Who, or What, Is Godot?
In Samuel Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot, the two main characters, Vladimir and Estragon, spend the entire duration of the text waiting for the illusive Godot, leaving the two in a cyclic and repetitive course of events as they wait for him to appear. Although the name in itself suggests that Beckett intended for Godot to symbolize God, a claim which the author denied, further analysis of the text hints at the view that Godot may not be a deity, but instead a representation of death. This is embodied in the general notion of Vladimir and Estragon’s habitual waiting, boredom, and inability to kill themselves, putting forth the idea that their situation may be a metaphor for the human experience, waiting for the release of death to free them from the chore of reality.
As seen in the major motif of time that reappears throughout the text, Vladimir and Estragon spend both acts in the process of literally waiting for the arrival of Godot. In essence, the text suggests that both men have been under the tree for an extended period of time, so long that they forget that they have been there before as each day is as insignificant as the next. As a result, “time had no meaning for them” (Bigham, “The Meaning Of Time As Depicted In Waiting For Godot”), which is evident when Estragon asks “Ah! (Pause.) You’re sure it was here?” (Beckett, 8), unsure of the location where he is supposed to greet Godot, despite being there countless times before. Vladimir consciously voices this belief when Pozzo announces his departure, claiming that “Time has stopped.” (Beckett, 37). Therefore, this reduced gravity of time and repetition brings to mind the idea that like for all of humankind, time and life has no real meaning, and is purely an extended sequence of waiting for death, as Vladimir and Estragon wait for Godot.
In addition to the period of waiting that they experience through the length of the play, the significance of boredom that Vladimir and Estragon frequently comment upon also brings to mind existential ideas of death. This is particularly enunciated in the concepts brought up by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who stressed the idea that God is dead, and was also largely “interested in people’s concealment of the meaninglessness of life and their use of diversion to escape from boredom” (Cline, “Existentialism”). Thus, this correlates to the climate of Vladimir and Estragon’s world as they continuously attempt to satiate their boredom through the story of the thieves, the topic of suicide, putting on boots, and other recreations, marking their actions with the standardized comment ‘It’ll pass the time’. Again, Vladimir acknowledges the reality of their situation, this time in Act II, when he tells Pozzo that “We are bored…No, don’t protest, we are bored to death, there’s no denying it.” (Beckett, 92).
Furthermore, another major clue that signifies Godot as a presence of death is the inability of Vladimir and Estragon to commit suicide, which they casually discuss but are unable to carry out. In Act I, they realize that the tree will not support Vladimir’s weight on the noose and therefore will not break his neck, while during Act II Vladimir and Estragon fail to hang themselves because they do not have the requisite piece of rope. Aside from the knowledge that the two consider suicide as a means of boredom, their inability to end their lives corresponds to the lack of free will they demonstrate throughout the entirety of the text, as seen in their inability to actually do anything, which is seen in their incapacity to help pick Pozzo up, falling together or dropping him to the ground instead. This lack of autonomy suggests a larger force at play, in that only Godot, an entity of death, can decide the time and circumstance of their demise. Thus, as he has yet to appear, the two are unable to willingly end their lives.
It can be postulated that Godot, who lacks physical representation in the play, can be a metaphor, or the literal presence of death. Through the eviscerating boredom, extended waiting, and lack of autonomy that Vladimir and Estragon experience, Godot appears as a distant, but controlling force in the recurrent universe of the two men. This is especially important in the context of the play’s post-World War II publication, which like other existential works released at the time, expounds on the meaninglessness following the prior catastrophe, coupled with the material luxury of the booming 1950’s. Thus, Beckett puts forth the idea that Vladimir and Estragon, like all of humanity, suffer day to day in a meaningless cycle of inactivity, a pursuit only relieved by the presence of death, a savior to extinguish their empty course of consciousness.
Beckett, Samuel. Waiting for Godot. New York: Grove, 1954. Print. Bigham, Jeffrey Phillip. “The Meaning Of Time As Depicted In Waiting For Godot.” http://www.samuel-beckett.net. Princeton University, n.d. Web. 20 Apr. 2015. Cline, Austin. “Existence Precedes Essence.” About Religion. About.com, n.d. Web. 20 Apr. 2015
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