Saturday, December 4, 2010

Vladimir and Estragon

Two Distinct Individuals
Within the limits which the situation in the play creates, the tramps are two distinct individuals, each with his own character and interests. Their shared condition is the ground on which their fundamentally opposed natures enter into the conflict, or tension, which is necessary to drama. At no time is the skilfully balanced dialogue interchangeable from one to the other. Estragon explains one essential difference when he tells Pozzo: “He has stinking breath and I have stinking feet.” Vladimir’s preoccupation is mental, and Estragon’s is physical; and these two preoccupations are reflected in the distinct smells which disgust Pozzo.

Vladimir, the Stronger of the Two
Of the two, Vladimir thinks more and is therefore more eloquent: his anguish is intellectual. Consequently he appears to be the stronger of the two. It is Vladimir who implies that he once dealt with Godot: it is he who assures Estragon that they are in the right place; it is he who dispenses the food—turnips, carrots, and radishes. Vladimir is more cultured than Estragon; he quotes Latin and searches his memory for the correct word, unlike Estragon who is content with the first word that occurs. It is Vladimir, again, who tries to make polite conversation with Pozzo while Estragon listens or follows his own thoughts.
Vladimir’s Thinking Fallible
But Vladimir’s thinking is fallible and exposes him to greater anguish than Estragon. When they discuss the idea of hanging themselves, Estragon sees at once that Vladimir who is the heavier of the two, may break the branch of the tree, but Vladimir needs to have this fact explained to him as if he were a child and then says, “I didn’t think of that.” Vladimir’s head is a “charnel house” of dead ideas and when he needs to think he takes off his hat and peers inside as if looking for something. When Lucky leaves his hat behind, Vladimir exchanges it for his, perhaps preferring other men’s ideas to his own. Above all he lives according to the rationalist principle which urges him to “be reasonable, you haven’t tried everything yet. And I resumed the struggle.”
Vladimir More Sympathetic; Estragon’s Spontaneous Imagination
Vladimir is also capable of thinking of others whereas Estragon is only concerned with his own pain. Vladimir is outraged by the sores which the rope has made on Lucky’s neck and protests to Pozzo when the latter says that he is on his way to sell his servant at the fair: “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 banana skin.” But this intellectual compassion has its limits: Vladimir’s sympathy is for the suffering of the moment. When a few lines later, Pozzo gives way to grief, Vladimir rebukes Lucky in a similar manner: “How dare you! Such a good master! Crucify him like that! After so many years! Really!” Estragon meanwhile is more interested in Pozzo’s discarded chicken bones. He is more irritable, obstinate, and selfish than Vladimir. He has a fit of bad temper like a child, sitting passively on the mound while Vladimir walks restlessly about with his eyes searching the horizon as if the answer to his agony might be found there. Estragon’s imagination is spontaneous, and he habitually personalises the universe; thus when he talks of Christ it is not surprising to find him identifying himself with him or that he claims, looking at his rags, to have been a poet. When Pozzo asks his name, he replies, “Adam”. Vladimir reads the Bible for instruction, Estragon reads it for the coloured maps of the Holy Land: “The Dead Sea was pale blue. The very look of it made me thirsty.” Estragon’s suffering is physical, as with his boats, or emotional, but he still delights in the body and in physical coarseness as when Vladimir has to relieve himself. (Vladimir of course despises physical coarseness). Estragon is also more naturally a victim—he is the one who is kicked by Lucky and beaten by the unknown persons who are referred to as “they”— and in his innocence of thought seems to be more beloved by whoever it is who introduces the several mysterious acts of grace into the evening. In Act the struggles to get his feet into his boots; after the interval they are replaced by a pair a little too large. Finally, Estragon is closer to timelessness than Vladimir. All landscapes are now the same to him and his memory is incapable of reaching back even to the previous day. “I’m not a historian,” he says. Once completed an event is forgotten; “day” means nothing to him any longer; and in his mind his thoughts belong to the repeated present moments in which they are spoken; he makes no distinction between events in time.
The Nature of the Friendship Between the Two
The dialogue in which the two tramps demand and reject each other, or possess and elude each other, or attract and repel each other, expresses a friendship which is situated “somewhere between fatigue and ennui.” They have been together many years and their past was more promising than their present condition suggests. Vladimir recalls a time when they still belonged to society:
In the nineties, hand in hand, from the top of the Eiffel Tower, among the first. We were presentable in those days. Now it’s too late. They wouldn’t even let us up.               
(Page 10)
On another occasion they were grape-harvesting when Estragon threw himself into the Rhone. Vladimir rescued him. Now, however, their friendship is the Proustian desert of habit, loneliness, and recrimination:
Vladimir (Joyous). There you are again. (Indifferent). There we are again. (Gloomy). There I am again.           
(Page 59)
The words destroy Vladimir’s original innocent pleasure in Estragon’s presence, reducing him first to the boredom in which they were last together and then to a sudden understanding of the unsolvable question. “You see,” Estragon tells him, “you feel worse, when I’m with you. I feel better alone, too” (Page 59). Each feels closer to his own self without the other who reminds him of his imprisonment in time. They remain unknown and unknowable to one another but prefer to continue a relationship which emphasises their isolation, rather than separate and endure the self-perception, of life alone. Both feel pain and call on each other to recognise their suffering, but neither is capable of penetrating to the other’s being. Vladimir suffering intellectually is a spectacle for Estragon. Estragon suffering physically is beyond Vladimir’s comprehension.
Estragon (feebly). Help me!
Vladimir. It hurts?
Estragon. Hurts! He wants to know if it hurts!
Vladimir (angrily). Nobody ever suffers but you. I don’t count. I’d like to hear what you’d say if you had what I have.
Estragon. It hurts?
Vladimir. Hurts! He wants to know if it hurts!   (Page 10)
Suffering does not ennoble or create a human solidarity; it is something that cannot be shared, and it has therefore a brutalising effect. When kicked by Lucky, Estragon spits at him and later, when Lucky lies helplessly on the ground, beats him with his fists and feet. Again, when Estragon calls on God for pity, Vladimir, his friend, is excluded from the prayer:
Estragon. God have pity on me!
Vladimir (vexed). And me?
Estragon. On me! On me! Pity! On me!          (Page 77)
Like all who love, these two are adept at hurting each other. Rejection is followed by counter-rejection and Estragon’s selfish wants encourage Vladimir to taunts and bitterness.
Each Needs the Other
It seems desirable perhaps that they should part company. Estragon considers it many times which in itself wounds Vladimir’s feelings. “You see, you feel worse when I’m with you. I feel better alone, too,” Estragon says; and Vladimir replies, “Then why do you always come crawling back?” To this Estragon says, “I don’t know”. But, despite the suffering which sets a distance between them, and each other’s presence which emphasises the essential loneliness of both, there is also a profound need which each feels for the other. This need sometimes transforms their irritation of hatred into tenderness, and anger into a compassion which is close to love. Vladimir needs someone to listen to him explaining the conflicting evidence in his head. “Go on, Gogo, return the ball, can’t you, once in a way ?” says he to Estragon. As for Estragon, he needs protection against himself and against others. This is made clear by Vladimir when he says, “When I think of it.......all these years.......but for me.......where would you be ? You’d be nothing more than a little heap of bones at the present minute”. It is always Vladimir who makes the initial advance, and Estragon who at first repels him. But Estragon’s need is in no way less just because it is more difficult for him to express it. Indeed on two occasions he manages adequately. In Act I when Estragon falls asleep, Vladimir is left alone and lonely, and he wakes Estragon up:
Estragon. Why will you never let me sleep?
Vladimir. I felt lonely.
Estragon. I had a dream.
Vladimir. Don’t tell me!
Estragon. Who am I to tell my private nightmares to if I can’t tell them to you?   (Pages 15-10)
The need is everyone’s, but Vladimir cannot bear another’s nightmares in addition to his own. (However, in Act II when Estragon sleeps again, Vladimir sings a pathetic lullaby, takes off his coat and puts it over Estragon’s shoulders, and runs to comfort him when he wakes up terrified by the visions which pursue him even in sleep). When, at the opening of Act II, Estragon utters a cry, the conflicting nature of their life together finds a clear expression. “Don’t touch me! Don’t question me! Don’t speak to me! Stay with me!”
The Contrast Between Vladimir and Estragon
As the members of a cross-talk act, Vladimir and Estragon have complementary personalities. Vladimir is the more practical of the two, and Estragon claims to have been a poet. In eating his carrot, Estragon finds that the more he eats of it the less he likes it, while Vladimir reacts the opposite way—he likes things as he gets used to them. Estragon is volatile, Vladimir persistent; Estragon dreams, Vladimir cannot stand hearing about dreams. Vladimir has stinking breath, Estragon has stinking feet. Vladimir remembers past events, Estragon tends to forget them as soon as they have happened. Estragon likes telling funny stories, Vladimir is upset by them. It is mainly Vladimir who voices the hope that Godot will come and that his coming will change their situation, while Estragon remains sceptical throughout and at times even forgets the name of Godot. It is Vladimir who conducts the conversation, with the boy who is Godot’s messenger and to whom the boy’s messages are addressed. Estragon is the weaker of the two; he is beaten up by mysterious strangers every night. Vladimir at times acts as his protector, sings him to sleep with a lullaby, and covers him with his coat. The opposition of their temperaments is the cause of endless bickering between them and often leads to the suggestion that they should part. Yet, being complementary natures, they also are dependent on each other and have to stay together.

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