Set against the backdrop of desolation and inactivity, Beckett presents us with the underlying nature of human relationships, through the social dynamics of Pozzo and Lucky, and Vladimir and Estragon. We are shown their emotional reliance, interdependence, and inability for severance, through the extended metaphor of ‘ties’ and the ubiquitous imagery of ropes and ‘being tied’. Pozzo and Lucky are tied both physically, through a rope, and emotionally, through their need for each other. Vladimir and Estragon are tied less concretely, but no less significantly, through their emotional interdependence and through other, more literal ties, such as the rope they talk about hanging themselves with. These ties seem to act as an equaliser, bringing forward the similarities of these complex relationships, and putting forward universally Beckett’s main assertion in this extended metaphor – our need for human contact and companionship.
The only rope we ever see in Waiting for Godot is the rope that ties Pozzo to Lucky. This seems to be the most concrete, the most solid tie in Waiting for Godot, yet its insight into the relationship of Pozzo and Lucky is verisimilar, or at least quite cursory. We are given the idea that Pozzo is the master, and Lucky is the slave, at least as far as physical aspects of their relationship goes. We see how Lucky carries Pozzo’s bags, and how he dances for Pozzo’s amusement. Yet, this idea of their relationship is only verisimilar, as it does not show how mutually involved it is, and how it is not Pozzo who has complete control. Just as Pozzo has mastery of Lucky in the physical aspect of their relationship, it is Lucky who has the mastery of the mental and emotional aspects. Lucky makes Pozzo cry, completely unexpectedly :‘P: He used to be so kind . . . so helpful . . . and entertaining . . . my good angel . . . and now . . . he’s killing me.’ (p. 27). Lucky makes Pozzo completely unable to act when he begins his monologue, it is Lucky who seemed to have given Pozzo all the grand ideas which he later on pontifocates. But their relationship goes on further, from a struggle for dominance, to an emotional interdependence, and inability for severance.
The rope around Lucky’s neck does not just tie Lucky to Pozzo, but the both of them to each other. This relationship is not simply about this constant power-play; their struggle for dominance has become that which makes them so emotionally interdependent. Pozzo explains that Lucky ‘wants to mollify me so that I’ll give up the idea of parting with him.’ Despite all the abuse and the dysfunctions of their relationship, Lucky still wants to stay with Pozzo, he does not want to break away from him. Even Pozzo seems to ultimately not want to sever their ‘ties’. Pozz needs Lucky just as much as Lucky needs Pozzo – they need each other on both an emotional and physical level. In fact, despite all of Pozzo’s attempts at severing their bonds, we see them in the second act, even more inexplicably tied to each other, with the shortening of the rope that ties them together, and with Pozzo losing his sight. They have become closer together, and in a very concrete and actual way, they are now both completely physically, as well as emotionally reliant. When Pozzo falls, he drags Lucky down, and they cannot stand. We see them in the second act, now completely unable to separate themselves, because of the nature of their reliance. The literal and metaphorical ropes that ties one to the other have become the ropes of their bondage.
The ropes of Pozzo and Lucky’s relationship can also be found in the relationship of Vladimir and Estragon. Although there is a less tangible bond between Vladimir and Estragon, they are strongly still tied to each other emotionally and physically. The nature of Vladimir and Estragon’s relationship is different though in that we get the distinct idea that they are indeed cognizant of their interdependence, through the constant denial of it. Estragon, in act one, looks for affirmation from Vladimir – ‘E: We’re not tied? We’re not –’ (p.12), before being cut off, and going on to a different topic of conversation. The ties that link Vladimir and Estragon to each other are also interesting, in that we see their relationship as the less amplified version of the relationship between Pozzo and Lucky, in terms of their social dynamics.
In terms of their interdependence though, while there is an emotional component to both pairs need for each other, this emotional reliance seems much stronger with Vladimir and Estragon, than Pozzo and Lucky, who are largely physically reliant. This can be seen in the second act, wherein Pozzo and Lucky could not function without each other, yet Vladimir and Estragon can still be separated, if only for a night. Their metaphorical tie through their interdependence is something which shows the duplicity of their feelings for each other. There is this sense of both love and loathing with Vladimir and Estragon – they constantly talk about separating, in the hopes of improving their situation, yet this never happens, and they never actually act upon this desire. This contradiction of thought shows itself most thoroughly in the second act, when they see each other again. Estragon delcares ‘E: Don’t touch me! Don’t question me! Don’t speak to me! Stay with me!’ (p.49). Vladimir and Estragon are trapped in this situation of waiting for Godot, of desperately trying to mask this enveloping nothingness, with idle conversation, and mutual companionship. The ties that hold these characters together seem to be their only way of combatting the blankness and loneliness of their existences.
Vladimir and Estragon are bonded to each other inexplicably through their need of companionship, but they are also bonded to each other through another tie, their tie to Godot. This seems to be the central core of their relationship, and indeed it seems to be the impetus of them staying together. Throughout the text, they repeat, almost mantra-like, the exchange ‘E: Let’s go. V: We can’t E: Why not? V: We’re waiting for Godot.’ (p. 6). They stay together, under the façade of waiting for Godot, using this as an attempt to rationalise their inability to change or move. They seem to be unable to stay together, simply to stave off the loneliness, or at least, they cannot admit to this entirely. They can only admit to being tied to Godot, while being in a relationship that seems to be completely based on being bonded to each other. Vladimir states: ‘V: To Godot? Tied to Godot? What an idea! No question of it For the Moment’ (p.13) They must use Godot in order to reason staying together, despite showing time and time again how it is in fact their emotional reliance and need for companionship that keeps them from separating. Perhaps it is this falsehood which highlights their need so effectively. We are given the idea that this need for contact and human interaction is a fundamental, basic, and universal human need.
It is no coincidence that Estragon, the representation of the visceral and the physical aspects of their relationship, is most concerned with being tied. It is Estragon who wants most to be with Vladimir, just as it is Estragon who often talks about parting. What shows their need as being universal even more is the characterisation of Vladimir, Estragon, Pozzo, and Lucky. Their personalities give us the ability to see this as an entirely human message as they have no completely defining universal traits, beyond their desires. This seems to allow us to so thoroughly empathise with the characters, to feel so strongly within ourselves the need for each other that they display so powerfully on the stage. One may argue that these literal and metaphorical ties show how we find self-definition through our goals in life, and indeed, this is a valid interpretation. I would argue though that more than this, it shows how utterly lonely it is, going through life, and how we cling so strongly to these ties, that become a form of limitation and bondage, all so that we can stave off loneliness, through that human contact that has been mentioned again and again. In the end, what seems to be most moving, and most human about these characters is that they fall so easily and so willingly to entrapment, to mask the bleakness that they find themselves in.