimir says, "He didn't say for sure he'd come" (p.14), but decides to "wait till we know exactly how we stand" (p.18).
Albert Camus, an existentialist writer, believed that boredom or waiting, which is essentially the breakdown of routine or habit, caused people to think seriously about their identity, as Estragon and Vladimir do. In The Plague, Camus suggests that boredom or inactivity causes the individual to think. This is also similar to the idea of meditation, an almost motionless activity, allowing the individual to think with clarity. Camus, and other existential writers, suggested that attempting to answer these rhetorical questions could drive someone to the point of insanity. The tramps continually attempt to prove that they exist, in order to keep their sanity:
" We always find something, eh Didi, to give us the impression that we exist?" (p.69).
Waiting in the play induces boredom as a theme. Ironically Beckett attempts to create a similar nuance of boredom within the audience by the mundane repetition of dialogue and actions. Vladimir and Estragon constantly ponder and ask questions, many of which are rhetorical or are left unanswered. During the course of the play, certain unanswered questions arise: who is Godot? Where are Gogo and Didi? Who beats Gogo? All of these unanswered questions represent the rhetorical questions that individuals ask but never get answers for within their lifetime. Vis a vis is there a God? Where do we come from? Who is responsible for our suffering? The German existentialist philosopher Martin Heidegger expressed clearly that human beings can never hope to understand why they are here. The tramps repetitive inspection of their empty hats perhaps symbolizes mankind's vain search for answers within the vacuum of a universe.
Jean Paul Sartre, the leading figure of French existentialism declared that human beings require a rational basis for their lives but are unable to achieve one, and thus human life is a futile passion. Estragon and Vladimir attempt to put order into their lives by waiting for a Godot who never arrives. They continually subside into the futility of their situation, reiterating the phrase "Nothing to be done." Vladimir also resolves with the notion that life is futile, or nothing is to be done at the beginning, replying, "All my life I've tried to put it from me… And I resumed the struggle." (p.9).
"Estragon: (anxious). And we? … Where do we come in?" (p.19).
Estragon's question is left unanswered by Vladimir. Note that these questions seem to bring pain or anxiety to Estragon. Beckett conveys a universal message that pondering the impossible questions, that arise from waiting, cause pain, anxiety, inactivity and destroy people from within. Note that both Vladimir and Estragon ponder suicide, by hanging themselves from the tree, but are unable to act through to anxiety, as Estragon states, "Don't let's do anything. It's safer." (p.18).
Kierkagaard's philosophical view of 'Dread' or 'Angst' (German for anxiety) as described by the German philosopher Martin Heidegger, is a state in which the individual's freedom of choice places the individual in a state of anxiety, as the individual is surrounded by almost infinite possibilities. This could explain the inactivity of both Estragon and Vladimir. Both characters are aware of different choices they can make but are hesitant, anxious and generally inactive, as shown at the end of Act one when they decide to leave but are immobile.
" Estragon: Well, shall we go?
Vladimir: Yes, let's go.
They do not move." (p.54).
Beckett infers that humans 'pass time' by habit or routine to cope with the existentialist dilemma of the dread or anxiety of their existence. Beckett believes that humans basically alleviate the pain of living or existence (which is at the crux of Existential philosophy) by habit. The idea of habit being essential for human existence substantiates Sartre's view that humans require a rational base for their lives. Beckett feels that habit protects us from whatever can neither be predicted or controlled, as he wrote about the theme of habit in his published essay concerning Proust:
"Habit is a compromise effected between the individual and his environment, or between the individual and his own organic eccentricities, the guarantee of a dull inviolability, the lightening-conductor of his existence. Habit is the ballast that chains the dog to his vomit. Breathing is habit. Life is habit."
Estragon and Vladimir constantly 'pass the time' throughout the entire play to escape the pain of waiting and to possibly to stop themselves from thinking or contemplating too deeply. Vladimir expresses this idea at the end of the play, 'Habit is a great deadener', suggesting that habit is like an analgesic - numbing the individual. The play is mostly ritual, with Estargon and Vladimir filling the emptiness and silence. "It'll pass the time,", (p.12), explains Vladimir, offering to tell the story of the Crucifixion. Passing the time is their mutual obsession, as exhibited after the first departure of Pozzo and Lucky:
" Vladimir: That passed the time.
Estragon: It would have passed in any case.
Vladimir: Yes, but not so rapidly." (p.48).
Estragon also joins in the game - "That's the idea, let's make a little conversation." (p.48). The rituals by which Estragon and Vladimir combat silence and emptyness are elaborate, original and display Beckett's skill as a writer. In the play Beckett echoes patterns of question, answer and repetition which is his alternative to all the flaccid chat and triviality of the conventionally 'well-structured play'. Since his subject is habit and boredom, he has dispensed with plot; since his characters are without much history. Even the scenery is minimal - consisting of a tree and the road. Beckett deliberately employs the repetition of themes, speech and action to highlight the futility and habit of life. Gogo and Didi frequently repeat phrases, such as, "Nothing to be done". Their actions consist of ritually inspecting their hats. Nothingness is what the two tramps are essentially fighting against and reason why they talk. Beckett suggests that activity and inactivity oppose one another: thought arising from inactivity and activity terminating thought. In the second Act they admit that habit suppresses their thoughts and keeps their minimal sanity:
" Estragon: … we are incapable of keeping silent.
Vladimir: You're right we're inexhaustible.
Estragon: It's so we won't think." (p.62).
Estragon and Vladimir symbolize the human condition as a period of waiting. Most of society spend their lives searching for goals, such as exam or jobs, in the hope of attaining a higher level or advancing. Beckett suggests that no-one advances through the inexorable passage of time. Vladimir states this, "One is what one is. … The essential doesn't change.", (p.21). This may be a mockery of all human endeavour, as it implies that mankind achieves nothing, and is ironically contradictory to Beckett's own endeavour. The tragicomedy of the play illustrates this, as two men are waiting for a man of whom they no little about. The anti-climaxes within the play represent the disappointment of life's expectations. For example Pozzo and Lucky's first arrival is mistaken for the arrival of Godot. These points reinforce Kierkagaard's theory that all life will finish as it began in nothingness and reduce achievement to nothing.
Beckett expresses in the play that time is an illusion or a 'cancer', as he referred to it, that feeds the individual the lie that they progress, while destroying them. Estragon and Vladimir through the play end as they begin, have made no progression: waiting for Godot. The few leaves that have grown on the tree by the second act may symbolize hope but more feasibly represent the illusive passage of time. Beckett wrote in his Proust essay that time is the 'poisonous' condition we are born to, constantly changing us without our knowing, finally killing us without our assent. A process of dying seems to take place within all four characters, mentally and physically. Estragon and Vladimir may be pictured as having a great future behind them. Estragon may have been a poet, but he is now content to quote and adapt, saying, "Hope deferred maketh the something sick" (p.10) - the something being the heart from a quote from the Bible. Vladimir may have been a thinker, but finds he is uncertain of his reasoning, as when questioned by Estragon about their whereabouts the day before replies angrily (not rationally), "Nothing is certain when you're about." (p.14). Time also erodes Estragon's memory, as shown here:
" Vladimir: What was it you wanted to know?
Estragon: I've forgotten. (Chews.) That's what annoys me." (p.20).
Time causes their energies and appetites to ebb. The fantasized prospect of an erection - a by-product of hanging - makes Estragon 'highly excited' (p.l7). The dread of nightmares plague Estragon during the day; ailments and fears become more agonizing. It is an example of Beckett using 'ordinary' images to depict mankind's decay. Time destroys Pozzo's sight and strips the previous master of almost everything. Beckett's bitterness towards time is illustrated by Pozzo's bleak speech:
"(suddenly furious). Have you not done tormenting me with your accursed time! … one day I went blind … one day we were born, one day we shall die, the same day, the same second, is that not enough for you? (Calmer.) They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it's night once more." (p.89).
When the structure of action is closing in through the course the play, with the past barely recognizable and the future unknown, the here and now of action, the present acting on stage becomes all-important. Existentialist theories propose that the choices of the present are important and that time causes perceptional confusion. Note how shadowy the past becomes to Estragon, as he asks questions such as, "What did we do yesterday?" (p.14). Moreover, all the characters caught in the deteriorating cycle of events do not aspire to the future.
The play consists of two acts which represent two cycles of time or two mirrors reflecting endlessly. The pattern of time appears to be circular or cyclic, as opposed to linear. Linear time seems to have broken down, as events do not develop with inevitable climaxes historically. The boy returns with the same message, Godot never comes and tomorrow never seems to arrive. Vladimir mentions that "time has stopped" (p.36).
Estragon and Vladimir are moving relentlessly towards a presumably unobtainable event, (the coming of Godot), within their finite existence, with a continually receding end. It could be described to the curve on a graph that mathematicians would call asymptotic: all the time drawing closer to a value, while never reaching it. Estragon portrays the horror of their uneventful repetitive existence:
" Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes, it's awful!" (p.41).
The fact that Estragon and Vladimir never seem to reach an event or end is the reason for them wanting to control the end themselves, as Estragon says, "Like to finish it?" (p.21). The 'leaf motif' is an existentialist theory inferring that life repeats itself with a slight change (as in music - where a motif is a repetition of a structure with a minute alteration of rhythm or notes). Estragon highlights the 'leaf motif' theory, saying that a similar person with smaller feet will fill his boots: "Another will come, just as … as … as me, but with smaller feet" (p.52). The endless eternal return theory is vividly portrayed at the beginning of the second act:
" Then all the dogs came running
And dug the dog a tomb-
He stops, broods, resumes:
Then all the dogs came running
And dug the dog a tomb" (p.58).
The play is deliberately unnatural and abstract because it is intended to have universal meaning. The world of Estragon and Vladimir is fragmented of time and place and is submerged with vague recollections of culture and the past. For example Estragon remembers the Bible with uncertainty:
" I remember the maps with of the Holy Land. Coloured they were." (p.12).
The lack of knowledge of the tramps' culture and past symbolize the breakdown of culture and tradition in the twentieth century. After surviving two World Wars, the tradition of the West has been shattered and culture has greatly changed. The Holocaust showed the atrocities of war and destroyed peoples' beliefs about human nature. The effects of political reforms, such as communism, marxism, and science has obliterated society's belief in the church. Nietzche declared the "death of God", as he felt that religion no longer offered a suitable framework for living. Esrtagon and Vladimir's uncertainty symbolizes the uncertainty of living in the twentieth century and more generally the uncertainty of existence. Estragon is uncertain about their location and timing inquiring, "You're sure it was here? … You're sure it was this evening?" (p.15).
Beckett infers that out of certainty arises certainty. Out of the uncertainty of waiting Vladimir becomes aware with certainty that they are waiting, thinking with clarity, "… what do we do now that we're happy … go on waiting … waiting … let me think … it's coming … go on waiting" (p.65).
Beckett displays the sheer randomness of life through the events of the play. Life is portrayed as unfair, risky and arbitrary. Estragon shows the chance involved in the health of his lungs stating, "My left lung is very weak! … But my right lung is as sound as a bell!" Estragon and Vladimir ponder why one out of the three thieves was saved, which displays the luck or misfortune involved in life. The chaos of this world portrays the absurdity of the characters within the play.
Proust believed that an individual wakes a literally new person with their past memories intact to help them govern their actions in the present. Beckett raises questions about the past or memory governing the individual's identity. The characters identities are uncertain, as the past and their memories are uncertain. Vladimir tries to come to terms with his existence and the human condition: "It's too much for one man. … On the other hand what's the point of losing heart now" (p.10).
Bishop Berkeley proposed the philosophical hypothesis that being perceived was being or existing. Vladimir desperately asks the boy, "You did see us, didn't you?" (p.52), and Estragon later questions, "Do you think God sees me?" (p.76), because they are uncertain about their own senses, reality and existence. Beckett poses the theory that reality is based on the human perception. Schopenhauer devised the vision, akin to Buddhism, that the desiring self does not exist in any 'real' sense, except through the painful consequences of wilful self-assertion.
Estragon asks, "We've lost our rights?", while Vladimir replies, "We got rid of them." (p.19). Perhaps they are pondering the idea that they have no choice in their future and think their fate is preordained, although this would contradict the existentialist notion of free will. The tramps cannot perceive the future and therefore would be unable to know if their future is preordained. Equally, the tramps could have 'no rights' because they are devoted to the task of waiting. Heidegger said that instead of trying to comprehend one's existence each individual must choose a goal and follow it with passionate conviction.
Kierkagaard ultimately advocated a 'leap of faith' into a Christian way of life, which, although incomprehensible, was the only commitment he believed could save the individual from despair. Beckett seems to portray the incomprehensibility and irrationality of faith or hope and perhaps feels advocating 'a leap of faith' limits the individual's choice. Despite Beckett's denial of Godot's symbolism to God, Godot does have a strong connection towards a god of some kind. Godot could be a hero, a religious symbol, a role model but most importantly a symbol of hope. Note the more Gogo and Didi converse about this supposed Mr. Godot (who may not exist) the more importance this god-like figure or symbol acquires. Vladimir illustrates the absurdity and the delusive nature of hope, as he has premonitions of Godot's arrival: "Listen! … Hssst! (… They listen, huddled together.) I thought it was … Godot. … I could have sworn I heard shouts." (p.19). Gogo replies more realistically, "Pah! The wind in the reeds." Camus talked of the Absurd in The myth of Sisyphus, meaning a life lived solely for its own sake in a universe that no longer made sense because there was no God to resolve the contradictions. Absurdity in the play is a by-product of their metaphysically absurd condition; it is the best they can hope for, the worst they always expect.
Beckett distrusted language because it falsified he believed, the deepest self. His bleak vision of human ignorance, impotence and loneliness made communication an absurd endeavour. James Joyce strongly influenced Beckett and Joyce wrote Finnigan's wake, in which he practically composed his own language to add truthful meaning to his expression. Beckett is simultaneously torn between the inability to express and his need to express. Estragon and Vladimir talk to each other and share ideas, but it is clear that both characters are self-absorbed and incapable of truly comprehending each other. Estragon and Vladimir regularly interrupt one another with their own thoughts, showing their individual self-absorption. Estragon admits, "I can't have been listening." (p.18), and Vladimir says, "I don't understand." (p.17), displaying the failures of language as a means of communication.
Each character inhabits a world that has been shaped by thousands of individual experiences, accumulated through their five senses, arranging elements in their minds differently. Conversation occurs but the arrangement of words, poor starved strings do not bridge the gulf that exists between them. The silences seem to punctuate conversations that represent the void, emptiness and loneliness between people. Lucky's breakdown of speech and final collapse into silence could portray Beckett's ultimate response to the chaos, randomness and meaninglessness of the universe: silence.
Beckett portrays the human condition as a period of suffering. Heidegger theorized that humans are 'thrown into the world' and that suffering is part of existence. Proust describes this point as the, 'sin of being born', which Estragon and Vladimir refer to as Vladimir ponders about repenting being born. Estragon's references to Christ represent his sympathy towards suffering as well as symbolizing human suffering:
" Vladimir: What's Christ got to do with it? …
Estragon: All my life I've compared myself to him. … And they crucified quick!" (p.52).
Estragon feels that Christ's suffering on the crucifix was short while Beckett implies that the suffering of life is long. Estragon's suffering is shown more directly in the stage directions, when he attacks the messenger boy:
" Estragon releases the Boy, moves away, covering his faces with his hands. Estragon drops his hands. His face convulsed." (p.50).
Beckett perhaps feels that to reduce the individual's suffering one must detach oneself from one's emotions. Vladimir wishes himself and Estragon to "try and converse calmly" (p.62) for this reason and it explains Estragon's apprehension of being embraced and Vladimir's fear of laughing, "One daren't even laugh any more" (p.11). They perhaps wants to distance themselves from emotion to numb the pain of living. Early Greek philosophers believed in objectivity - distancing oneself. The Buddhist religion believes in separating oneself from the torrent of human emotions. Beckett makes it sound as though the noblest human condition is to be emotionally robotic - conditioned out of human feeling by boredom.
Beckett infers that life may not offer any alternatives to suffering - namely love or pleasure. The only consolation is that suffering is a precondition of contemplation or creativity; it inspires. For example, out of Estragon's and Vladimir's suffering arise very imaginative techniques for passing time.
Beckett uses of bathos, staccato-like speech or actions and vulgarity flavoured with black or tragicomic humour to present a reductive view of human nature. Vladimir's perpetual need to urinate illustrates one of these vulgarities. Beckett's pessimism is understandable. He lived through two world wars, fighting the second World War for the French resistance against the Nazis. He would have witnessed the atrocities of human nature, chaos, the pointlessness of violence and the breakdown of communication. He would inevitably spent time during the war helplessly waiting for something to happen.
Estragon injects bathos into the serious debate about the thief who was saved by Christ by declaring with bluntness a reductive statement, "People are bloody ignorant apes." (p.13). Estragon and Vladimir often behave comically, finding interest in the banal - reducing human experiences to the mundane. The tramps comic, banal behaviour is very similar to the behaviour of another pair of comic characters - Laurel and Hardy:
" Vladimir: Pull on your trousers.
Estragon: What?
Vladimir: Pull on your trousers.
Estragon: You want me to pull off my trousers?
Vladimir: Pull ON your trousers.
Estragon: ( realizing his trousers are down) True. ( He pulls up his trousers.)"
Laurel and Hardy journeyed and shared a reasonably dependent relationship, tested by bouts of exasperation while seeming to not to age and none the wiser. They coped in perpetual nervous agitation, Laurel the most anxious while Hardy tended to solicit a philosophic calm. Neither characters were especially competent and Laurel was the weaker of the two often being defeated by the most trivial or trifling requirements. For example, in Way Out West (1937) (A readers Guide to Samuel Beckett - Hugh Kenner):
" Hardy: Get on the mule.
Laurel: What?
Hardy: Get on the mule."
The Seventeenth-century French philosopher Blaise Pascal viewed human life in terms of paradoxes: The human self is itself a paradox and contradiction. Estragon and Vladimir are full of contradictions, as their emotions often change erratically from violence to sympathy, from the philosophical to the banal. Pozzo's cruelty towards Lucky emphasizes the contradictions in human nature. They share a master-slave relationship in which Pozzo can be the worst of all tyrants, shouting authoritarian instructions at Lucky, such as, "Up pig!" (p.23), and yet can be equally filled with self-pity:
" I can't bear it … any longer … the way he goes on … you've no idea … it's terrible" (p.34).
Beckett's devotion to and relationship with Joyce was not quite that of the master's secretary but Joyce did dictate part of Finnigan's Wake to the younger Beckett and some said that Beckett was his own model for a Pozzo-Lucky relationship. Beckett himself summed up his own contradictory situation as a writer in a 1949 dialogue with Georges Duthuit:
"The expression that there is nothing to express, no power to express, no desire to express, together with the obligation to express."
This contradictory statement is very reminiscent of the final lines of the play, which show the contradiction between words and action:
" 'Well? Shall we go?' 'Yes, let's go.' They do not move."
A sense of balance within the universe is illustrated in the play, as the silences counteract the conversation, the actions counteract the inactivity. Balance satisfies the mind which recoils from the random. Estragon represents a man of the body and Vladimir represents a man of the mind. Together they represent the divide of self: the mind and body, in Freudian terms - the id and the ego. Pascal thought it important to recognize that the self consists of the mind and body. Note the physical troubles of Estragon, concerning his boots, and the philosophical problems, such as time and existence, facing Vladimir:
" Vladimir: ( gloomily). It's too much for one man. ( Pause. Cheerfully.) On the other hand what's the good of losing heart now, that's what I say. We should have thought of it a million years ago, in the nineties." (p.10).
Estragon: Ah stop blathering and help me off with this bloody thing." (p.10).
To summarize Waiting For Godot as a display of Beckett's bleak view of life would be a simplistic presumption, as Estragon and Vladimir epitomize all of mankind (as Estragon refers to himself as "Adam" ,p.37), showing the full range of human emotions. Estragon and Vladimir do suffer but equally show glimpses of happiness and excitement. They are excited by Pozzo's arrival and Estragon is "highly excited" about the prospect of an erection. Equally, as acts of random violence and anger are committed signs of affection are displayed between the characters. Gogo and Didi are the affectionate names Estragon and Vladimir call each other. Didi apologizes for his behaviour and displays affection: "Forgive me … Come, Didi. … Give me your hand. … Embrace me!" (p.17). Even brief signs of happiness are portrayed, as Gogo finds Lucky amusing, "He's a scream. … ( Laughs noisily.)" (p.35). Although Gogo and Didi fear being 'tied' or dependent on each other. This can be seen as either positive or negative. The pessimistic view is that they cannot escape waiting for Godot, from each other or from their situation in general. The optimistic view of the play shows a range of human emotion and the need to share experiences alongside the suffering of finite existence; governed by the past, acting in the present and uncertain of the future.

Submitted By Abdallah Abu Qub’a

Source: http://faculty.ksu.edu.sa/Dr_Adli/




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Waiting For Godot


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Waiting For Godot