Saturday, December 4, 2010

“Yet, if Beckett devalues language, he continues to use it and, bilingually, to show a mastery of it”. How far do you agree with this view? (P.U. 2004)

Nothing Happens, Twice
Waiting for Godot does not, indeed, contain any sensational or gripping or even moderately interesting story; the element of love is completely absent from it; there is no female interest in it whatever. As a critic remarked, in this play “nothing happens, twice.” In fact, so far as plot-construction is concerned, a remark by Estragon provides the keynote to it. Says Estragon at one point: “Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes, it’s awful!” According to one of the critics, “There is nothing done in it; no development is to be found; and there is no beginning and no end.” In spite of these deficiencies, however, Waiting for Godot has proved immensely successful on the stage. The play has appealed to the common people as well as to intellectuals.

The Play, World-Theatre
Since its performance in Paris in 1953, this play has been performed by all sorts of actors in all sorts of places in many different countries, and it has been translated into many different languages. It is not a play with only a limited appeal. Nor can it be called, as some do call it, an elaborate intellectual hoax. Waiting for Godot has proved itself to be world-theatre in spite of the fact that it has no spectacle, no star-part, no sex, not even a woman in the cast. The question why it has achieved such a striking success is not easy to answer. The immediate appeal of the play is due perhaps to the fact that, even though nothing much happens, it is intensely theatrical. The dialogue is always funny, and at the same time sad. Under the farcical ripple of the dialogue lies a serious concern.
A Situation Having a General Human Application
One reason for the wide popularity of this play is that it depicts a situation which has a general human application. The main subject of the play is “waiting”, and the act of waiting is an essential aspect of the human condition. The words “We’re waiting for Godot” are repeated in the course of the play like a refrain. Different interpretations of what is meant by Godot have been offered, but it does not really matter who or what Godot is. The tramps themselves have only a vague idea of who Godot is. They wait for him in a state of ignorance and helplessness. They have no control over the situation in which they find themselves. The play thus depicts, waiting, ignorance, impotence, and boredom; and all these are things, of which every one of us has a direct personal experience in life. Every one of us has waited and waited for something or the other—the offer of a job, the possibility of promotion, the return of a long-lost friend or relation, a love-letter, etc. Thus we can discover a common ground between ourselves and the two tramps who are waiting for Godot
The General Feeling of the Pointlessness of Existence Reflected in the Plight of the Tramps
It is not only the mood of expectancy in the play which has a general validity. While the play dramatises the themes of habit, boredom, and “the suffering of being,” it also conveys to us the pointlessness of existence. The play is a fable about a kind of life that has no longer any point. Godot may stand for God, or for a mythical human being, or for the meaning of life, or for death; but the play is a representation of stagnant life. The two heroes, or anti-heroes, are merely alive, but no longer living in a world. Theirs is a life without action, and all their attempts to pass the time peter out. 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, in spite 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. Thus the plight of the two tramps is something which most people can easily recognise and understand, and that is why they are able to respond to the play. People can also understand Estragon’s misery symbolised by his nightmares and by the mysterious persons who regularly give him a beating. It is not without reason that Estragon suggests hanging as a remedy for the tramps’ predicament. Under the conditions in which we live most of us have subconsciously thought of hanging ourselves even though we may not confess this thought. The mood of despair is not limited only to a small minority of people in the modern world; it is more or less a general attitude.
The Appeal of Lucky’s Monologue for the Thinking Mind
There is something to appeal to most people even in Lucky’s incoherent and disconnected monologue. It is undoubtedly a long speech which puzzles and even irritates us. But there is much in it to appeal to the thinking mind. Lucky’s speech should not be dismissed as so much nonsense. Lucky speaks first of all of a personal God who loves human beings dearly with some exceptions, but Lucky also speaks of those who for reasons unknown are plunged in torment. Lucky speaks too of the great deterioration in man’s thinking intelligence. In other words the theme of Lucky’s speech is regression in a world in which the inventions of science will bring about a catastrophe. Man’s mind is moving back to a primitive condition. This is certainly a depressing thought but, for the modern intellectual it has a certain plausibility and credibility.
The Appeal of the Tramps’ Mutual Relationship
Another reason for the wide appeal of this play is the manner in which the Pozzo-Lucky and the Estragon- Vladimir relationships are depicted. Pozzo and Lucky represent the tyrant-slave relationship. Pozzo reminds us of a feudal lord who dominates by his gestures and his inflated language. Pozzo and Lucky are tied to each other, both ways, not by their natures but by their external conditions. The slave is tied but the master is tied also, because he must hold the rope. Vladimir and Estragon have a different relationship: they are at once loving, suspicious, and resentful, wanting to break away yet still anxiously returning to each other; theirs is a voluntary relationship, with binding natural ties. Pozzo and Lucky represent one way of getting through life with someone else; Vladimir and Estragon represent another way of doing so, a more sympathetic and a more acceptable way. Thus through Vladimir and Estragon we come to a clearer knowledge of ourselves, to an increased capacity for living fully, and so to a spiritual liberation. The play is valid for all those who can assimilate the general anguish into their particular experience and thus translate it into their own terms. To such an experience we might apply Aristotle’s term “catharsis”. The contrast between the relationships of the two pairs of characters thus becomes an important clue to-the understanding of the play and produces certain echoes in us.
The Religious Appeal of the Play
Some people respond to what may be regarded as the religious appeal of the play. Godot is the external figure who can bring a change in the immobility of the two tramps for whom he certainly exists. The idea of grace or the possibility of salvation is prominent in the play, from the moment when Vladimir expresses his puzzlement over the different accounts given in the four Gospels of the fate of the two thieves curcified with Christ. According to one version, one of the two thieves was saved and the other damned. As Vladimir remarks “It’s a reasonable percentage.” A religious, indeed theological, motif runs through this near-static play, and it is not surprising that critics should have found some similarity between Beckett and Pascal. The Pascalian picture of the misery of man abandoned to himself is Beckett’s picture in this play. Vladimir’s and Estragon’s “waiting” might be explained as signifying their steadfast faith and hope, while Vladimir’s kindness to his friend, and the two tramps’ mutual inter-dependence might be seen as symbols of Christian charity. The tramps, who are waiting for Godot, may be regarded as superior to Pozzo and Lucky who have no appointment and no objective, and who are wholly egocentric, wholly wrapped up in their sado-masochistic relationship. The two tramps are less self-centred and have fewer illusions. The hope, the habit of hoping, that Godot might come after all may be an illusion but it is an illusion that sustains them and keeps them going. Godot lends to their pointless existence a certain meaning even though Godot himself is an ambiguous, unpredictable person.
The Appeal of the Comic Elements in the Play
Thus we see that a play, which seems to be made up out of nothingness, has a manifold appeal; and that is the reason why the audience is caught from beginning to end and remains riveted to the two tramps who do nothing and say practically nothing. But it is not only thematic variety that accounts for the popularity of this play. There are a couple of other ingredients too. Waiting for Godot, despite its serious and tragic implications, is a funny play which contains a number of comic and farcical elements. Estragon and Vladimir have rightly been compared to the famous Hollywood comedians of the nineteen-thirties, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. They give rise to a lot of mirth by their gestures, actions, movements, and by their conversation. Many of their actions are borrowed from the circus, such as Estragon’s amusing efforts to take off his boots, Vladimir’s repeatedly peering into his hat, the two tramps permuting hats, the futile attempts of the tramps to hang themselves, and the immobility of the tramps even after they have decided to move away. The amusing cross-talk of the tramps is borrowed from the English music-hall comedy. To take only a couple of examples, they indulge in the pastime of calling each other names: “moron”, “vermin”, “abortion”, “sewer rat”, “curate”, “critic”. At the end of this game of abusing each other, the two tramps make up the mock-quarrel and call each other “Gogo” and “Didi”. Towards the end of the play we have the following bit of dialogue which illustrates the kind of humour that occurs again and again:
Vladimir.         Pull on your trousers.
Estragon.        What?
Vladimir.         Pull on your trousers.
Estragon.        You want me to pull off my trousers?
Vladimir.         Pull ON your trousers.
Estragon.        (Realising his trousers are down). “True. (He pulls up his trousers).
Memorable Remarks and Utterances
Finally, there are a number of memorable remarks and utterances which have an instantaneous appeal for the audience. For instance, in one of his speeches Pozzo says that the tears of the world are a constant quantity, and that for each one who begins to weep, somewhere else another stops weeping,. This remark is like an aphorism. Then there is Pozzo’s lament, symptomatic of many human misfortunes: “I woke up one fine day as blind as Fortune.” But Pozzo’s great contribution to this play is the speech in which he points out the brevity of human life: “They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it’s night once more.” Vladimir too makes a few remarks that appeal to us greatly. In one of his speeches he refers to Pozzo’s repeated cries for help and says that these cries were addressed to all mankind. At this place and at this moment of time, Vladimir and Estragon are “all mankind”. They should therefore do something; “The tiger bounds to the help of his congeners without the least reflection, or else he slinks away into the depths of the thickets. But that is not the question. What are we doing here, that is the question…..We are waiting for Godot to come.” Soon afterwards Vladimir makes the following philosophic remark: “In an instant all will vanish and we’ll be alone once more, in the midst of nothingness.” Yet another remark worthy of note by Vladimir is: “Astride of a grave and a difficult birth……We have time to grow old. The air is full of our cries. But habit is a great deadener.” One of the highlights of this play is the poetic dialogue in which the two tramps describe “the dead voices” which make a noise like wings, like leaves, like sand; which whisper, rustle, murmur: which make a noise like feathers, like leaves, like ashes. This dialogue ends with a long pause at the end of which Vladimir entreats his friend to “say something”.
If the prisoners of San Quentin responded to Waiting for Godot, it was because they were confronted with their own experience of time, waiting, hope, and despair; because they recognised the truth about their own human relationships in the sado-masochistic inter-dependence of Pozzo and Lucky and in the bickering love-hate between Vladimir and Estragon. This is also the key to the wide success of Beckett’s plays: to be confronted with concrete projections of the deepest fears and anxieties, which have been only vaguely experienced at a half-conscious level, constitutes a process of catharsis and liberation (a process similar to the curative effect in psycho-analysis of confronting the subconscious contents of the mind). This is the moment of release from deadening habit, through facing up to the suffering of existence, that Vladimir almost attains in Waiting for Godot.

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