The play, Waiting For Godot, is centred around two men, Estragon and Vladimir, who are waiting for a Mr. Godot, of whom they know little. Estragon admits himself that he may never recognize Mr. Godot, “Personally I wouldn’t know him if I ever saw him. ” (p. 23). Estragon also remarks, “ we hardly know him. ” (p. 23), which illustrates to an audience that the identity of Mr. Godot is irrelevant. What is an important element of the play is the act of waiting for someone or something that never arrives. Beckett however suggests that the identity of Godot is in itself a question. ” Estragon: Let’s go.
Vladimir: We can’t. Estragon: Why not Vladimir: We’re waiting for Godot. ” (p. 14). Estragon and Vladimir have made the choice of waiting, without instruction or guidance, as Vladimir says, “He didn’t say for sure he’d come” (p. 14), but decides to “wait till we know exactly how we stand” (p. 18). Waiting in the play induces boredom as a theme. Ironically Beckett attempts to create a similar nuance of boredom within the audience by the mundane repetition of dialogue and actions. Vladimir and Estragon constantly ponder and ask questions, many of which are rhetorical or are left unanswered.
During the course of the play, certain unanswered questions arise: who is Godot Where are Gogo and Didi Who beats Gogo All of these unanswered questions represent the rhetorical questions that individuals ask but never get answers for within their lifetime. Vis a vis is there a God Where do we come from Who is responsible for our suffering The German existentialist philosopher Martin Heidegger expressed clearly that human beings can never hope to understand why they are here. The tramps repetitive inspection of their empty hats perhaps symbolizes mankind’s vain search for answers within the vacuum of a universe.
Jean Paul Sartre, the leading figure of French existentialism declared that human beings require a rational basis for their lives but are unable to achieve one, and thus human life is a futile passion. Estragon and Vladimir attempt to put order into their lives by waiting for a Godot who never arrives. They continually subside into the futility of their situation, reiterating the phrase “Nothing to be done. ” Vladimir also resolves with the notion that life is futile, or nothing is to be done at the beginning, replying, “All my life I’ve tried to put it from me And I resumed the struggle. (p. 9). “Estragon: (anxious). And we Where do we come in” (p. 19).
Estragon’s question is left unanswered by Vladimir. Note that these questions seem to bring pain or anxiety to Estragon. Beckett conveys a universal message that pondering the impossible questions, that arise from waiting, cause pain, anxiety, inactivity and destroy people from within. Note that both Vladimir and Estragon ponder suicide, by hanging themselves from the tree, but are unable to act through to anxiety, as Estragon states, “Don’t let’s do anything. It’s safer. ” (p. 18).
Kierkagaard’s philosophical view of ‘Dread’ or ‘Angst’ (German for anxiety) as described by the German philosopher Martin Heidegger, is a state in which the individual’s freedom of choice places the individual in a state of anxiety, as the individual is surrounded by almost infinite possibilities. This could explain the inactivity of both Estragon and Vladimir. Both characters are aware of different choices they can make but are hesitant, anxious and generally inactive, as shown at the end of Act one when they decide to leave but are immobile. ” Estragon: Well, shall we go Vladimir: Yes, let’s go.
They do not move. ” (p. 54). Beckett infers that humans ‘pass time’ by habit or routine to cope with the existentialist dilemma of the dread or anxiety of their existence. Beckett believes that humans basically alleviate the pain of living or existence (which is at the crux of Existential philosophy) by habit. The idea of habit being essential for human existence substantiates Sartre’s view that humans require a rational base for their lives.
Beckett feels that habit protects us from whatever can neither be predicted or controlled, as he wrote about the theme of habit in his published essay concerning Proust: Habit is a compromise effected between the individual and his environment, or between the individual and his own organic eccentricities, the guarantee of a dull inviolability, the lightening-conductor of his existence. Habit is the ballast that chains the dog to his vomit. Breathing is habit. Life is habit. ” Estragon and Vladimir constantly ‘pass the time’ throughout the entire play to escape the pain of waiting and to possibly to stop themselves from thinking or contemplating too deeply.
Vladimir expresses this idea at the end of the play, ‘Habit is a great deadener’, suggesting that habit is like an analgesic – numbing the individual. The play is mostly ritual, with Estargon and Vladimir filling the emptiness and silence. “It’ll pass the time,”, (p. 12), explains Vladimir, offering to tell the story of the Crucifixion. Passing the time is their mutual obsession, as exhibited after the first departure of Pozzo and Lucky: ” Vladimir: That passed the time. Estragon: It would have passed in any case. Vladimir: Yes, but not so rapidly. ” (p. 48).
Estragon also joins in the game – “That’s the idea, let’s make a little conversation. ” (p. 48). The rituals by which Estragon and Vladimir combat silence and emptyness are elaborate, original and display Beckett’s skill as a writer. In the play Beckett echoes patterns of question, answer and repetition which is his alternative to all the flaccid chat and triviality of the conventionally ‘well-structured play’. Since his subject is habit and boredom, he has dispensed with plot; since his characters are without much history. Even the scenery is minimal – consisting of a tree and the road.
Beckett deliberately employs the repetition of themes, speech and action to highlight the futility and habit of life. Gogo and Didi frequently repeat phrases, such as, “Nothing to be done”. Their actions consist of ritually inspecting their hats. Nothingness is what the two tramps are essentially fighting against and reason why they talk. Beckett suggests that activity and inactivity oppose one another: thought arising from inactivity and activity terminating thought. In the second Act they admit that habit suppresses their thoughts and keeps their minimal sanity: ” Estragon: we are incapable of keeping silent.
Vladimir: You’re right we’re inexhaustible. Estragon: It’s so we won’t think. ” (p. 62). Estragon and Vladimir symbolize the human condition as a period of waiting. Most of society spend their lives searching for goals, such as exam or jobs, in the hope of attaining a higher level or advancing. Beckett suggests that no-one advances through the inexorable passage of time. Vladimir states this, “One is what one is. The essential doesn’t change. ”, (p. 21). This may be a mockery of all human endeavour, as it implies that mankind achieves nothing, and is ironically contradictory to Beckett’s own endeavour.
The tragicomedy of the play illustrates this, as two men are waiting for a man of whom they no little about. The anti-climaxes within the play represent the disappointment of life’s expectations. For example Pozzo and Lucky’s first arrival is mistaken for the arrival of Godot. These points reinforce Kierkagaard’s theory that all life will finish as it began in nothingness and reduce achievement to nothing. Beckett expresses in the play that time is an illusion or a ‘cancer’, as he referred to it, that feeds the individual the lie that they progress, while destroying them.
Estragon and Vladimir through the play end as they begin, have made no progression: waiting for Godot. The few leaves that have grown on the tree by the second act may symbolize hope but more feasibly represent the illusive passage of time. Beckett wrote in his Proust essay that time is the ‘poisonous’ condition we are born to, constantly changing us without our knowing, finally killing us without our assent. A process of dying seems to take place within all four characters, mentally and physically. Estragon and Vladimir may be pictured as having a great future behind them.
Estragon may have been a poet, but he is now content to quote and adapt, saying, “Hope deferred maketh the something sick” (p. 10) – the something being the heart from a quote from the Bible. Vladimir may have been a thinker, but finds he is uncertain of his reasoning, as when questioned by Estragon about their whereabouts the day before replies angrily (not rationally), “Nothing is certain when you’re about. ” (p. 14). Time also erodes Estragon’s memory, as shown here: ” Vladimir: What was it you wanted to know Estragon: I’ve forgotten. (Chews. ) That’s what annoys me. (p. 20). Time causes their energies and appetites to ebb.
The fantasized prospect of an erection – a by-product of hanging – makes Estragon ‘highly excited’ (p. l7). The dread of nightmares plague Estragon during the day; ailments and fears become more agonizing. It is an example of Beckett using ‘ordinary’ images to depict mankind’s decay. Time destroys Pozzo’s sight and strips the previous master of almost everything. Beckett’s bitterness towards time is illustrated by Pozzo’s bleak speech: “(suddenly furious). Have you not done tormenting me with your accursed time! ne day I went blind one day we were born, one day we shall die, the same day, the same second, is that not enough for you (Calmer. )
They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it’s night once more. ” (p. 89). When the structure of action is closing in through the course the play, with the past barely recognizable and the future unknown, the here and now of action, the present acting on stage becomes all-important. Existentialist theories propose that the choices of the present are important and that time causes perceptional confusion.
Note how shadowy the past becomes to Estragon, as he asks questions such as, “What did we do yesterday” (p. 14). Moreover, all the characters caught in the deteriorating cycle of events do not aspire to the future. The play consists of two acts which represent two cycles of time or two mirrors reflecting endlessly. The pattern of time appears to be circular or cyclic, as opposed to linear. Linear time seems to have broken down, as events do not develop with inevitable climaxes historically. The boy returns with the same message, Godot never comes and tomorrow never seems to arrive. Vladimir mentions that “time has stopped” (p. 36).