A Situation Having a General Human Application
The two key words in the title are “waiting” and “Godot”. What Godot exactly means has been the subject of much controversy. It has been suggested that Godot is a weakened or diminutive form of the word “God.” Godot may therefore suggest the intervention of a supernatural agency. Or perhaps Godot stands for a mythical human being whose arrival is expected to change the situation. We may presume, too, that both these possibilities (a supernatural agency and a supposed human being) may be implied through the use of the name “Godot”. Furthermore, although Godot fails to appear in the play, he is as real a character as any of those whom we actually see. However, the subject of the play is not Godot; the subject is “waiting”, the act of waiting as an essential characteristic aspect of the human condition. Throughout their lives, human beings always wait for something; and Godot simply represents the objective of their waiting—an event, a thing, a person, death. Beckett has thus depicted in this play a situation which has a general human application.
The Play, a Direct Presentation of Waiting, Ignorance, Impotence, Boredom
At first sight this play does not appear to have any particular relationship with the human predicament. For instance, we feel hardly any inclination to identify ourselves with the two garrulous tramps who are indifferent to all the concerns of civilised life. Godot sounds as if he might have some significance; but he does not even appear on the stage. However, soon we are made to realise that
and Estragon are waiting and that their waiting is of a particular kind. Although they may say that they are waiting for Godot, they cannot say who or what Godot is, nor can they be sure that they are waiting at the right place or on the right day, or what would happen when Godot comes, or what would happen if they stopped waiting. They have no watches, no time-tables, and there is no one from whom they can get much information. They cannot get the essential knowledge, and they are ignorant. Without the essential knowledge they cannot act, and so they are impotent. They 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. They understand this perfectly. “Come on, Gogo,” pleads Didi, breaking off a rejection on the two thieves crucified with Christ, “return the ball, can’t you, once in a way?” and Estragon does. As Estragon says later, “We don’t manage too badly, eh Didi, between, the two of us.......We always find something, eh Didi, to give us the impression we exist” Here we have the very essence of boredom—actions repeated long after the reason for them has been forgotten, and talk purposeless in itself but valuable as a way to kill time. We could appropriately say that the play is not about Godot or even about waiting; the play puts “waiting” on the stage. The play is waiting, ignorance, impotence, boredom, all these having been made visible on the stage before us. As a critic says, Beckett in his dramas does not write about things but presents the things themselves. In other words, a play by Beckett is a direct expression or presentation of the thing itself as distinct from any description of it or statement about it. In the waiting of the two tramps we, the audience, recognise our own experience. We may never have waited by a tree on a deserted country road for a distant acquaintance to keep his appointment, but we have certainly experienced other situations in which we have waited and waited. We may have waited and waited for a communication offering a job, or for the arrival of a train, or for a love-letter, or for something to turn up. In other words we can discover a common ground between ourselves and the two tramps who are waiting for Godot. We feel with them and with millions of others who have known ignorance, impotence, and boredom. Here is then the recognisable significance of the play and it is this which accounts for the play’s widespread appeal. Vladimir
The Mood of Vain Expectancy
“Waiting” and The Flow of Time
It is in the act of waiting that we experience the flow of time in its purest, most evident form. When we are active, we tend to forget the passage of time; but if we are waiting passively, we are confronted with the action of time itself. Being subject to the flux of time, human beings are, at no single moment, identical with themselves. We can never be sure that the human beings we meet are the same today as they were yesterday. When Pozzo and Lucky first appear, neither
nor Estragon seems to recognise them; Estragon even takes Pozzo for Godot. But after they have gone, Vladimir comments that they have changed since their last appearance. Estragon insists that he did not know them while Vladimir insists: “We know them, I tell you. You forget everything.” In Act II, when Pozzo and Lucky re-appear, cruelly deformed by the action of time, the tramps again have their doubts whether these are the same people whom they met on the previous day. Nor does Pozzo remember them. Here, then, is another aspect of “waiting” which is conveyed to us: the act of waiting makes us experience the flow of time. To wait means to experience the action of time, which is constant change. And yet, as nothing real ever happens, that change is in itself an illusion. The more things change, the more they are the same. That is the terrible stability of the world. “The tears of the world are a constant quantity,” says Pozzo, “For each one who begins to weep somewhere else another stops.” One day is like another, and when we die, we might never have existed. As Pozzo exclaims in his great final outburst: “Have you not done tormenting me with your accursed time? They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it’s night once more.” Still Vladimir and Estragon live in hope: they wait for Godot whose coming will bring the flow of time to a stop. Godot represents to the two tramps, peace and rest from waiting. They are hoping to be saved from the fleetingness and instability of the illusion of time, and to find peace and permanence outside it. Then they will no longer be tramps or homeless wanderers, but will have arrived home. Vladimir
Themes of Habit and “The Suffering of Being”
Waiting for Godot is a dramatisation of the themes of habit, boredom, and “the suffering of being”. Habit is a great deadener, says
; and, by the time he says so, he and Estragon have had about ninety, minutes on the stage to prove it. It is the sound of their own voices that re-assures the two tramps of their own existence, of which they are not otherwise always certain because the evidence of their senses is so dubious. The tramps have another reason also to keep talking. They are drowning out those voices that assail them in the silence, just as they assailed nearly all Beckett’s heroes in the novels. Vladimir
The Pointlessness of Existence
This play is a parable, Godot may stand for God, or for a mythical human being, or for the meaning of life, or for death, or for something else. The play is a fable about a kind of life that has no longer any point. This fable is a representation of stagnant life. It is a fable that suffers from a lack of cohesion because a lack of cohesion is its very subject-matter. This fable does not relate an action because the action it relates is life without action. This fable offers no story, because it describes man eliminated from, and deprived of history. The characters in this play have been pulled out of the world, and they no longer have anything to do with it. The world has become empty for them. The two heroes, or anti-heroes, are merely alive, but no longer living in a world. And this concept is carried through with a merciless consequence. Where a world no longer exists, there can no longer be a possibility of a collision with the world. In our world today millions of people have begun increasingly to feel that they live in a world in which they do not act but are acted upon. The two tramps, inspite of their inaction and the pointlessness of their existence, still want to go on. The millions of people today do not after all give up living when their life becomes pointless. The tramps are waiting for nothing in particular. They even have to remind each other of the very fact that they are waiting and of what they are waiting for. Thus, actually they are not waiting for anything. But, exposed as they are to the daily continuation of their existence, they cannot help concluding that they must be waiting. And, exposed to their continued waiting, they cannot help assuming that they are waiting for something. It is meaningless to ask who or what the expected Godot is. Godot is nothing but the name for the fact that the life which goes on pointlessly is wrongly interpreted to mean waiting, or as waiting for something. What appears to be a positive attitude of the two tramps amounts to a double negation: their existence is pointless and they are incapable of recognising the pointlessness of their existence. (Beckett himself said that he was not so much concerned with Godot as with waiting).