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.
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