| Waiting for Godot is a play
by Samuel Beckett, in which two characters
wait for someone named Godot, who never arrives.
Godot's absence, as well as numerous other aspects of the play, have led to many different interpretations since the play's premiere.
Voted "the most significant English language play of the 20th century", Waiting for Godot is Beckett's translation of his own original French version, En attendant Godot, and is subtitled (in English only), "a tragicomedy in two acts".
The original French text was written "between 9 October 1948 and 29 January 1949 [...] after Molloy and Malone Meurt but before L’Innommable."
The premiere was on the 23 January 1953 in the Théâtre de Babylone with Roger Blin as the director who also played Pozzo.
WAITING FOR GODOT
A synopsis and analysis of the play by Samuel Beckett
This document was originally published in Dionysus in Paris.
Wallace Fowlie. New York: Meridian Books, Inc., 1960. p. 210-214.
The plot of Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot is simple to relate. Two tramps are waiting by a sickly looking tree for the arrival of M. Godot. They quarrel, make up, contemplate suicide, try to sleep, eat a carrot and gnaw on some chicken bones. Two other characters appear, a master and a slave, who perform a grotesque scene in the middle of the play. A young boy arrives to say that M. Godot will not come today, but that he will come tomorrow. The play is a development of the title, Waiting for Godot. He does not come and the two tramps resume their vigil by the tree, which between the first and second day has sprouted a few leaves, the only symbol of a possible order in a thoroughly alienated world.
The two tramps of Beckett, in their total disposition and in their antics with hats and tight shoes, are reminiscent of Chaplin and the American burlesque comedy team. Pozzo and Lucky, the master and slave, are half vaudeville characters and half marionettes. The purely comic aspect of the play involves traditional routines that come from the entire history of farce, from the Romans and the Italians, and the red-nosed clown of the modern circus. The language of the play has gravity, intensity, and conciseness. The long speech of Lucky, a bravura passage that is seemingly meaningless, is strongly reminiscent of Joyce and certain effects in Finnegans Wake. But the play is far from being a pastiche. It has its own beauty and suggestiveness, and it makes its own comment on man's absurd hope and on the absurd insignificance of man.
The utter simplicity of the play, in the histrionic sense, places it in the classical tradition of French playwriting. It's close adherence to the three unities is a clue to the play's dramaturgy. The unity of place is a muddy plateau with one tree, a kind of gallows which invites the tramps to consider hanging themselves. This place is any place. It is perhaps best characterized as being the place where Godot is not. As the play unfolds we come to realize that M. Godot is not in any place comparable to the setting of the play. He will not come out of one place into another. The unity of time is two days, but it might be any sequence of days in anyone's life. Time is equivalent to what is announced in the title: the act of waiting. Tame is really immobility, although a few minor changes do take place during the play: the tree grows leaves and one of the characters, Pozzo, becomes blind. The act of waiting is never over, and yet it mysteriously starts up again each day. The action, in the same way, describes a circle. Each day is the return to the beginning. Nothing is completed because nothing can be completed. The despair in the play, which is never defined as such but which pervades all the lack of action and gives the play its metaphysical color, is the fact that the two tramps cannot not wait for Godot, and the corollary fact that he cannot come.
The rigorous use of the unities is demanded by the implacable interpretation of human life. The denouement of the play is another beginning. Vladimir asks his friend: Alors? On y va? ("Well? Shall we go?") And Estragon answers: Allons-y ("Yes, let's go.") But neither moves. And the curtain descends over their immobility. In scene after scene the permanent absurdity of the world is stressed. In the scene, for example, between the master and the slave, Lucky is held on a leash by Pozzo. He carries a heavy suitcase without ever thinking of dropping it. He is able to utter his long incoherent speech only when he has his hat on and when Pozzo commands him to think.
The unity of place, the particular site on the edge of a forest which the two tramps cannot leave, recalls Sartre's striking use of the unity of place in his first play, No Exit. There it is hell in the appearance of a Second Empire living-room that the three characters cannot leave. The curtain line of each play underscores the unity of place, the setting of which is prison. The Allons-y! of Godot corresponds to the Eh bien, continuons! ("Well, well, let's get on with it....") of No Exit. Sartre's hell is projected by use of some of the quid pro quos of a typical bedroom farce, whereas Beckett's unnamed plateau resembles the empty vaudeville stage. The two tramps in a seemingly improvised dialogue arouse laughter in their public, despite their alienation from the social norm and despite the total pessimism of their philosophy.
Many ingenious theories have been advanced to provide satisfactory interpretations for the characters of Beckett's play. Religious or mythical interpretations prevail. The two tramps Estragon (Gogo) and Vladimir (Didi) may be Everyman and his conscience. Gogo is less confident and at one moment is ready to hang himself. Vladimir is more hopeful, more even in temperament. One thinks of the medieval debate between the body and the soul, between the intellectual and the nonrational in man. Certain of their speeches about Christ might substantiate the theory that they are the two crucified thieves. Pozzo would seem to be the evil master, the exploiter. But perhaps he is Godot, or an evil incarnation of Godot. The most obvious interpretation of Godot is that he is God. As the name Pierrot comes from Pierre, so Godot may come from God. (One thinks also of the combination of God and Charlot, the name used by the French for Charlie Chaplin.)
Mr. Beckett himself has repudiated all theories of a symbolic nature. But this does not necessarily mean that it is useless to search for such clues. The fundamental imagery of the play is Christian. Even the tree recalls the Tree of Knowledge and the Cross. The life of the tramps at many points in the text seems synonymous with the fallen state of man. Their strange relationship is a kind of marriage. The play is a series of actions that are aborted and that give a despairing uniformity to its duration.
Essay On '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.
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.
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.
A Readers Guide to Samuel Beckett - Hugh Kenner
Beckett - A. Alvarez
Waiting For Godot - York Notes
Encyclopaedia Brittanica references: Microsoft @ Encarta 96 Encyclopaedia
Waiting for Godot is a play by Samuel Beckett. The play depicts the meaninglessness of life--with its repetitive plot, where nothing much happens. Here are a few quotes from Waiting for Godot.
"Let's go. Yes, let's go. (They do not move)."
"Nothing to be done."
"The tears of the world are a constant quantity. For each one who begins to weep somewhere else another stops. The same is true of the laugh. Let us not then speak ill of our generation, it is not any unhappier than its predecessors. Let us not speak well of it either. Let us not speak of it at all. It is true the population has increased."
"Astride of a grave and a difficult birth. Down in the hole, lingeringly, the gravedigger puts on the forceps."
"I don't seem to be able... (long hesitation) to depart."
"Such is life."
"Our Saviour. Two thieves. One is supposed to have been saved and the other (he searches for the contrary of saved) damned."
"Saved from what?"
"We are all born mad. Some remain so."
"Let us not waste our time in idle discourse! (Pause. Vehemently.) Let us do something, while we have the chance! It is not every day that we are needed. But at this place, at this moment of time, all mankind is us, whether we like it or not. Let us make the most of it, before it is too late!"
"But that is not the question. Why are we here, that is the question. And we are blessed in this, that we happen to know the answer. Yes, in this immense confusion one thing alone is clear. We are waiting for Godot to come."
"To-morrow, when I wake, or think I do, what shall I say of to-day?"
"Astride of a grave and a difficult birth. Down in the hole, lingeringly, the grave-digger puts on the forceps. We have time to grow old. The air is full of our cries. (He listens.) But habit is a great deadener."
"We wait. We are bored. (He throws up his hand.) No, don't protest, we are bored to death, there's no denying it. Good. A diversion comes along and what do we do? We let it go to waste... In an instant all will vanish and we'll be alone once more, in the midst of nothingness!"
Real meaning of education
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