Analysis of Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett

Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett | Analysis

Waiting for Godot Analysis

Waiting for Godot is one of the most commercially successful plays of the twentieth century. Beckett leaped into fame for this play, and, at the same time, because a highly controversial figure in the dramatic world. The play puzzled the readers and the spectators, and had yet an irresistible appeal of its own. The term “Godot” is apparently a diminutive of God. The five characters in the play are drawn from different nationalities : one Russian, one Spaniard, one Italian, one Anglo-Saxon, and one unnamed. This gives the play a universal appeal. Since the Dramatis Personae are drawn from different parts of the world, the play has caught on, and been translate languages and performed all over the world.

Waiting for Godot is a poignant expression of pessimism and despair. And yet it is a revelation, a play of, vision. The twentieth century is an era of nightmares. The Existentialists, the Surrealists and the Absurdists have presented a lurid picture of life. Waiting for Godot is perhaps more lurid than the rest. The central theme of the play appears to be simply ‘waiting’, but what the two bums wait for is not certain, in spite of the numerous critical exegeses provoked by the play. Although Beckett himself shows a marked reluctance to offer any explanation which might elucidate the meaning of his works, he has said that “Godot is life- aimless, but always with an element of hope.”

Once asked about the meaning of the plays, Beckett replied : “If I could tell you in a sentence I wouldn’t have written the play”. On another occasion, when asked to explain the significance of Godot, Beckett replied: “If I knew, I would have said so in the play”. In another context he said that the play “is striving all the time to avoid definition“. Since the play defies any definition, critics have, in their own ways, attempted to find out its meaning. “Those who agreed that Godot had a meaning”, says Alec Reid, “were deeply divided among themselves as to what that meaning was. One commentator, a devout and sensitive Roman Catholic, saw the play as a statement in dramatic terms of the wretchedness of Man without God, while another, a sensitive and intelligent Existentialist, insisted that it is a general expression of the futility of human existence when Man puts his hope in a force outside of himself.” Thus Beckett can be presented with equal conviction as a disciple of St. Aquinas and of Jean-Paul Sartre, while according to Ruby Cohn,

“Godot has been variously identified as God, a diminutive God, Love, Death, Silence, Hope De Gaulle, a Balzac character, a bicyle racer, Time future and a Paris street for call girls”.

Martin Esslin observes :

“It is the peculiar richness of a play like Waiting for Godot that is opens vistas on so many perspectives. It is open to philosophical, religious and psychological interpretations, yet above all it is a poem on time, evanescence, and the mysteriousness of existence, the paradox of change and stability, necessity and absurdity. “

Whatever be the interpretations of the play, the fact remains that Waiting for Godot is in the tradition of the Absurd. And yet Beckett has never committed himself to that school, if, at all, such a school exists. And the reason is not far to seek. The Absurd School, unlike the other Schools of drama has no well defined and systematic philosophy. The only mentionable thing is that all absurd plays are a searing penetration of pessimism. George Steiner in his Death of Tragedy suggests that Beckett has attempted, with a kind of queer Irish logic, to bar from the stage all forms of nobility and natural communication between characters and yet produce a play.

Man has been reduced to a clown, a puppet, Waiting for Godot cannot be given a convincing and rational explanation. The play, says Lumley, “combines many styles into a single mood; it has element of circus and panatomine, philosophical musings and attempts at existentialist suicides (which is doomed to failure). We meet on same stage no-man’s land two down and outs, Vladimir and Estragon. Their conversation leads them nowhere, nothing happens, their minds and their bodies remain numb as they wait, every night, for the Stranger”

Waiting for Godot is an interminable moan of uncompromising and unmitigated gloom. One of the characters aptly describes the play: “Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes, it’s awful”. Jean Anouilh describes it as a “music-hall sketch of Cartesian man performed by Chaplinesque clowds”. It is, however, something more. It is more than a mere combination of philosophy and Vaudeville. It is a complete denial of the Kantian notion of a designed universe. Even if ‘Godot’ means a little God, here man is alienated from God, man, and nature, from society and government. It is the arid universe from which providence has permanently left. It reminds us of the philosophy of the Beats that “the existentialist cat dug like that the positive answer of nothingness, in the face of nothingness, is positivism- we dig that the positive answer of nothingness, to nothingness, is nothingness- Man, isn’t that farther out ?”

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We all agree that Waiting for Godot defies analysis. And yet to say that the success of the play has arisen from a misunderstanding is a travesty of truth. It has certain features which are strikingly unconventional. Quite a few critics have pointed out that it is a wonderful synthesis of tragedy and comedy, and ably illustrates the remark of Nell in Endgame :

“Nothing is funnier than unhappiness… It’s the most comical thing in the world”.

We are often told that Waiting of Godot is a play made of nothingness. But it is something more. Once fourteen hundred convicts of the San Quentin Penitentiary watched the play, not with the wooden immobility of their face, but with considerable excitement. “It was because”, comments Martin Esslin,

“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 Sadomasochistic interdependence of Pozzo and Lucky and in the bickering hate-love between Vladimir and Estragon.”

Nothing happens in the play. And yet there is suspense right up to the end. The tramps are waiting perhaps for the meaning of life which eludes the grasp of most people, if not all. Waiting’ itself implies action. It is also equally debatable that the characters had no past. We learn from the play that they were once happy: Estragon was a poet; and Vladimir rescued Estragon from his quandary. There is a note of hope even amidst encircling gloom. The play, as Martin Esslin insists, is concerned with the ultimate realities of the human condition-the problems of life and death, isolation and communication. Apparently irreverent and atheistic, it represents a return to the religious function of drama.

In a sense, Waiting for Godot may be called a morality play, for it seeks to have a probe into ultimate reality. Beckett enough have thought seriously of identifying the suffering characters with Christ, who has suffered intensely. Estragon says: “All my life I’ve compared myself to [Christ]”. Vladimir refers to two thieves, crucified on either side of Christ on Mount Calvary, one of whom had his salvation. When Estragon says, “what do you expect, you always wait till the last moment”, he presumably thinks of the Biblical “Last Judgment”, which betokens salvation. If the thief has the prospect of salvation so has Estragon, for he says, suppose we repented” Beckett, this, identifies the tramps with the thieves.

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