The Use of Absurdity in Waiting for Godot

July 26, 2019 by Essay Writer

“…man cannot endure for long the absence of meaning. And meaning, in it most basic sense, is pattern. If man cannot find pattern in his world, he will try by any means at his disposal to create it, or at least imagine it” (Webb 55). Aristotle originally expressed this idea, which manifests throughout all of Samuel Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot, as the protagonists, Vladimir and Estragon, impose on themselves a fruitless and piteous pattern: waiting for Godot. Though Godot is a vague figure and would never live up to the protagonists’ expectations if he made an appearance, he offers Vladimir and Estragon the illusion of meaning within their lives. Vladimir and Estragon (or Didi and Gogo, respectively) exhaust every extent possible to maintain this pattern of waiting, which, as Aristotle stated, gives them the impression that their lives do not have an “absence of meaning”—that despite being poor and homeless (deplorable traits in society) they are existential successes (Webb 55). All Didi and Gogo have is waiting; they essentially lost everything else, or never had any of it to begin with, such as money, prestige, memory, protection, happiness, etc. Through this pattern of absurdity and futility the two satirize the universal person’s yearning for meaning within his/her life and furthermore reveal the illusory patterns that seem to indicate meaning. The play’s inception resonates the bleakness and futility of Godot. The stage contains only a tree and two men, while the first words spoken express the futility of action: Estragon states, after failing to put his boot on, “Nothing to be done” (Beckett, Waiting for Godot 1.1.7). This concise statement summates the entire play; it expresses their actions, their thoughts, and essentially, their lives by beginning the play with sentiments of futility—a feeling that never dwindles but rather reoccurs intermittently throughout the work. Shortly following Estragon’s futility of thought is his futility of action: he states in indignation, “I’m going. (He does not move)” (Beckett, Waiting for Godot 1.1.9). This threat, however, is not plausible; Estragon and Vladimir live in a very fragile world, carefully crafted to create the illusion that they, two slovenly bums, have meaningful lives and that they do not exist merely to exist. They base this illusion is around waiting for Godot—not leaving their bleak surroundings under any circumstances, which is why their multitudes of threats of leaving are not credible. Shortly after, Vladimir explains their purpose of waiting to Estragon, who seems to suffer from amnesia—the first representation of fleeting abilities in the play. In an often repeated dialogue to the forgetful Estragon, Vladimir explains, “We’re waiting for Godot” (Beckett, Waiting for Godot 1.1.10). He continues, stating:Vladimir: He didn’t say for sure he’d come.Estragon: And if he doesn’t come?Vladimir: We’ll come back to-morrow.Estragon: And then the day after to-morrow.Vladimir: Possibly.Estragon: And so on. (Beckett, Waiting for Godot 1.1.10)Godot, however, shows no signs of appearing; it is doubtful as to whether or not Godot even exists, which, ironically is the meaning of the entire play: defining one’s existence by someone who might not exist. Even Vladimir himself shows uncertainty about both Godot’s existence and his importance, or relevance, to himself and Estragon. The two discuss: Estragon: What exactly did we ask him for? Vladimir: Were you not there? Estragon: I can’t have been listening. Vladimir: Oh. . . Nothing very definite. (Beckett, Waiting for Godot 1.1.13)To Vladimir, though, Godot’s purpose is of little importance; Godot, even if a figment of his imagination, offers Estragon and him a reason to awake in the morning—a pattern. Literary critic June Schlueter notes that “…waiting has been their entire existence, and they cannot acknowledge that it is worthless” (Schlueter 51). Therefore, Vladimir is cognizant to the futility of his waiting, but, as aforementioned, he neglects the veracity of Godot’s existence to engender an illusion of meaning for him and Estragon. In Waiting for Godot the entire play consists of Didi and Gogo waiting, but a good majority of their waiting includes simple minded games the protagonists play to make each day pass more quickly. Literary critic Schlueter explains that “each of their games, however, is short lived: there are a few lines of dialogue, the game is complete, and then there is silence” (Schlueter 49-50). They tell stories, reminisce, curse at each other, and discuss suicide— practically anything to, as Vladimir states, “pass the time” (Beckett, Waiting for Godot 1.1.31). Though literary critic Andrew Kennedy states that “the expectations of Estragon and Vladimir seem to be both limitless and irrational; and the various climaxes and pseudo-climaxes, or non-arrivals, do not change their condition…,” it is actually the stagnancy of the play—the lack of a climax or common plot progression—that resonates Beckett’s message on passive waiting and satirizes the universal man. And these ploys work in a play that Schlueter describes as lacking “plot progression… [having] no casual relationship between events, no linear sequence” (Schlueter 50). Furthermore, Vladimir understands his disposition; he does not have “limitless and irrational” expectations—he simply convinces himself that Godot is real and that his arrival is imminent in order to establish an illusion of meaning within his life. Moreover, Vladimir is by no means a foolish character; he understands the power he bestowed upon Gidit, and knows that he is, in fact, waiting in vain—though spending time with Estragon and convincing him that they are waiting for Godot helps alleviate the futility and gives him the feeling of importance. Despite literary critic Kennedy’s statement that, “the risk of waiting in vain is emphasized early in the play,” it is evident that Vladimir understands his circumstances. He corroborates this claim in his epiphany of sort, where, upon asking numerous questions to a servant boy that delivers a message to Godot, he realizes the power of Godot:Vladimir: (softly). Has he a beard, Mr. Godot?Boy: Yes sir.Vladimir: Fair or. . . (he hesitates) . . . or black?Boy: I think it’s white, Sir.Silence.Vladimir: Christ have mercy on us! (Beckett, Waiting for Godot 2.1.13)Critic Eugene Webb notes that Vladimir’s passionate exclamation concluding their dialogue is explained by, “…[Vladimir realizing] the painful truth that the Godot he has made with his imagination into a kind of God, into a figure, that is, representing absolute power and ultimate meaning, is as empty a God as the traditional one ‘with a white beard…’” (Webb 64). However, though Vladimir somewhat fears the power Godot exudes, he does not allow himself to fully see the truth that Godot, like a God with a “white beard,” may not be real—for the illusion is far too important to his life to be shattered by reality. Though the comparison between Estragon and Vladimir to the common, or universal, person may seem absurd because of the ridiculous settings and characters in Godot, the characters do successfully embody a human being’s obsession with finding meaning in his/her life. In Act Two, Vladimir and Estragon encounter a servant and his master, Lucky and Pozzo, who provide insight into the destructiveness and dwindling of the master and servant relationship. Lucky, the ironically named servant, is at first conceived to be a babbling, incoherent fool, described by Pozzo as a man that “used to think very prettily once” but provides insight to the games humans play that are absurd and meaningless as the perpetual waiting of the protagonists (Beckett, Waiting for Godot 1.1.26). He recites: “…man…wastes and pines…in spite of the strides of physical culture the practice of sports such as tennis football running cycling swimming flying floating riding gliding combating camogie skating tennis of all kinds dying flying sports…of all kinds” (Beckett, Waiting for Godot 1.1.28-29). While the enumeration of activities is inconsequential, the meaning behind his words is imperative to the satire of the play. Critic Webb writes:…what is important is the recognition that man spends his life playing games, games of all kinds, not merely of organized sport, but of life: games of language and activity, the same kinds of games Didi and Gogo play… Games can pass the time, they can constitute existence, but they can give life only the illusion of meaning, for, like Beckett’s play, they don not constitute (an) action. (Webb 52)This comparison, ingeniously told by a piteous servant, reverberates the bitter satire present in the play—creating the questioning of what is trivial and what is significant in one’s life. The previous comparison best summates the message behind, and the satire within Beckett’s play, as it illuminates the absurdity of the things viewed important or meaningful within society. Society places importance (and therefore meaning) behind things such as “games of language and activity,” which are as piteous, futile, and meaningless as Vladimir and Estragon’s waiting for Godot (Webb 52). Therefore, Vladimir and Estragon embody the universal person’s mindset—they create an illusion of meaning and withhold it adamantly. They are not role models; the two characters are deplorable in every standard met by society and should be the impetus to the changed mindset of the reader: from Godot, the reader should realize what is truly important in his/her life and understand what constitutes actual meaning in the world. Works CitedBeckett, Samuel. Waiting for Godot. New York, NY: Grove Press, 1954.Kennedy, Andrew. Samuel Beckett. Cambridge University Press, 1998. Rpt. in “Active Waiting.” Readings on Waiting for Godot. Ed. Laura Marvel. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, Inc., 2001. 96-107.Schlueter, June. Metafictional Characters in Modern Drama. Columbia University Press, 1979. Rpt. in “The Dual Roles of Didi and Gogo.” Readings on Waiting for Godot. Ed. Laura Marvel. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, Inc., 2001. 44- 53.Webb, Eugene. The Plays of Samuel Beckett. University of Washington Press, 1972. Rpt. in “The Plot Reveals the Illusory Nature of Man’s Attempts to Create Meaning.” Readings on Waiting for Godot. Ed. Laura Marvel. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, Inc., 2001. 54-64.

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