University of California
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett
The tragicomedy Waiting for Godot, written by the Irish playwright Samuel Beckett, is one of the pioneering pieces of literature which were a part of a new genre, called Theatre of the Absurd. Upon reading it, one can easily infer why this is the case- throughout the 2 acts the play consists of, there is virtually no plot. Two vagrants, Vladimir and Estragon, loitering around a rather vague setting- a country road next to a tree- with only a passer-by every now and then, wait for a certain Godot, who never arrives. Despite this uneventful storyline, Waiting for Godot has somehow managed to keep the audiences glued to their seats ever since its premiere in 1953. Dealing with the issues of sollitude and meaninglessness of our lives in such an obscure manner, Beckett left much room for interpretations. While Vladimir and Estragon have bulit a strong bond througout the years they have spent on their tedious quest for a faceless stranger, much of their communication is based on habits, patterns and meaningless banter. Yet, given the fact that both of them are nescient of whether their exertions will be worthwhile or not, their relationship might just be the only significant element of their lives. A number of existential questions can be derived from such a problematic situation and it is the aim of this essay to investigate the possible answers to Beckett’s intriguing, yet evasive view of man’s eternal search for true purpose and companionship.
Vladimir and Estragon are a couple of friends brought together by the same fate some 50 years ago, waiting for a person named Godot. But for the name, none of them know much more about this individual. Yet, it is through this lenghty process that the two men revealed their different personalities and developed a somewhat co-dependent relationship. Vladimir, the more logical and analytical of the two, provides both mental and physical protection to the feeble and more inferior Estragon. But, this dependence is mutual- it is Vladimir who needs Estragon to need him, too. Their complementary personalities, one being more intellectual and the other more connected to his bodily needs, formed a undoubtedly strong connection. Inspite of that, there are a number of instances in the text which could serve as evidence of the hollowness of their friendship. For one, it is Vladimir’s inability to cope with Estragon’s dreams:
Estragon. I had a dream.
Vladimir. Don’t tell me!
Estragon. I dreamt that…
Vladimir. DON’T TELL ME!
Estragon. It’s not nice of you, Didi. Who am I to tell my private nightmares to if I can’t tell them to you?
Vladimir. Let them remain private. You know I can’t bear that. (Beckett 12)
Vladimir’s almost frantic avoidance of his friend’s more intimate and personal confessions seems to indicate that Vladimir is not quite able nor willing to completely open up to another person, therefore becoming exposed and vulnerable. On numerous occasions do the two men grow tired of their endless chatter devoid of meaning and what I have found especially heartbreaking while reading the play is that Vladimir and especially Estragon are painfully aware of the fact that their lives consist merely of a repetitive cycle of trivial gestures (fidgeting with hats, boots etc.) and conversations:
Estragon. We don’t manage too badly, eh Didi, between the two of us?
Vladimir. Yes yes. Come on, we’ll try the left first.
Estragon. We always find something, eh Didi, to give us the impression we exist? Vladimir (impatiently). Yes yes, we’re magicians (…)
Clearly, both of them are utterly exhausted by their daily interaction, which they sometimes feel is thrust upon them, due to same fate (they think) they share. They both seek some time off from the endless banter, finding happiness in rare moments of solitude:
Vladimir. I missed you… and at the same time I was happy. Isn’t that a strange thing?
Estragon (shocked). Happy?
Vladimir. Perhaps it’s not quite the right word.
Estragon. And now?
Vladimir. Now? … (Joyous.) There you are again… (Indifferent.) There we are again… (Gloomy.) There I am again.
Estragon. You see, you feel worse when I’m with you. I feel better alone too. Vladimir (vexed). Then why do you always come crawling back? Estragon. I don’t know.
It is obvious that the two feel a sense of relief after spending some time apart from the incessant interaction, but are unable to function properly without each other. One may interpret Vladimir’s reaction as appeasement after returning to a well-known and, therefore, comfortable situation, followed by the realization that familiar circumstances reintroduce the same, monotonous everyday patterns from which they originally tried to escape. It is habit and convenience which keep them together. However, despite the fact that they both have an opportunity to thrive on their own, if only they understood that their situation is not preconditioned, but a matter of choice, Beckett does not find solitude to be the natural state of human existence. Much like many other elements in this play, the author introduces characters in pairs. Vladimir and Estragon are an example of a partnership between two equals.
The other duo are Pozzo and Lucky, and they represent a master-servant relationship, and while the nature of their relation is different from the other two, this twosome also complement each other and provide structure and continuity to their everyday lives. Even the Boy, who occasionally shows up and serves as Godot’s spokesperson, is paired up with his brother, who is at one point mentioned during the play. The only character who does not have a comrade is the elusive Godot, of whom we do not know much about. The only information we have is that he is reportedly a white-bearded man, who treats the Boy fairly well ( but, for an unknown reason, beats the boy’s brother) and that he told the men to wait for him next to the tree, and, then they would be saved. But, how is that going to happen? Who is Godot and how is he able to save the two men? What are they going to be saved from? The most common interpretation is that Godot represents God, and that most people seek God as the sole purpose of their lives, instead of setting their own goals and spending their lives striving to reach them. By making their purpose something that is external (transcendent even), people no longer take responsibility for the course of their lives, but rather leave it up to the sublime to decide for them, not considering on what grounds they based their beliefs. In their seemingly futile quest for their savior, Vladimir and Estragon are prone to jumping to conclusions when it comes to his identity.
At one point, they confuse Pozzo for Godot, being temporarily stupefied by his theatrical arrival. Being as powerful (owning both land and people) and gaudy as he is, it is not surprising why he was mistaken for a supernatural being. It is my opinion that Beckett predicted what today is a very common sight- masses being convinced to think that the rich and the famous should serve as role models and are somehow superior to common people. Some, like Lucky, devote their entire lives to these fake idols. But, when comparing him to Vladimir and Estragon, despite being ironically named Lucky, is he actually more content than the two of them? After all, Lucky is the only one who has a purposeful and structuralized life, even if that means devoting his entire life to serving a cruel and self-centered glutton that is Pozzo. Unlike anybody else, this choice was entirely up to him and he was fully aware of the consequences of his decision. On the other hand, neither Vladimir nor Estragon have any idea when, or even if they will be redeemed. They are both utterly caught up in this expectation that it eventually becomes their prison. They are powerless when trying to escape their self-imposed fate:
Estragon. That’s enough. I’m tired. (He releases Estragon, picks up his coat and puts it on.) Let’s go.
Vladimir. We can’t.
Estragon. Why not?
Vladimir. We’re waiting for Godot.
This kind of interaction appears several times within the text. Even when contemplating the most extreme of escapes -committing suicide- they are both confined within the outcome of their decision to hinge their future on the action of others, and even such a personal choice like taking one’s own life seems now to be in the hands of the ever-elusory Godot. Essentially, the only choice they make is not to make any other choices:
Vladimir. Well? What do we do?
Estragon. Don’t let’s do anything. It’s safer.