A Puzzling Play
Waiting for Godot is a very puzzling play. Its essential meaning is not quite clear, with the result that different critics have approached it differently and interpreted it in various ways. Unfortunately Beckett himself did not throw much light on the meaning of the play. Under the circumstances each one of us is left to respond to the play in his own way. Each member of the audience is free to pick up the echoes to which he is most attuned. It is noteworthy also that the play has had a widespread appeal and has found acceptance with not only intellectuals but also with average theatre-goers. There is something in the play for almost everybody.
A Picture of Human Attempts to Fiddle Through Life
According to one interpretation of the play, the two tramps are two parts of a person or of a community seen subjectively, with Vladimir representing the more spiritual part and Estragon the animal; and Pozzo and Lucky make up a person or a community viewed objectively, Pozzo being the exploiter and the user of ideas, Lucky the exploited and the creator of ideas. In other words, we suffer with Estragon and
, their fears, their hopes, their hatreds, and their loves; but we view Pozzo and Lucky through the eyes of the tramps and therefore see in them only the social surface of life. Thus these four characters add up to a picture of humanity at large, and the play is, more than anything else, about the attempts of human beings to fiddle their way through life, setting up a wall of hopes and pretences between themselves and despair. Godot symbolises the greatest of these hopes, namely that there is some point to existence, that we are keeping some mysterious appointment on earth, and are therefore not random scraps of life. It does not matter much who Godot is because the play is not about Godot but, as its title states, about the waiting for him. The play is about life on earth, not hereafter. Vladimir
A Picture of the Pointlessness of Human Life
Different from this somewhat positive approach is another which is entirely negative. According to this other interpretation, the play is a fable about a kind of life that has no longer any point. The dramatist wishes to convey to us that life is devoid of action and that human beings have been pulled out of the world and have no longer anything to do with it. The two heroes, or anti-heroes, are merely alive, but no longer Jiving in the world. The world has become empty for them. Where a world no longer exists, there can no longer be a possibility of a collision with the world. In our world today many people have begun increasingly to feel that they live in a world in which they do not or cannot act but are simply acted upon. The play seeks to capture the mood of such people and has therefore a more or less general application. The two tramps are dimly aware of the want of action in their lives and of the pointlessness of their existence. It is another matter that they still want to go on in life. The majority of people in today’s world do not after all give up living when their life becomes pointless. The tramps are waiting for nothing in particular. They have even to remind each other of the fact that they are waiting and of what they are waiting for. Thus actually they are not waiting for anything. We need not make much fuss about who or what the expected Godot is. Godot is nothing but a name for the fact that the life which goes on pointlessly is wrongly interpreted to mean waiting for something. May be, the tramps are totally unaware of the pointlessness of their existence, though there are indications to show at least a dim awareness.
A Presentation of the Ordeal of Waiting, Ignorance, Impotence, Boredom
A more convincing interpretation of the play is that it presents the human experience of futile waiting, the act of waiting as an essential, characteristic aspect of the human condition. Most often people wait for something which does not materialise just as Godot does not materialise. A man may vainly wait for a job, or promotion, or the return of a long-lost child or friend, or a love-letter, or a reunion with a divorced wife, and so on.
and Estragon by their waiting indefinitely and without any tangible result thus symbolise the millions of human beings who wait for something or other without attaining it. In this sense too the play has a general validity. But the ordeal of waiting is not the only subject of the play. The two tramps do not know who or what Godot is; nor are they sure that they are waiting at the right place or on the right day, or what could happen if they stopped waiting. In other words, the two tramps are lacking in the essential knowledge; they are ignorant. Being ignorant they cannot act and so they are impotent also. Thus the tramps produce in us a sense of baffled helplessness which we experience when forced to remain in a situation which we do not understand and over which we have no control. All that they do is to seek ways to pass the time in the situation in which they find themselves. They tell stories, sing songs, play verbal games, pretend to be Pozzo and Lucky, do physical exercises. But all these activities are mere stop-gaps serving only to pass the time. Here then we have the very essence of boredom. Thus the play represents not just waiting but also ignorance, impotence, and boredom. Vladimir and Estragon have travelled far towards total nihilism, though they have not fully achieved it. They are in a place and in a mental state in which nothing happens and time stands still. If Godot comes, a new factor may be introduced into their existence, whereas if they leave they will certainly miss him. Their waiting therefore contains an element of vague hope. Vladimir
The Problem of How to Get Through Life
Beckett had the habit of repeating the same themes and images and even characters from work to work in order perhaps to emphasise the nature of the world as he saw it. In his works, whoever the characters and whatever the situations, there is nothing beyond habit, boredom, forgetfulness and suffering. This is why the many and elaborate interpretations that have been offered of this play seem superfluous. Pozzo and Lucky, for instance, have variously been described as body and intellect, master and slave, capitalist and proletarian, coloniser and colonised, Cain and Abel, sadist and masochist, even Joyce and Beckett. But essentially and more simply, they represent one way of getting through life with someone else, just as
and Estragon more sympathetically represent another way of doing so. The mysterious Godot is just some diminutive god like all the other little gods—some divine, some political, some intellectual, some personal—for whom men wait, hopefully and in fear, to solve their problems and bring point to their pointless lives, and for whose sake they sacrifice the only real gift they have, namely their free will. When Estragon asks whether he and Vladimir have lost their rights, Vladimir replies that they have got rid of them (the rights). Waiting for Godot is thus the fullest statement of the problem that troubled Beckett. The problem is: how do you get through life? Beckett’s answer is simple and depressing: we get through life by force of habit, by going on inspite of boredom and pain, by talking, by not listening to the “silence”, absurdly and without hope. The two tramps in this play, with their boredom, their fear of pain, their shreds of love and hate, are a surprisingly effective version of the whole human condition—a condition for which action is no answer, chiefly because there is no obvious action to be taken: “Nothing to be done.” In other words Beckett comes to a nihilistic conclusion. The play also conveys the idea that our everyday existence is nothing but playing of games, clown-like, without real consequence, springing solely from the vain hope that it will make time pass. Our daily activities are similar to Estragon’s meaningless action in taking off his shoes and putting them on. Vladimir
The Religious Theme
Some critics have found a religious meaning in the play and it is not difficult to see why.
raises, and seriously too, the issue of human salvation early in the play. He feels worried at the thought that one of the two thieves was damned. Estragon has all his life compared himself to Christ and says rather enviously that “they crucified (him) quick.” The tramps wait for Godot who may represent God, and their persistence in waiting for Godot shows their faith in God. The mutual attachment of the two tramps and Vladimir ’s protective attitude towards his friend have been interpreted as Christian virtues. Pozzo’s being mistaken for Godot to begin with may also be linked with this religious interpretation. However, it is difficult to read in the play a consistent and elaborate religious allegory. Vladimir
Disintegration and Regression of Man
Among the depressing interpretations of the play is yet another. According to this interpretation, the play represents a disintegration of human beings, the climax in the play occurring when all the four characters fall to the ground upon one another, creating a formless mass from which
’s voice emerges, saying: “We are men!” Nothing escapes the destructive force of this regression: neither speech—torn to pieces in the rhetoric of Pozzo’s monologue on twilight—nor thought, which is undermined and destroyed by a whole series of absurd reasonings as well as by such passages as the incoherent speech delivered by Lucky. Lucky’s speech effectively represents the regression of man’s thinking intelligence. Vladimir
The Nullity Of Human Achievement
One critic urges us not to feel perplexed by the play’s meaning. Beckett, he tells us, is no didactic writer concerned to communicate a “message” in dramatic form. Even the many Christian echoes in the play do not add up to any coherent religions statement, but rather to a meditation upon a world governed by no other divinity than some sort of malignant fate, a world in which man waits and hopes for something to give value to his life and distract him from the absurdity of his death. Waiting for Godot is a meditative rhapsody on the nullity of human attainment.
A Suggestion of the German Occupation of
According to yet another view, the world represented in this play resembles
occupied by the Germans during World War II when Beckett lived first in the occupied zone and then escaped to the unoccupied region. Thus viewed, the play reminds us of the French Resistance organized by underground workers. How much waiting must have gone on in that bleak world! How many times must Resistance organisers have kept appointments with many who did not turn up and who may have had good reasons for not turning up ! We can imagine why the arrival of Pozzo would have an unnerving effect on those who waited. Pozzo could be a Gestapo official clumsily disguised. The German occupation of France should not of course be regarded as the “key” to the play; the play simply suggests the German occupation and thus acquires a certain historical value. France
Into this wonderfully suggestive and subtle play, Beckett incorporates such minor themes as the inadequacy of human language as a means of communication and the illusory nature of such concepts as past and future.
Different Meanings for Different People
In approaching Beckett we must give up asking what any of his plays is intended to mean. Beckett himself, when asked what a play of his meant, replied: “If I could tell you in a sentence I wouldn’t have written the play.” Waiting for Godot means different things for different people.