Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Theme of Regression and Disintegration in Waiting for Godot

The Two Tramps
The scene is a country road with a tree growing nearby, a skeleton tree stunted and without a single leaf. The two men who appear on the stage are without age, or profession, or family background. These men have no home to go to. They are tramps, in short. One takes off his boots, and the other talks of the Gospels. One eats a carrot which the other offers. They have nothing substantial to say to each other. They address each other by two diminutives, Gogo and Didi.

Waiting for Someone Called Godot
The two men pretend to go away, and to leave each other, but always they come back to each other. They cannot go away, because they are waiting for someone called Godot, about whom we know nothing except that he will not come. So we are not surprised when eventually a boy “arrives (Vladimir thinks that the boy is the same who had come yesterday) with a message: “Mr. Godot told me to tell you he won’t come this evening but surely tomorrow.” Then daylight “Suddenly fades and it is night. The two tramps decide to go away and come back again the next day. But they do not move and the curtain falls.
Pozzo and Lucky
Earlier, two other characters have appeared to create a diversion: Pozzo, having a flourishing look, and Lucky, his decrepit servant whom he drives before him by means of a rope tied round his neck. Ppzzo sits down on a camp stool, eats a leg of cold chicken, and smokes a pipe. Then he delivers a highly coloured description of the twilight. Lucky, on a word of command from Pozzo, executes a few steps by way of a dance, and delivers an incomprehensible speech made up of disconnected fragments.
It is the next day. The setting is the same except for the fact that the tree now has four or five leaves. Vladimir or Didi sings a song about a dog that comes into the kitchen and steals a crust of bread. The dog is killed and buried and on its tomb is written: a dog came into the kitchen and stole a crust of bread......and so on ad lib. Gogo puts on his boots and eats a radish. He does not remember having been here before.
Godot’s Non-arrival
Pozzo and Lucky return. Lucky is dumb; Pozzo is blind and remembers nothing. The same boy comes back with the same message, namely that Mr. Godot will not come this evening but that he will come tomorrow. The boy does not recognise the two tramps and says that he has never seen them before.
Attempted Suicide
Once more it is night. Gogo and Didi would like to try to hang themselves. Unfortunately they have not got a suitable rope. They decide to go away and come back again the next day. But they do not move and the curtain falls.
A Gripping Play
The play is called Waiting for Godot and it lasts nearly one-and-a-half hours. This in itself is astonishing. The play is made up out of nothingness, but the audience is caught from beginning to end and remains riveted to the two tramps who do nothing and say practically nothing.
Various Interpretations
Various interpretations of the play have been offered. For instance, it has been said that Godot is God. It has also been suggested that Godot is the earthly ideal of a better social order. Or else Godot is death, and the tramps will hang themselves on the next day. Or Godot is silence: the tramps have to speak while waiting for it in order to have the right to be still at last. Or Godot is the inaccessible self that Beckett pursues through all his work, always with the ultimate hope that “this time, perhaps, at last, it will be I.” At any rate Godot is the person the two tramps are waiting for and he does not come.

Not Much of a Plot
There had been in the past some attempts to do away with theatrical conventions regarding action on the stage. But this play marks a sort of climax. No dramatist had ever taken so great a risk before, because what this play deals with is the essential, without any beating about the bush, the means employed to deal with it being the minimum conceivable. It had seemed reasonable to suppose, before Samuel Beckett appeared on the scene, that a play should have a plot necessitating certain situations and actions, and characters who perform those actions and who are caught up in the tangles of a plot. But Waiting for Godot hardly offers a plot. In fact, less than nothing happens here. It is as if we were watching a sort of regression beyond nothing. The little we are given to begin with soon disintegrates like Pozzo, who comes back bereft of sight, dragged by Lucky bereft of speech; like the carrot, which as if in mockery has dwindled by Act II into a radish. “This is becoming really insignificant,” says one of the two tramps at this point. “Not enough,” replies the other. His answer is followed by a long silence. From beginning to end the dialogue is dying. It stands always on those frontiers of dissolution inhabited by all Beckett’s heroes. In the midst of the silences, the repetitions, the ready-made phrases, one or the other of the two tramps suggests something to pass the time—making conversation, repenting, hanging themselves, telling stories, insulting one another, playing at Pozzo and Lucky. But each time the attempt fails; after a few uncertain exchanges they peter out, give up, admit failure.
Waiting Without Purpose
As for the plot, it is summed up in four words which occur again and again like a refrain. “We’re waiting for Godot.” But it is a senseless and tiresome refrain: no one is interested in this waiting: as such it has no theatrical value. It represents neither hope nor longing nor even despair. It is merely an excuse.
Falling to the Ground
In all this disintegration there is a climax or rather the lowest point, a nadir. Lucky and Pozzo, now both crippled, have fallen in a heap in the middle of the road and cannot get up. After haggling about it for some time Vladimir comes to their rescue, but he too stumbles and falls. It is his turn now to call for help. Estragon stretches out his hand but stumbles and falls likewise. Now there is no one left standing upright. There is nothing on the stage but this struggling, groaning, helpless heap, from which Vladimir’s face emerges to pronounce: “We are men.”
Neither Eloquence Nor Thought in the Play
We cannot put this play in the category of the theatre of ideas nor can it be claimed that there is any eloquence of speech in this play. Both thought and eloquence are conspicuous by their absence; both figure in the play only in the form of parody. The kind of eloquence we get in the play is illustrated by Pozzo’s speech describing twilight, a speech larded with choice expressions and dramatic gestures, but ruined by sudden interruptions, vulgar exclamations, and grotesque failures of inspiration, a speech which ends with the remark: “That’s how it is on this bitch of an earth.” As for thoughts we may select as an example a question that one of the tramps asks Pozzo. None of the three characters—Pozzo, Vladimir, and Estragon—can remember what the question was. All three take off their hats simultaneously, press their hands to their foreheads and strain their minds. There is a long silence. Suddenly Estragon cries “Ah!” He remembers the question that he had put: “Why doesn’t he (Lucky) put down his bags?” But in the meanwhile Lucky has put down the bags, and everyone is quite satisfied when Vladimir argues: “Since he has put down the bags it is impossible that we should have asked why he did not do so”. What logic! In this universe where time stands still, the words before and after have no meaning. All that counts is the present: the bags have been put down on the ground, and it is as if they had always been lying on the ground. Another example of thought is provided by Lucky who indulges in a monologue that is absolutely incoherent. To stop him the others have to knock him down and beat and kick him, and finally to seize his hat.
Even the Conversation Not Continuous
The two secondary, characters, Pozzo and Lucky, disintegrate from one Act to the next (like Beckett’s heroes in his novels—Murphy, Malloy, Malone, and the rest). Carrots are reduced to radishes. Vladimir even ends by losing the thread of the circular song about the dog. And the same is the case with all the other elements in the play. This tendency, which is contagious regression, is visible in all Beckett’s work. The two tramps themselves appear on the stage without a part to play. Their conversation has no continuous thread to sustain it and is therefore reduced to absurd fragments: automatic exchanges, word-play, mock-arguments leading to no conclusion. The two men try everything at random. The only thing they cannot do is to go away: they have to stay because they are waiting for Godot. They are there from beginning to end of Act I and, when the curtain falls, the two men are still waiting in spite of their announced departure. There they are again in Act II, which adds nothing new; and again, in spite of the announcement about their going, they are still on the stage when the curtain falls. They will be there again the next day, and the next, and the day after that: “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow”—standing on the stage, superfluous, without a future, without a past, irremediably there.

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