Waiting for Godot
Upon the Absurd Drama and Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot
The absurd theatre refers to a specific kind of plays that were famous for the first time in the year 1950 and 1960s. The Absurd theatre is based on the advanced works of the 1920 and 1930s. The absurd elements firstly appeared in the wild comedies, the old comedy and wild humour, and shortly after the need of Ancient dramas. Medieval morality plays can be seen as the man of the theatre of absurd, which are the type characters dealing with allegoric and sometimes existential matters. The most popular play of the time is mostly Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot”. The characters of the play are strange characters who have difficulty in communication the easiest concepts when they watch their time while waiting for Godot to return. The language they use is often funny, and after following the cyclic events, the play ends when it has just begun, without a true change. Actually, sometimes it is called in the play that no events happen. Their faults show that this is an error and that often turns them shy because of their faults.
Beckett’s play is one of the oldest play and so there was a lot of confusion among old critics. “Waiting for Godot” cannot be resulted or decided because the play is essentially circular and repetitive in nature. The dramatic chapters section in these observe that the structure of each movement is exactly the same. In contrast, a traditional play has an introduction to characters and narration; then there is an expression of the problem according to the place, time and the characters of the play. Moreover, in a traditional play, the characters develop and gradually come to see the world view of the dramatist; the play then rises to a climax and there is a result. This type of development is called linear development. In the absurd theatre plays, the structure is usually the opposite. Instead, we have a cyclic structure, and most aspects of this drama support this cyclical structure somehow. The setting is the same, and in both cases the time is the same. Each movement begins until the morning, just as the vagrants wake up and move close to the rising moon every two months. The action takes place in exactly the same landscape; a lonely, isolated road with a single tree. We never said where this road was; all we know is that the action of the play appeared on this lonely road. This movement, known as the absurd theatre, was not a thoughtful movement, and it never made a clear philosophical doctrine, an organized initiative and a meeting in which it had never been transformed. However, it is more important than repeating the setting and time, but repeating actions. In addition to the basic structure of previously mentioned actions, to repeat. At the beginning of each action, for example, several identical concerns should be noted. These include the emphasis on Estragon’s boots. Also, Vladimir uses almost the same words when he first realized Estragon. At the beginning of both acts, Vladimir and Estragon reiterate that they were there to wait for Godot. At the end of both actions, Vladimir and Estragon discussed the possibility of hanging themselves and decided to bring a good rope with them the next day so that they could actually hang themselves.
With Pozzo and Lucky coming into action, we realized that although their physical appearance had changed theoretically, they looked the same from the outside; they are still bound together on an endless journey to an unknown place to meet a nameless person. Likewise, Boy Messenger, although theoretically different, gives the same message: Mr. Godot will not come today, but he will definitely come tomorrow. Vladimir’s difficulties and suffering are in contrast to the suffering Estragon suffers in his every action. In addition, eating, which includes carrots, radishes and turnips, becomes a central image in every action, and the punks are dealing with hats, multiple insults, and compromising cuddles, these and many other small things are repeated over and over again. Finally, and most importantly, there are bigger concepts: first, the punishment of the punks; secondly, efforts to spend time in vain efforts; the third is the attempts to disintegrate and, ultimately, the fact that they do not expect Godot to constantly wait for the two to make it a circular structure that is openly replicating the two, and the fact that these repetitions are so obvious in the play that Beckett’s rupture from the play reveals the uniqueness of traditional play and its circular structure. Beckett’s difficulty in maintaining a long-term dialogue is overcome by allowing his characters to forget everything. He can’t remember anything that was said just before the Estragon line. Vladimir, despite having a better memory, disturbs what he remembers. And because Vladimir can’t trust Estragon to remind him of things, he’s in a state of forgetfulness. Another reason for their coexistence is their existentialism. Estragon needs Vladimir to tell him his history because he can’t remember anything. He remembers him and sets up Estragon’s identity. Estragon reminds us of everything they do together with Vladimir. So both men serve to remind the other man of his presence. This is necessary because no one in the play can remember them. Then it happens with the boy who claims to have never seen the same thing before. The lack of assurance of the existence of these assets makes it necessary for them to remember each other. Estragon and Vladimir speak not only to pass the time, but also to avoid voices from silence. Beckett’s heroes in other works are also constantly attacked by the sounds of silence, so the continuation of a theme frequently used by the author. One of the questions that needs to be answered is why the vagrants first suffered. This can only be answered by the original sin concept. To be born is to be a sinner, and therefore man is doomed to suffer. The only way to escape pain is to repent or die. Thus Vladimir remembers the thieves who were crucified with Christ in the first movement. They cannot repent and wait for Godot to come and save them. They think of suicide as another way of escaping despair. Estragon wants them to hang them on the tree, but both he and Vladimir think it would be too risky. This apathy, the result of their age, causes Estragon to remember a time when he was almost able to kill himself. Beckett said the name of Godot came from the French word ‘Godillot’, which means a military boot. Beckett fought in the war and it would be usual for him to spend a long time waiting for the messages to come. The concept of passage of time leads to a general irony. Every minute waiting brings death closer to the characters and makes the arrival of Godot less likely. The passage of time is evidenced by the tree growing leaves, probably showing the change of seasons. As Pozzo goes blind and Lucky dumb, Pozzo and Lucky also turn into time. Religious interpretations save Vladimir and Estragon as humanity and await the liberating return. An extension of this makes Pozzo loyal to the Pope and Lucky. Loyal is then seen as a code of God shortened by human intolerance. The twisted tree can alternatively represent either the death tree, the tree of life, the Judah tree or the tree of knowledge. Political comments abound. Some critics say that the relationship between Pozzo and Lucky is capitalist. This Marxist interpretation can be understood in the second case, given that Pozzo was blind to what was going on around them and that he was silent to protest against the treatment of Lance. The play was also understood as an allegory for French-German relations. An interesting comment argues that Lucky got his name because he was lucky in the context of the play. Because most of the play is spent to find things to do to pass the time, Lucky is lucky because the actions are definitely determined by Pozzo. Pozzo, on the other hand, is unlucky because he doesn’t just spend his time, but he has to find the things Lucky has to do (Davies and Day, Works … 20).
The play was generally regarded as an existentialist when he lived. The fact that none of the characters have an open mental history means that they are constantly fighting to prove their existence. Thus, the child who is constantly failing to remember any of the two heroes doubts the existence of their existence. So Vladimir wants to know that the child will remember them the next day. “Waiting for Godot” is part of the absurd theatre. This means it must be illogical. Absurd theatre eliminates the concepts of drama, chronological plot, logical language, themes and recognizable settings. There is also a division between the mind and the working body. Thus Vladimir represents the intelligence and the Estragon body, which cannot exist without both. This is demonstrated in the progress of dialogue and action in each of the two actions in Godot. The first thing a viewer can notice for “Waiting for Godot” is that they are immediately tuned for a comedy. The first two characters appearing on the stage are Vladimir and Estragon, wearing bowler hats and boots. These characters lend themselves to the same body types as Abbot and Costello. Vladimir is usually long and thin, and the opposite of Estragon. Each character is involved in a comedy action from the beginning of the plays. Estragon is fighting a boat that is firmly seated because he cannot lift his foot.
Vladimir is bowling because of the bladder problem. After this hit, the characters move to a comedy routine. One day in the life of two unpleasant comrades on a single tree-lined country road. Beckett achieves two things using this comedy style. This routines have a beginning and an end. According to Godot, the routine begins at the beginning of the play and finishes with a break. When the event is over, it cannot continue and the routine should be done again. This creates the second movement. The second action, although not a complete replication, is basically the first repeated action. For the audience is routinely applied again. The same chain of events: Estragon sleeps in a ditch, meets Vladimir in the tree, is visited by Pozzo and Lucky, and a child tells them that Godot will not come but they will be there the next day. This way the repetition determines the structure of the play. There is no climax in the play because the only thing that creates the conspiracy is the arrival of Godot. However, after the first performance, the audience decided that Godot would never appear. The second action doesn’t last very long before people realize that the only thing they do is to spend time. By making the second act another show of the same routine, Beckett makes us feel our own waiting and daily routine. Every day for us, but the same thing. It will certainly change the little things, but in general it seems to be living the same day many times. Another effect of repetition on Godot’s structure is the amount of characters in the play. As mentioned earlier, the play is set up like a Vaudeville routine. To maintain the integrity of the routine, the play must be based on these two characters. This leaves no room for extra characters to avoid movement. To allow the routine to be repeated, the player must only contain the required characters. The idea that two characters simply spend time is evident in the dialogue. The above-mentioned nothing to repeat is an example of repetition in the dialogue. On the first half pages of the play, the phrase is repeated four times. This means that the viewer will take the sentence. (Stout, Waiting … 12). It allows viewers to realize that all of these characters have Godot’s hope. All you can do is wait and wait until Godot gets here. The first information we learned about the characters was how he was beaten and slept in a pit. We get the feeling that this is always the case. It’s nothing new to characters. They are used to this routine. The flow of the play is based on the feeling that characters know where each day goes. They’re used to this routine. The flow of the play is based on the feeling that characters know where each day goes (Matt and Saw, Timeless … 44). The repeated silence outlines the incompetence of the rhythm. Repetition then creates the tone of the rhythm. Most of the play’s beats are a kind of repetition. The habit that controls our lives is the habit of feeding the characters in Godot. The same habit that makes Godot’s structure repetitive in itself. In the first act, events in the play may seem reasonable for viewers. It’s just a way for these two people to pass the hours of their day. The tragic humour of their situation emerges by making the second act the same routine. Estragon and Vladimir are stuck in this lifestyle. He is obliged to do more every day, because he cannot find another way to deal with their lives in order to try to get through time. All the ideas of the play and all the questions raised are highlighted by re-use. Therefore, the structure of the play dominates this single feature of the play.
At this point in the play, it was repeated many times that even Estragon knew about Godot waiting. Whenever he wanted Vladimir to go earlier, they continued the whole dialogue about why they could not go. However, this time, Estragon goes through a miniature version of this dialogue: ‘Let’s go. We can’t. Ah!’ It seems that the repetition of this dialogue finally affected Estragon’s desperate decision on the mind. (New and Bell, Works … 18). This implies that this dialogue has occurred many times before, and that the play demonstrates that Vladimir and Estragon are representative of the larger circle that defines their lives. Samuel Beckett’s most famous play “Waiting for Godot” originally written in French, but the author himself translated into English. The play became popular and translated into many foreign languages. The reason for its popularity is the fact that the play does not have a plot, but we can find many meaningful lessons in it.
- New, Melvyn, with Richard A. Davies, and W. G. Day. Waiting for Godot, Florida Edition of the Works of Samuel Beckett. Gainesville: University Presses of Florida, 1984.
- Samuel Beckett. Waiting for Godot. Edited by Gardner D. Stout Jr. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967.
- Samuel, Beckett. Waiting for Godot. Timeless Works of Samuel Beckett. Edited by Sarah Matt and Cloe Saw. New York: University Presses of New York, 1978.
- Samuel, Beckett. Waiting for Godot. Florida Edition of the Works of Samuel Beckett. Edited by Melvyn New and Joan Bell. Gainesville : University Presses of Florida, 1978.
Waiting for Godot: the Elements that Make It a Tragedy
Much like realism found in art, tragedy is a style of drama that aims to bring the viewer through a series of realistic, often melancholy, events and emotions. This essay will analyze some of the elements of tragedy, particularly as defined by Aristotle, and argue whether certain plays should be considered tragedy by these terms. The plays this essay will analyze are Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller and Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett.
A tragedy is a stage play (or screenplay in modern applications) that stirs emotions of sadness, pity, and/or fear in an effort to achieve catharsis of such emotions. It must be acted out rather than simply narrated, or it should not be considered a tragedy. In other words, a play or a movie can be a tragedy, but a book cannot. Often featured in a tragedy is a tragic hero—a protagonist who seems to be good in all ways except for one tragic flaw. This tragic flaw inevitably causes some catastrophic series of events which prove to be the undoing of the hero. A tragedy doesn’t need a tragic hero in order to be considered a tragedy; tragic heroes are simply an effective means of accomplishing the things that tragedies aim to accomplish.
Death of a Salesman is a play written by Arthur Miller in 1949. Cutting in and out of daydreams (sometimes within other daydreams), it follows the career of Willy Loman who is a tragic hero. He is the protagonist of the story, but his flaw is his faith in the American dream. He struggles to succeed as a salesman which had been his dream career, but he is constantly haunted by missed opportunities and the success of others. This play illustrates the current state of the American dream, noting how it has changed from one of freedom to one of materialism. It shows how the excessive materialism in America has the capacity to cause people to be overly competitive and greedy, drawing their attention away from the important things that really make a person successful in life outside of finance. Death of a Salesman certainly meets Aristotle’s criteria for tragedy, because it is a stage play (and was adapted to be a screenplay as well) containing a tragic hero whose actions stir emotions of sadness and pity for almost every character in the play.
Waiting for Godot is a play that was written in French by Samuel Beckett in 1948 then later translated into English by Beckett himself. The entire play contains only one set, six characters (though only five are shown), and two days. It is set simply around a tree where Vladimir and Estragon are waiting for Godot who is a symbol for God. Pozzo and his slave, Lucky, visit each of the two days as does a boy who is a messenger for Godot. Pozzo exchanges words with Vladimir and Estragon, mostly about Lucky. The boy simply comes to let Vladimir and Estragon know that Godot will not be coming each night. The first time they hear this, Vladimir and Estragon decide to stop waiting, yet they both arrive at the same tree the next day to wait again. This play does not seem to meet all of Aristotle’s standards for tragedy as there are no real incidents to arouse much pity or fear. This play simply makes a point—a depressing one, at that—but that alone does not make it a tragedy.
Waiting for Godot: Samuel Beckett’s Most Notable Play
Samuel Beckett’s most notable play, Waiting for Godot, is as critic Vivian Mercier once commented a play in which “nothing happens, twice” (Pattie, 74). Godot takes place on the side of a nameless road beneath a tree, where vagabonds Estragon and Vladimir sit endlessly waiting for a visit from an elusive and mysterious man named Godot. Beckett’s use of terse empty language, imagery and repetition throughout the play serve not only to parallel the monotony and meaninglessness of life, but to parallel the anxiety we all feel in waiting to find an unidentifiable, unknown meaning in life—one that may not even exist.
On a large scale, Beckett firstly conveys the monotony of existence with the recurrence of a single phrase seen initially at the very start of Act One, then repeated periodically throughout the play. In the opening scene as Estragon struggles painfully to remove his boot, he ultimately gives up, announcing: “Nothing to be done.” As this motif repeats throughout the play, it’s universal presence begins to expose the idea that all actions are inconsequential; one action holds no more meaning or significance than the other. This idea is similarly conveyed through the repetition of other key exchanges between Vladimir (or “Didi”) and Estragon (“Gogo”) throughout Godot. For example, throughout both acts of the play Estragon and Vladimir seem preoccupied with the concept that because they are unable to decide what they ought to do next, they might as well just hang themselves. Here, Beckett is using absurdism to convey the idea that all decisions in life are equally meaningless. Beckett manipulates tone to create this absurdism—Vladimir and Estragon’s tone is no different throughout the entire play, whether they are discussing suicide or carrots. This creates the absurd allusion that the prospect of killing one’s self is an ordinary action, just as ordinary as any other everyday decision. In other words: Go for a walk or kill yourself, the decision doesn’t matter because all actions and decisions are equally meaningless.
VLADIMIR. Yes, but while waiting.
ESTRAGON. What about hanging ourselves?
VLADIMIR. Hmm. It’d give us an erection.
ESTRAGON. (highly excited). An erection!
VLADIMIR. With all that follows. Where it falls mandrakes grow. That’s why they shriek when you pull them up. Did you not know that?
ESTRAGON. Let’s hang ourselves immediately!
Beckett also uses recurring imagery throughout the play in order to subtly emphasize these themes of emptiness and absence of meaning. For instance both Estragon and Vladimir repeatedly comment on the emptiness of their boots and hats. Found primarily in the stage directions, Beckett repeatedly instructs Vladimir and Estragon to talk of their hats, look in side them, note their emptiness. Similarly, there’s a notable absence of movement among the characters of Godot. Vladimir and Estragon are primarily standing or sitting still throughout the entire play. In this sense, too, Beckett emphasizes the concept of emptiness in Godot.
As Estragon and Vladimir argue over the supposed date of Godot’s arrival, Beckett’s uses repetition to subtly manipulate the passage of time. As Estragon and Vladimir repeat the names of the days of the week, they consequently begin to lose their value and become meaningless. Essentially: It doesn’t matter what day of the week it is, because every day is the same. In fact, just the notion that Vladimir and Estragon are apparently existing without any knowledge of what day it is only contributes to the absurdity of the play. Why should they bother to keep track of time if all days of the week hold the same empty value? Beckett’s use of repetition to devalue time can be seen clearly here:
ESTRAGON. That we were to wait.
VLADIMIR. He said Saturday. (Pause.) I think.
ESTRAGON. You think.
VLADIMIR. I must have made a note of it. (He fumbles in his pockets, bursting with miscellaneous rubbish.)
ESTRAGON. (very insidious). But what Saturday? And is it Saturday? Is it not rather Sunday? (Pause.) Or Monday? (Pause.) Or Friday?
VLADIMIR. (looking wildly about him, as though the date was inscribed in the landscape). It’s not possible!
ESTRAGON. Or Thursday?
However what is more crucial about Godot than simply an established lack of meaning behind all action is the idea that we exist only to wait for this nonexistent meaning to arrive. Critic Harold Clurman writes that “We pass the time….waiting for a meaning that will save us—save us from pain, ugliness, emptiness of existence.” (Culotta, 93) Beckett’s language has precisely this effect: it forces the reader or audience to come face to face with the discomfort of the unknown. Here, Vladimir and Estragon nervously repeat themselves and mimic each other as they wait:
ESTRAGON. What am I to say?
VLADIMIR. Say, I am happy.
ESTRAGON. I am happy.
VLADIMIR. So am I.
ESTRAGON. So am I.
VLADIMIR. We are happy.
ESTRAGON. We are happy. (Silence.) What do we do now, now that we are happy? (66)
Another notable aspect of Vladimir and Estragon’s wait for Godot is that we are never informed of why they must wait for him.Vladimir and Estragon don’t talk about anything, they babble endlessly of no real subject matter seemingly just to pass the time while waiting. Beckett’s use of stark and essentially empty dialogue between Vladimir of Estragon brews a growing sense of uneasiness in the reader, as we are suspended in perpetual waiting for something unknown— just as they are. The largely vague context around which the play is built contributes to an almost unsettling sense of emptiness and lostness. We don’t know who Godot is or why is visiting, we know nothing of who Vladimir and Estragon are, we don’t know even where they are or how they got there. Beckett incorporates this vague uncertainty into the dialogue between Estragon and Vladimir. Waiting for Godot is composed of almost entirely two to five word exchanges between Vladimir and Estragon, seen here at the beginning of Act 1:
ESTRAGON. (violently). I’m hungry!
VLADIMIR. Do you want a carrot?
ESTRAGON. Is that all there is?
VLADIMIR. I might have some turnips.
ESTRAGON. Give me a carrot. (Vladimir rummages in his pockets, takes out a turnip and gives it to Estragon who takes a bite out of it. Angrily.) It’s a turnip
Beckett’s consistent use of brief, rapid language has an almost maddening effect. More and more time passes yet nothing is really being said, no progress made. Beckett’s manipulation of language creates an eerily stagnant sense of the passage of time referred to by critic Lawrence Graver as “universal present time”. Beckett seems to transition from day to night with little warning, and the passage of hours or minutes is largely unclear. Graver writes “It would be advantageous to begin talking about the play not as a structure of ideas, but as the dramatization of what it is like and what it means to exist in a state of radical unknowingness.” (Graver, 23)
Just as Beckett distorts the logic of time to intensify this wait for the unknown, he also uses language to disrupt the logic of grammar for the same purpose. For example in Act 1 as Vladimir, Estragon and Pozzo infinitely bicker and engage each other, Lucky remains entirely unresponsive. When Lucky does finally speak, what ensues is nonsense. Lucky spews pages of illogical, uninterpretable words and phrases. Beckett uses imaginary words like “quaquaqua” and Lucky seems to wander in and out of various mismatched tones. Here Beckett disrupts the logic of language, devaluing it just as he previously devalued time. Beckett forces us to see a meaninglessness in language through stripping it of it’s coherence. Beckett’s use of language again guides the reader to feel that uneasiness associated with the a life spent waiting for meaning.
LUCKY. Given the existence as uttered forth in the public works of Puncher and Wattmann of a personal God quaquaquaqua with white beard quaquaquaqua outside time without extension who from the heights of divine apathia divine athambia divine aphasia loves us dearly with some exceptions for reasons unknown but time will tell and suffers like the divine Miranda with those who for reasons unknown but time will tell are plunged in torment plunged in fire whose fire flames… (45)
While critics agree that Beckett’s Waiting For Godot certainly focuses on the agony of a lifelong wait for meaning, what seemingly goes unnoticed is the inherently hopeful implications of a play in which two men suffer endlessly to find meaning, yet also endlessly choose to endure. Vladimir and Estragon do contemplate suicide repeatedly but continually decide to keep living, to endure hour after hour. In the final lines of the play, Vladimir and Estragon again discuss suicide and in fact claim it is their final decision. However it is Beckett’s final stage direction that proves otherwise:
VLADIMIR. Well? Shall we go?
ESTRAGON. Yes, let’s go.
They do not move. (109)
Here, in a single line, Beckett brilliantly exposes the endless cycle of man—while Vladimir and Estragon will forever continue to discuss suicide, as human beings they will always choose to endure, to go on. Rather than simply ending the misery, they do not move.
A Persona of Godot in Waiting for Godot Play
The entirety of Samuel Beckett’s 1952 play Waiting for Godot is spent listening to two men bicker about everything and nothing all at once as they wait by a bare willow for a man that never arrives. In this allegory about the cyclical nature of our habits, Godot is slowly revealed through the interactions of the handful of characters and yet is still left with a vague character, just as the rest of the characters. Samuel Beckett is known to have claimed that Godot is not in fact a representation of God and that the name is just a coincidence, but of course with the heavy religious undertones present throughout the script, the correlations are pretty easy to find so writing a paper about how Godot is not divine would prove substantially more difficult. In order to confirm the divinity of Godot, it is essential to be able to compile a list of things that are revealed of him through the text. Much of these revelations are through the messenger boy(s) that act as the in-between for Vladimir and Godot. From the first messenger, the audience learns that Godot has at least two brothers that work for him; one to tend the sheep and one to tend the goats. We also learn that, while he takes care of both boys by giving them food and a loft to sleep in, he beats the shepherd yet appears to show favoritism to the goat-herd as he has never laid a hand on the boy. If taken through a biblical standpoint, the shepherd could refer to the Christ as he is beaten and abused just as Christ was beaten and crucified. Christ cares for his “sheep,” otherwise known as the Christian flock. The goat-herd could refer to the devil or adversary which makes it all the more interesting that both boys are shown to co-habitat the loft As shown in Job, the devil is not punished for his deeds as he takes no responsibility for his goats. Goats are used in the bible to symbolize all others who are not “sheep” or people of Christ as shown in Matthew 25:31-46 where the sheep and goats are separated by the acts and characters they expressed throughout their lifetimes. If the boys are in fact representations of the supernatural, it would greatly explain the timidness they express in approaching Gogo and Didi and also account for Gogo’s outburst at the first messenger in which he exclaims, “That’s all a pack of lies! Tell us the truth!” after the boy affirms to Didi that he is both native to those parts and belongs there. He is not a native to France or to the plane of existence that natural people reside in at all, therefore, he is timid because he is not meant to interact with the likes of us.
Going off of the first messenger being something likened to the devil, this sets up a deeper role for the two main protagonists who are waiting for Godot or “God.” In an interaction with Pozzo, Estragon introduces himself as “Adam.” This is not his name but can instead be interpreted as the role he takes between Didi and himself. Gogo is much more earthly-based, concerning himself mostly with sleep, food, and how he fills his time rather than with how much time has actually passed. Didi feels time. He understands that time is passing even if no one is around to confirm that for him. He is shown from the beginning with his analysis of the story of the two thieves to have his doubts about who God is and the validity of the religious accounts, noting that only one of the four gospel writers even mentions that one of the thieves was saved. His doubtful nature and his acute awareness of the changes within the tree are a convincing parallel to his role as the Eve of the pair. The tree is the tree of knowledge that Eve eats the fruit off of. The change in Didi between Act I and Act II is that he becomes more aware, more knowledgeable, of the events around him which is symbolized in the four or five leaves that have sprouted on the tree. So if Gogo is Adam, and Didi is Eve, then who else would they be waiting for than God?
The second messenger, while having a much shorter stage appearance than the first, provides much more conclusive evidence into who and what Godot actually is. We learn from this boy, presumably the shepherd, that Godot does nothing and that he has a white beard. Vladimir seems distressed at the reveal that Godot has a white beard as there is silence proceeded by him crying out, “Christ have mercy on us!” near the end of Act II. So what is so significant about Godot’s white beard? The answer can be found in the seemingly nonsensical ramblings of Lucky in his monologue. Picking through the nonsense “quaquaquas” and repetitive phrases, a coherent thought is expressed. “Given the existence as uttered forth in the public works of Puncher and Wattmann of a personal God … with a white beard … outside time without extension who from the heights of divine … loves us dearly with some exceptions for reasons unknown…” While there is more that Lucky has to say, these few phrases at the beginning begin to paint a picture of who Godot really is. Godot is God, outside of time. He is said to love us dearly, yet the boy says that Godot does nothing. Does this make him a clockwork god, and if so, is this the reason that Didi is so taken back?
Assuming that the rest of the argument is found sound, what kind of God is Godot? At the very least, it can be said that he is not a god that keeps with his appointments. He is also not a god that interacts directly with his subjects. What is known about Godot is not how he is but rather how he is received. The duty to remain in waiting seems to be a self-imposed punishment on the pair. Gogo has not met Godot and yet is worried of being tied to Godot; stuck. Vladimir sees Godot as some kind of savior who will fix everything upon his arrival. He has sent him a prayer of some sort in hopes that he will offer something and save them from, at the end, suicide. At the end, when Gogo asks what would happen if they were to drop Godot altogether and quit their waiting, Didi answers that Godot would punish them. Pozzo describes Godot as someone who has Didi’s, “future in his hands… at least your immediate future.” For someone that Didi claims to not yet be tied down to, Godot, a man not seen, has an enormous amount of control over his subjects.
An interesting theory presented is that Godot does in fact appear in the novel but arrives disguised in the form of the arrogant and self-centered Pozzo. Pozzo does not give the men a good first impression as he is first introduced whipping Lucky who collapses with all the heavy bags. This sight appalls Vladimir whose first reaction is to offer aid, although he is stopped by Estragon. For the next while, Didi expresses his disdain for the treatment of Lucky, exploding, “ It’s a scandal! To treat a man… like that… no… a human being…no… it’s a scandal!” It can be said that Lucky is a representation of how Vladimir feels inwardly. He asks constantly as to why Lucky does not put his bags down, a question the audience should be asking about Vladimir. Why does he not just put down his duties when he is clearly unhappy though he lies and convinces Gogo to lie they both are? The second question Vladimir asks repeatedly to Pozzo is, “You want to get rid of him?” After Pozzo confirms that he does want to and relays of all the time spent with Lucky, Didi says, “ And now you turn him away? Such an old and faithful servant! After having sucked all the good out of him you chuck him away like a … like a banana skin. Really…” With Didi empathizing with Lucky, it is possible that by Pozzo wanting to abandon the loyal Lucky Didi feels that he himself has been forsaken by God in his constant waiting.
If Godot is God/is Pozzo, then he is illustrated to be a selfish god that only feeds his people the bones when he is done; that can make anyone believe him to be merciful by placing the blame of his indifference onto those he works as pack mules; that uses his servants for his own entertainment; that values no one life more than any other but can at least relay one heck of a sob story. Didi considers leaving at some point but Pozzo convinces him to wait for at least nightfall before leaving. After he leaves, the boy messenger finally approaches, stating he was afraid to approach. It could be that he is afraid because, as previously stated, he does not belong in the plane of the living, but it could also be said that perhaps he was afraid of Pozzo.
Pozzo as God is an interesting concept, especially concerning Act II where his is blind and in need. As God, this would be one method in separating the sheep from the goats. Going back to Matthew 25: 41-43:
“Then he shall say also to them on the left hand, “Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels. For when I was an hungered, and you gave me not meat; I was thirsty, and you gave me no drink; I was a stranger, and you took me not in; naked, and you clothed me not; and in prison, and you visited me not.”
Didi and Gogo take a long time in considering whether or not to help Pozzo yet do so eventually. When it comes to helping the least of these, who better to fill the role than the pitiful, awful, and now blind Pozzo?
Whoever Godot is, whether he be the insufferable Pozzo in disguise or as Lucky describes him, “a personal god with white beard outside time,” the religious symbolism abounds which makes describing Godot as anything less than a being outside of time, a dimension highly irrelevant in the play, a feat for a better author than myself.
Review of Samuel Beckett’s Play, Waiting for Godot
The Theater of the Absurd
The play, Waiting for Godot, by Samuel Beckett, tells the story of two tramps (Estragon and Vladimir) who wait for a mysterious man named Godot. Waiting for Godot is an unconventional story, not only are its event are random and sporadic, but the two acts of the play are also almost completely identical to one another. Beckett’s work portrays the philosophical ideal of absurdism, or the belief that human beings exist in a purposeless universe. It is through the work’s language, ambiguity of time throughout the play, and overall anticlimactic wait for Godot that Beckett introduces the theater of the absurd and the idea that human struggles are futile in the senseless and chaotic world which they live in.
The theater of the absurd is most obviously seen in Beckett’s language, particularly in the work’s dialogue. Language, a way to show communication, is traditionally provokes understanding and comprehension in the audience. In Waiting for Godot, however, language is meant to confuse readers and viewers. This is because absurdists believe that language is a flawed as communication. Beckett uses the cyclical nature of the novel and the character’s conversations to shows this belief. This is exemplified through the two protagonists’ conversations. Often, Vladimir and Estragon will participate in broad, open conversations that have little meaning and to which no conclusion is reached. While they talk for the majority of the work, their conversations are shallow. Though they have the potential to be meaningful, the characters, never reach a level of deep understanding. This is best exemplified in Act One, when Vladimir and Estragon discuss the story of Jesus saving a thief who was crucified next to him. They discuss the absurdity that people believe this version of the story, despite “…all four [disciples] were there. And only one speaks of a thief being saved.” (Act 1, Beckett). They then conclude that “…people are bloody ignorant apes…” (Act, 1 Beckett). Though this is a deep and philosophical thought, Vladimir and Estragon barely scratch the surface of the topic quickly settle on a conclusion that people are ignorant. Their lack of understanding coincides with absurdist beliefs that everything is meaningless. Even though the two discuss the crucifixion and come to a rather wise conclusion, ultimately it does not matter because everything is meaningless, not matter what level of understanding one has of the topic. Beckett also breaks conventional language rules to convey absurdism. In the play, pauses, or the lack thereof, are just as important as the words spoken by characters. Many of the characters ramble without any pauses of punctuation to end sentences. This is most obvious in Lucky’s rant in Act One, when he proclaims, “…it is established beyond all doubt that in view of the labors of Fartov and Belcher left unfinished for reasons unknown of Testew and Cunard left unfinished…” (Act 1, Beckett). This is a stream of consciousness that lasts almost two pages without any form of sentence ending punctuation. Ramblings such as this further the idea in absurdist works that language is not used as a tool to provoke understanding, but rather prohibits comprehension.
The ambiguity of time in Waiting for Godot is a contradiction to traditional theater and represents the meaningless of structure in life. In traditional playwriting, events are shown throughout a definite period of time and the amount of time passed from beginning to end of the play is very clear. This is not the case in Waiting for Godot. In this work, the exact date which the events of the novel take place are never known and the only evidence that time is passing is though the characters’ eccentric, “filler” actions that have little impact on the play’s plot. Time is cyclical; in fact, the two acts are almost identical to each other. This ambiguity induces feelings of monotony and dullness and invokes a feeling of hopelessness. The meaninglessness of time correlates to Beckett’s belief that one’s efforts in life are futile. This is best exemplified in act two when almost every character wakes to find they do not remember any events from the previous act, as Estragon states, “…It’s possible. I didn’t [remember] anything. ..” (Act 2, Beckett). This shows how unimportant time is to the characters in the play. They forget what they do in the past and this recursive nature, emphasized by the duplicity in the two acts, shows how meaningless their efforts and lives are. The lack of remembrance signifies that memory is flawed and that previous actions do not affect the future and are hence, worthless.
The theater of the absurd is best recognized in the anticlimatic events throughout Waiting for Godot. There is no climax and Godot never arrives. Even in terms of movement, Vladimir and Estragon are virtually static and refuse to move from their spot under the tree as they wait for Godot. The characters fill their time with petty, meaningless actions, which are repeated in both acts. However, Beckett gives a little hope to his audience saying that one can change this hopelessness by breaking the cyclical routine of time. Like Vladimir and Estragon waiting for Godot, humans continuously wait for things that never come (this could be religion or a purpose in life), while living mechanical, dull lives. Vladimir and Estragon often suggest they leave saying, “Well, shall we go?/Yes, let’s go.” (Act 1 and 2, Beckett), but “They do not move.” (Act 1 and 2, Beckett). After suggesting and agreeing to move, none of the characters actually move. This lack of action occurs at the end of both acts, emphasizing its meaning. This is symbolism directed toward the majority of humans. It points out the idiocracy of the majority of people who announce their plans of change, but don’t actually go through with their plans. Beckett is trying to convey that there is no purpose in life if one continues to wait; waiting is what makes life worthless.
In his play, Beckett defies the laws of traditional theater and introduces the theater of the absurd. The theater of the absurd emphasizes the senselessness of the world and the absurdity and meaningless of human existence. In Waiting for Godot, this meaninglessness shown in the play by language, ambiguity of time, and the anticlimactic lack of action.
After the Bomb – a study into the mindset of the Cold War Era
After the chaos of the atomic bomb and the carnage of World War II, precedence was placed on government constructs to supply order to a tense climate, particularly in finding direction in a new ‘East versus West’ conflict. In John Le Carre’s mid-twentieth century novel, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, the propagated glamorisation of the political-spy role acts as a foil to the bureaucratic, utilitarian characterisation of the Circus setting, wherein it’s façade projects an air of legitimacy to an ideologically confused populace. Thus political agency becomes an answer to the era’s stasis, as dialogue illuminates Leamas’ profession as an escape from the ennui and anxiety of a nuke-threatened existence. Similarly in Francis Coppola’s 1970s film Apocalypse Now, paranoia in the threat of Communism and the Bamboo Curtain incites the American soldiers’ sense of duty, as the military construct symbolically relies on violence to create a sense of power and security in an apathetic modern society. Contrastingly, whilst attempts to find purpose meet disillusioned success, the ephemeral questioning of America’s Democracy, particularly in the hypocritical Vietnam crusade, dissuades the legitimacy of the central government’s political direction and responsibility, as symbolised by Willard’s loss of innocence and journey towards immorality. Samuel Becket’s mid-Twentieth Century play Waiting for Godot supports this conception as well, as the titular religious question subverts the presence of salvation, from which the political paradigm loses sway in the face of spiritual and ideological emptiness. Thus, government polity cannot overturn a sense of powerlessness and anxiety in the post-bomb era.
As the nuclear-weapons race places universal desolation within threatening proximity, finding purpose and meaning is found in political agency. In Le Carre’s The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, federal propaganda plays into this social vulnerability, wherein the glamorisation of the political-spy role is explored through the archetypically masculine depiction of Leamas as both emotionally and physically resilient, as illustrated in “remorseless” and “hard”. In an anxious climate still reeling from the morally questionable actions of WWII, a return to this traditional, conservative structure allows for the confronting truths of the modern era to be masked by “the same banality”, from which a sense of stability and order returns. Thus, delusion presents itself as a basis for which order can be found. This is expressed through the characterisation of the Circus setting as a foil to the glamorised federal construct, wherein the bureaucratic, utilitarian and often dehumanising nature of the institution, particularly in the portrayal of Leamas as an “ends and means” in the court scene, contrasts to the public’s sense of Western individualism as a moral basis. This represents the sense of loss experienced by the Cold-War populace, for which the repetition of “not knowing” underlines the social paradigms desperate search for legitimacy, order and meaning in an ideologically-confused setting, and its subsequent misplacement in the government polity. This is further expressed through dialogue, wherein Leamas’ profession acts as an escape from the ennui of a nuclear-threatened society as, ironically, the position gives him a sense of purpose and power despite the threat’s continued prevalence. This is illustrated in “…playing cowboys and Indians to brighten [his] rotten little life”.
Paranoia creates the same effect in Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, wherein the social paradigm’s search for power in a vulnerable landscape incites America’s political involvement in Vietnam, specifically to curb the Bamboo Curtain and the threat of Communism in Asia. In order to supplant this ideological threat, the central government promotes the effort as an American responsibility; a military “mission”. This is illustrated through the overt enthusiasm of the soldiers, as in the helicopter scene, the link to Norse mythology’s death gods in the score’s title, Ride of the Valkyries, implies their “god-like” responsibility, as in this brutality they assume power and superiority over fear; thus the “love… of napalm” and “victory”, as inaction would mean the “nightmare” of “crawling, slithering, along the edge of a straight razor”. Subsequently, as like in the characterisation of the Circus, dehumanisation in the political “termination” of opposition expresses a level of universal distrust and anxiety, in which paranoia allows for disassociation to thrive. Symbolically, this presents nihilism and apathy as a new vital piece of modern order, as despite the subsequent anti-war protest, it is solder’s like Kurtz who embrace the “horror” as a bi-product of existential crises within modern warfare; brutality is needed to find purpose within vulnerability. This is further embodied by his desolate characterisation, “just wanting to go out like a soldier, standing up”, and “trying” to mean something in a disparate, Post-bomb world; thus promoting political agency as an escape from social anxiety.
Nevertheless, government systems fail in securing a sense of power within futility. Despite a deluded placement of legitimacy within government agency, innate suspicion and distrust breaks the bond between the politic body and the head, particularly as America’s involvement in Vietnam contrasts to its basis in Democracy. In Apocalypse Now, this idea is illuminated by Willard’s metaphoric journey down the river, which parallels Leamas’ road with the children in the car, and Waiting for Godot’s road-side, the mission symbolises life and direction. In particular, it represents the direction of the political agency; a journey into immorality and disassociation. This becomes evident in the merging of Kurtz’ and Willard’s voice in the reading of the letters, as their retreat into the “jungle” becomes a strong motif for their shared sense of innocence lost; their immorality leaves them dehumanised and creatures of political apathy. This is further apparent in the characterisation of the soldiers as wilfully brutal and disassociated from their actions, as they symbolically become an embodiment of the political perspective. This is expressed in “…had a hill bombed, for 12 hours… victory”. Thus a lack of constitute is signified, as the American political body’s ignorance of its own moral basis of freedom of expression, specifically in order to combat its own personal war against Communism, implies hypocrisy. Hence, this illegitimacy incurs the social paradigms protest and disillusionment. This inner conflict inspires futility; so long as collective bodies differ in a lost setting, order and purpose inevitably fail and anxiety persists in confusion.
This theme is further expressed in Becket’s Waiting for Godot, wherein political struggles are illuminated as inconsequential in the face of religious questioning. Its footing in Absurdism implies the era’s lack of meaning, and subsequently its political vendettas as absurd, as in the wake of the atomic bomb and the “hope deferred”, its actions are perceived as a response to the “something sick”; reactionary but lacking in meaning besides fear, likewise to America’s Vietnam efforts. As anxiety breeds its likeness, particularly in the motivations of the government polity, the process becomes a paradox. This is broached via the circular structure of the play, as the closing question, “well, shall we go?”, equates to a lack of social mobility and static, from which ideological questioning cannot salvage them. This is further explored by the characterisation of Pozzo as a side act, as whilst the power relationship between the two parties, in parallel to the ‘East versus West’ ideological struggle, offers a distraction from their desperate “wait”, their shared “loss of rights” implicates universal futility. Thus, anxiety stems from “nothingness” and the need to be the “thief… saved”, particularly as the Cold War populace “compares (themselves to Christ)”; their misdeeds are misinterpreted as sacrifice, for otherwise they would have no purpose in a disparate climate. Hence, to exist in the Post-bomb era is to “waste and pine”, as to accept a spiritual and ideological emptiness within the social consciousness is to fester in meaninglessness and cease to exist. Thus, whilst the government structure both succeeds and fails in feeding a sense of vitality to a vulnerable society through political agency, it is the deep-seated nature of the anxiety within the social consciousness that defeats the attempt.
While faith is often placed in government constructs to attain order and purpose within a lost environment, it is the wide-spread permeation of fear that cheapens the legitimacy of the agency. Whilst it succeeds in attributing purpose, both in the glamorisation of the spy-role in Le Carre’s The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, and the sense of power inspired by duty in Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, it is delusion and social fear that founds it. Leamas symbolically escapes the ennui of vulnerability, as his profession allows a disassociation from ever-present powerlessness. Similarly, it is the military constructs own basis in fear and paranoia that allows for a god-like responsibility. Thus any order or purpose attained in government agency is illegitimate, as the soldiers symbolically embody the brutality of the politics, and in Becket’s Waiting for Godot, the Absurdist nature of the play parallels the absurdist nature of the society, particularly as the religious question erodes any baseless meaning within the political struggle. Thus, it is the root of the social anxiety, the atomic bomb itself, that recreates its own futility in paradox, as the social paradigm continues to search for meaning and direction in a lost, conflicted setting.
Beckett’s Presentation of Memory in Waiting for Godot
Throughout Waiting for Godot, Beckett uses memory as a means to anchor the isolated setting in the context of some kind of surrounding world, frequently undermining this ‘anchor’ by presenting the past, and the protagonists’ recollections of it, as being fragmented and unclear, much like Vladimir and Estragon’s existence in the present. The subversion of such a key element of human existence – memory – questions the significance of actions in a world where seemingly endless cycles of indecision render time itself almost entirely meaningless. This lack of meaning and continuity is reflected in the circularity of the play’s two-act structure, perhaps recalling the repetition of a second world war despite the vast human costs of the first – much like the memories’ of the two main characters, the lessons of the past had seemingly had no influence on the present. The play’s nihilistic setting further increases its relevance to post-war Europe. In this way, Beckett presents memory as being almost entirely irrelevant to the present moment, adding exponentially to his depiction of humanity as being lost in repeating cycles of events beyond their own control.
Furthermore, throughout the play, Beckett links the deterioration of memory to the total deconstruction of the values that underpin traditional society, this time subverting the commonly accepted notion of a linear timeline:
‘ESTRAGON What did we do yesterday?
VLADIMIR What did we do yesterday?
Here, the repetition of the question ‘what did we do yesterday?’ underscores the hopeless position of humanity in the face of a chaotic, incomprehensible universe. This point is laboured further by the incoherent ‘yes’ in response, once more highlighting the lack of intelligible answers to questions posed by our surroundings. Furthermore, the deterioration of the two characters’ memories poses significant existential questions to the audience, challenging notions of time and progress that were so crucial to 20th century understanding of the world – as neither character remembers the events of the previous day, there is no way to confirm that it actually happened, let alone derive something useful from it. The inextricable link between physical deterioration and universal meaninglessness once more lays emphasis on the inherently futile situation of humankind, with the repeated stage direction (‘they do not move’) at the end of each act helping to reinforce this sense of circularity and inevitable repetition and, in doing so, leaving human progress devoid of any real currency or value. These ideas undoubtedly have their roots in the second world war, where, even despite the vast human cost of world war one, the world still descended into conflict. Furthermore, the second world war also witnessed the destruction of staple contemporary values, degrading ideas of integrity and moral virtue in the same way that Beckett deconstructs time and human purpose.
Beckett places his depiction of a malfunctioning human memory in a direct parallel to the protagonists’ physical deterioration, suggesting that the circularity of human existence is as inevitable as the process of aging: ‘Estragon: [giving up again] Nothing to be done.’ Here, Beckett’s use of the word ‘again’, particularly in the first line of the play, immediately begins to suggest a wider context to the events depicted in the play. However, at no point does Beckett specify what this context might be, giving Estragon’s struggle with his boot an almost timeless resonance with humanity as a whole. The finality in the phrase ‘giving up’ seems entirely at odds with ‘again’, introducing the idea of humankind being trapped in a perennial struggle, unable to progress even with the most pointless tasks whilst simultaneously being unable to ‘give up’. This ties in heavily with the overall theme of the limitations of a malfunctioning memory, rendering ‘events’ meaningless as they blend together into a cycle of repetition. Furthermore, the vague, general connotations of ‘Nothing to be done’ could easily be applied to a wider setting, highlighting the suitability of Gogo’s hopeless struggle as a metaphor for his life in general. However, the fact that such an apt symbol of human helplessness comes in the form of Estragon’s absurd, comedic behaviour adds another element to the opening line, deconstructing the popular notion of mankind’s superiority and, in doing so, pointing out the base absurdity that often lies at the heart of human thought. This form of physical comedy can be seen frequently in the work of Laurel and Hardy, popular comedians of Beckett’s era. In referencing seemingly trivial aspects of contemporary popular culture, Beckett again places the absurd on the same plane as wider, more ‘serious’ thematic elements and, by extension, reduces human attempts to understand the universe to mere farce. In this way, even from the very first line, Beckett places futility at the heart of his presentation of humanity. In a play comprised largely of inactivity, Beckett’s decision to place the active verb ‘done’ in the opening line serves to further this effect, creating a strong sense of stagnation and futility that remains strong throughout the duration of the play.
However, towards the beginning of the play, Beckett’s only direct reference to a genuine location demonstrates the extent to which memory, however misled, is integral to the construction of the characters’ identities: ‘Hand in hand from the top of the Eiffel Tower, among the first. We were respectable in those days’. Here, the connotations of nostalgia in the phrase ‘in those days’ gives the strong impression of a positive memory, whilst its lack of specificity suggests once again that time has lost a great deal of its meaning. However, ideas of companionship in ‘hand in hand’ depict Vladimir and Estragon’s relationship as being cemented largely by the past as opposed to the present – it is their memory which ties them together as much as anything. In this way, even the vague semblance of memory is shown as being vital to humanity’s ability to give itself the impression of meaning and purpose, with the connotations of social class in ‘respectable’ suggesting that an identity cemented in the past is the only way in which the characters are able to validate their existence in the present. Therefore, it becomes clear that the fact of memory is more important than its specific elements, in that it provides the only vaguely stable foundation from which humanity is able to interpret the world. That said, however, it is not true at all that Beckett presents memory as a genuinely ‘stable foundation’ – his subversion of this stability is crucial to his depiction of human futility in an incomprehensible universe – rather he attempts to demonstrate the inability of humankind to exist without a basic idea of the past.
It is clear, therefore, that through Beckett’s presentation of memory in waiting for Godot, he depicts the inevitability of recurring actions as old generations, and their memories of the past, give way to new ones. This repetition is reflected in the post-war environment of the time, as well as in the comic futility of Beckett’s own setting within the play, giving his presentation of memory a firm grounding in reality. In this way, he simultaneously laughs at and sympathises with the idea that Vladimir and Estragon’s perpetual struggle to make sense of their situation through memory is, ultimately, as futile and incoherent as memory itself.
Imagery in Waiting for Godot and Mother Courage and Her Children
Although Waiting for Godot and Mother Courage and Her Children are quite different in terms of plot structure and setting, there are similarities present in the use of bleak imagery as symbols of religious, social, and political criticism. The symbolism extends beyond the imagery and encompasses the characters themselves. The props, especially in Godot, have an abstract significance more easily apparent in the ways in which they are utilized than their inherent characteristics.
Boots play a symbolic role in both of these plays, although serving different purposes. In Godot, the constant struggle of removing and replacing the boots, as well as the incessant question of which boot belongs to which character, is representative of a deeper fundamental identity crisis channeled toward external signifiers of identity. Mother Courage offers the red high-heeled boots to Kattrin to comfort her after she receives her facial scar. Kattrin refuses to accept them- they symbolize, to her, the abuse that she has suffered at the hands of men. Male attention has stolen her voice and her facial beauty, and the boots represent the incongruity of love and war.
When the drum rolls signify that Swiss Cheese is set to be executed, the stage briefly becomes dark. This is a symbol of death much akin to darkness that occurred before the crucifixion of Christ. Indeed, Mother Courage denies knowledge of Swiss Cheese’s identity, reminiscent of Peter’s denial of knowing Jesus. Interestingly, the chaplain’s song after Swiss Cheese’s arrest tells of the moments leading up to the crucifixion. Waiting for Godot utilizes darkness as a similar allegory of death, as night falls and the men are reprieved of their “duty”, no longer bound to wait for Godot.
One striking moment in Waiting for Godot occurs when Pozzo instructs Vladimir to place the bowler on Lucky’s head so he can think. This inanimate object, by virtue of the status it affords, allows Lucky to think for himself and he begins to soliloquize. When the hat is knocked off, his monologue abruptly ends. We get the sense that it is not Lucky who is doing the thinking, rather it is the hat and the identity that it embodies. The symbolism of the hats is not restricted to Lucky, and Vladimir and Estragon exchange hats with each other multiple times, highlighting the fluidity and flux of their identities. The rope around Lucky’s neck symbolizes the power dynamic between him and Pozzo, and the abuse makes it clear that Lucky is his subordinate. Yet in the second act, the rope is much shorter, and it is Lucky who directs the now-blind Pozzo, blurring the lines between servant and master.
Kattrin, like Lucky, lacks a voice, although hers has been stolen from her through rape rather than slavery. Her drum, another inanimate object, can be said to give her the voice she lacks. It is interested to note that the drum is among the things that Kattrin brings back after she is attacked while purchasing things for her mother. We see that the drum, to Kattrin, symbolizes defiance against oppression. These inanimate objects, although not infused with any special powers, empower the characters to accomplish what they cannot. Both Kattrin and Lucky surprise us with their significance by the end of the plays. It becomes apparent that Lucky’s name, although seemingly ironic, actually suits his position relative to the other characters. Lucky possesses two luxuries that the others lack: certitude and awareness. Lucky does not struggle with the “agony of choice” as Vladimir and Estragon both do; Pozzo gives him the certainty and authority that Godot will never provide for them. Lucky is also fully conscious of his status as a slave, whereas the other characters maintain an illusion of false freedom. There is an interesting duality here, of the seemingly least fortunate character possessing a fortune of consciousness, that is mirrored by Kattrin’s character. She too, is mistreated and seems to lose more in the war than any other character: she loses her voice, her beauty, her dreams, and ultimately her life.
Yet Kattrin displays immense courage, awareness, and self sacrifice- more so than any other character. Mother Courage seemingly touches upon this when she attempts to comfort Kattrin, saying she is “lucky” that she is no longer pretty, and that this would save her. These two characters at first seem inconsequential, but eventually come to symbolize the tremendous potential and fortune of the seemingly unfortunate. Both of these plays are ultimately attempting to portray the devastation and destruction of identity and self that occur through religious, social and political processes.
Bleakness and Language in Waiting for Godot
When the Paris curtain opened in 1953 the audience was faced with a minimalist set with a tree and nothing else. The first sight of ‘En Attendant Godot’ suggests its bleakest tones are presented by Beckett through visual sadness and the overall metaphysical state characters are placed in. Already parallels can be drawn between this setting and the inescapably similar picture from T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Wasteland’: “A heap of broken images, where the sun beats, and the dead tree gives no shelter”
The only resemblance to the audience’s world is the tree and the road the characters stand on. This setting creates brooding despair; roads represents journeys and an option to travel away, or towards something and yet characters don’t move, in fact asserting “We Can’t (leave)”(i). The tree, another prop with apparently monumental importance compared to the rest of the wasteland stage, represents hope and life despite there being no hope and life ebbing away. Beckett demands for the tree to have leaves during Act 2, which symbolises spring to audiences while Vladimir and Estragon realise there’s no hope at all. It isn’t a stretch to claim Beckett had a taste for deeply depressing irony and he plays with elements of comedy and tragedy most aptly through dramatic staging. However, it’s my opinion that Beckett does create some of the most comic, and bleakest, parts of the performance through his unerring ability to manipulate language.
In Act One the words “Nothing to be done”(ii) are spoken by both Estragon and Vladimir and the statement goes on to be a crucial philosophy throughout the play of the same importance as “We’re waiting for Godot”(iii). Audiences initially find the phrase laugh-out-loud funny because it’s paired with the physical sequence of Estragon, who is ‘trying to take off his boot’(iv) whom after an exhausting battle concedes and explains to the audience there’s ‘nothing to be done’. The subtle brilliance of this line is in its most colloquial-sounding ring, which appeals to all audiences as they can relate to finding that a menial task has become so extraordinarily difficult they see no way of solving it. It is laughable that a complex human being cannot actually take off a boot, that in some way the boot has beaten the human and now he’s defeated…by a boot. This struggle is universal and appeals to audiences making the underlying question of: Why does Estragon presume that the boot is wrong? Beckett thus highlights humanity’s arrogance and pompousness. Vladimir is the messenger for this question when he tells Estragon, ‘There’s man all over blaming on his boots the fault of his feet’(v). This sentence holds many debating topics because the bootmaker made the boot perfect, as in the bootmaker thought it had no faults or he wouldn’t have sold it, similarly if we’re all in God’s image surely Estragon can have no faults either so who is wrong…God or man?
After the comic moment Vladimir ushers in undertones of suffering when he explains he too is ‘coming round to that opinion’. Although the line sounds harmless enough, Vladimir performs it away from Estragon as he looks out into space which has the implicit meaning that he’s unaware of Estragon’s physical struggle and that his response is actually more metaphysical. This exchange allows Beckett to introduce the brutal truth of the character’s situation: there’s literally nothing to be done. This corresponds to Esslin’s theory that ‘Waiting for Godot’ contains “a sense of metaphysical anguish at the absurdity of the human condition”(vi). The characters are trapped in this barren featureless setting, waiting for someone they cannot define as they ‘wouldn’t know him if I saw him’(vii), unable to have any influence on proceedings which govern their lives.
Through his exploitation of language Beckett also challenges the way humanity operates in the world, and ultimately how the disjointed confusing plot of the play parallels our place in the universe. In ‘Waiting for Godot’ one conversation that exploits the way humanity operates is:
“Estragon: We always find something, eh Didi, to give us the impression we exist.
Vladimir: Yes, yes, we’re magicians.” (viii)
Audiences find this hilarious due to Estragon’s optimism in their plight and the sudden shift in mood that can be seen onstage is also humorous because it’s so abstract and unjustified. The added element of Vladimir’s dismissal of Estragon’s comment and the dismissal of optimism is a beautiful contrast which gains audience laughter, but also supports the hypothesis they’re a double act and completely reliant on each other. Another nice example of this double act is:
“Vladimir: What do they say?
Estragon: They talk about their lives.
Vladimir: To live is not enough for them.
Estragon: They have to talk about it.” (ix)
The double act is vital as a device to exploit language and the claim of “The two most important sets of characters in the play occur in pairs”(x). A 1953 audience would have recognised Laurel and Hardy’s silhouettes in Estragon and Vladimir, making their world closer to the audience’s, but still miles away. In this passage Beckett’s technique of the double act is actualised to make a point about the existentialist nature of humanity and our need to rationalise individual experience by explaining it to others. The characters complete each other’s sentences which gives the impression of pondering so the audience understands Beckett wants them to think about the short conversation. The word ‘magician’ carries the bleakest undertones because it carries ideas of illusion and trickery, therefore Beckett wants to portray to audiences that our attempts to maintain the logic that we exist is actually a form of trickery; a skill which we’ve acquired over the years but is untrue.
This eloquent point has history in the movement after World War Two (which Beckett experienced) in which society believed it was decaying. The comforts that help them move through their lives, such as order, could no longer be depended on. Comedy still remains in the dark outlook on society because characters are living in a world they pretend to understand, but actually don’t. There’s a style of dramatic irony at work as the audience looks into the realm of Estragon, Lucky, Pozzo and Vladimir with arrogance as they understand things characters don’t, such as the fact Godot won’t arrive. Interestingly, the world created by the theatrical stage would look into the audience’s world with similar arrogance as they know things the audience doesn’t, this is what Beckett’s trying to explain to us; the audience doesn’t understand their world’s nature as well as they think. However, it could be argued only the bleak undertones come from the manipulation of language and the comedy comes from the character’s visual display to audiences. One critic argues,
“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”(xi)
This is a strong argument because the audience responds mainly to the presentation of the lines, which could be considered the performance rather than the actual language.
Beckett once said, “If by Godot I had meant God I would have said God, and not Godot” (xii) but I don’t believe this is the end of the ‘God is Godot’ debate and I also believe this is one of Beckett’s greatest manipulations of language. The play begins with Estragon explaining he spent the night ‘in a ditch’ (xiii) and a group of people ‘beat’ him. These events are very close to ‘The Good Samaritan’ biblical parable except this time there’s no Samaritan. This carries the explicit meaning that Estragon is without God, he receives no help from outside sources and no redemption. Compare this with Vladimir who takes the ‘Book of Job’ approach and claims Estragon must have done something wrong to get beaten. Estragon goes onto challenge Godot’s, or God’s, power when he tells Vladimir they are ‘not tied?’ (xiv). However, he says it ‘feebly’ and then they both get scared that Godot’s coming, the implication being he will punish them for losing their obedience. Beckett plays with audience ideas on Godot’s nature when the boy describes him as having a ‘white beard’ which is drawing links between Godot and God which is laid out so obviously compared to the rest of the play that audiences are surprised, then they laugh. Beckett continues to make us think about God’s nature using Lucky’s speech. It begins with an almost academic presentation on religion but then descends into rambling nonsensical rubbish which ends ‘in spite of the tennis’. I interpreted this as meaning ‘for reasons unknown’ which is a beautiful way to describe God’s relationship with man as humanity can never draw any definite conclusions about him.
In conclusion, Beckett creates the bleakest moments using his manipulation of language because it’s the words that resonate and make us think about the Beckett’s themes. The comedy isn’t brought out by exploitation of language as much as the stage directions and the physical oddities, which are of a more visual element.
i) Pg. 6, Vladimir
ii) Pg.1, Estragon
iii) Pg. 6, Vladimir
iv) Pg. 1 Stage Direction
v) Pg. 3 Vladimir
vi) Esslin, Theatre of the Absurd
vii) Pg. 16, Estragon
viii) Pg. 61
ix) Pg. 54
xii) Samuel Beckett , Wikipedia ‘Waiting for Godot’
xiii) Pg. 1
xiv) Pg. 12
Samuel Beckett and the Folly of Language
Following the near apocalyptic end of the Second World War, an overwhelming state of fear and confusion would go on to cause a major shift in the artistic expression of the day. Nothing remained sacred as doubt replaced any virtue of knowledge, hope, or stability. Artistic conventions were also replaced in favor of the new, radical unorthodoxy and basic realities of human thought were either questioned or abandoned completely. In particular, Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot illuminates the “tragicomic” folly of language and communication on the center stage with profound implications against the need to communicate in the first place. Shameless yet dignified, Beckett mocks the inefficacy of language and human communication.
Primarily, Beckett’s dialogue bathes in repetition and irrationality, acting as a vehicle for both comedy and critique. Waiting for Godot is characterized by verbal exchanges that achieve very little in terms of traditional development and leave behind more confusion than there was before anyone had decided to bother opening their mouth. The most compelling example of this is Estragon’s fascination with Lucky’s bags throughout Act I.
Estragon: Why doesn’t he put down his bags?
Pozzo: But that would surprise me.
Vladimir: You’re being asked a question.
Pozzo: (delighted) A question! Who? What! (28)
Here, Beckett presents the primary distraction of Act I, Estragon and Vladimir’s inquisitive interest in Pozzo and Lucky. However, a seemingly fundamental question regarding the servant’s cargo takes ages to get across to Pozzo amid endless chatter of nonsense and confusion. Ironically enough, Pozzo immediately goes on to predict that “no good will come” from ominous activities such as asking questions. In a sense, Pozzo is correct. The question is repeated several times, tempers flare slightly, and a significant amount of time is wasted with no answer or explanation to show for it. The cause of this string of mishaps is unexpected– Estragon’s mere proposition of a simple question is the impetus for this miniature disaster.
This grand failure of communication is just one example of Beckett’s keen deconstruction of language. In fact, Pozzo & Lucky eventually leave with Estragon and Vladimir not an ounce wiser than they were before. They know less now than they did when the first act began. Finally, to compound this frustration, the major source of any resemblance to “driving action” or “narrative” has exited the stage, as well as Estragon and Vladimir’s lives. The language which one would assume to be the source of any fundamental drama is actually nothing more than a catalyst of the absurd. Language is the biggest barrier between absurdity and reality. Indeed, Beckett’s perception of language asserts that language works to reinforce this barrier rather than find ways around it. This is evident as Gogo & Didi continue to parrot each other and draw circles in their speech, reflecting the delicate cycle of their apparently pointless lives.
Furthermore, Beckett’s most blatant critique of language can be seen during the play’s most nonsensical and verbose point: Lucky’s speech. Previously regarded by cast and audience to be nothing beyond a mute slave, Lucky is received like an oracle or prophet. He begins, “Given the existence as uttered forth in the public works of Puncher and Wattmann of a personal God quaquaquaqua with white beard quaquaquaqua outside time without extension who from the heights of divine apathia divine athambia divine aphasia loves us dearly…” (45).
Here, Lucky’s regurgitations are met with fixed attention. However, this enthrallment soon decays to derision and finally to frenzied terror and a frantic tackle to end it all. This all occurs as the result of one seemingly harmless command: “Think!” Interestingly enough, despite “saying” so much, Lucky actually conveyed very little tangible information throughout his prolonged session of thought. Even worse, this information is nearly indiscernible, lost upon verbal manifestations of Lucky’s passion and confusion. Certainly, a topic of “divine” profoundness is at hand with a white-bearded “God” receiving several mentions. This topic is also tethered to Earthly affairs as well. Lucky goes on to mention various schools of thought, a handful of philosophers, and even tennis and other Earthly ventures. However, despite all this content which would give Lucky’s speech the appearance of intellect and profundity, the slave spends all his time thinking aloud about nothing at all. Although interrupted, Lucky even inadvertently punctuates his speech with the word “unfinished.” Ultimately, nothing was said. Language, once again, fails to serve its sole purpose. In fact, language is even seen here to be a threat to stability and well-being – Beckett displays language’s ability to stir fear and even aggression in others. Lucky’s speech had such a negative impact on the three men listening that they appeared to go mad. This is especially frightening due to the fact that all they were hearing was essentially the articulation of “nothing.” Lucky’s ramblings on “quaquaquaqua” could be easily replaced with a high frequency dog whistle and cause the same effect. Lucky’s speech is merely a showcase of language’s flaws and inefficacy. The words amount to nothing more than noise and hot air.
Finally, when compared to other works which recognize similar faults in communication, Beckett’s reflections on language are far more monumental in their futility and absurdity. William Falkner’s As I Lay Dying, for example, dictates that human communication is impaired because perceptions of truth vary from person to person, and that language is incapable of portraying any universal truth. Waiting for Godot, on the other hand, dictates that there is no universal truth to convey, and that any attempts to communicate absurdity will only result in frustration, confusion, and more absurdness. In fact, the action of communication through spoken or written language is absurd within itself. This point in particular is the reason behind Waiting for Godot’s quirky, nonsensical attitude. This void is exemplified by the play’s ending.
Vladimir: Well? Shall we go?
Estragon: Yes, let’s go.
They do not move, (109).
The communication of nonsense elicits only nonsense in return. Here, Gogo and Didi once again surrender to this dogma of absurdity. They say they will go and fail to move. At this point, it’s as if Beckett’s characters completely fail to recognize the intention behind the words they speak. Attempts of verbal communication through language fall flat, almost signifying an abandonment of language altogether. Now, they accept absurdity, a world absent of communication that’s meaningful or worthwhile.
Ultimately, Beckett’s critique, fully veiled in irrationality, does well to illuminate the absurdity of language and communication. In this light, the artistic medium which once depended on language abandons it outright, and the conventions of drama are twisted and distorted. This upheaval is an understandable outcome; Waiting for Godot is an expression of the confusion of the post-World War II world. Certainly, Beckett acknowledges that this new world is one devoid of language, where communication is just as absurd as the situations which beget its necessity.