Waiting for Godot

Dear Jeannie,

Sorry to hear about the stress! …But also welcome to the rest of your life. A good way to manage your stress is to prioritize, prioritize, prioritize. Also don’t be afraid to let an activity go if it’s all really too much.

Back to the subject at hand, this week I read Samuel Beckett’s play, “Waiting for Godot.” The tagline reads “A tragicomedy in two acts” which I find a bit misleading. Though the “two acts” part is right on, if it’s comedic at all, it’s the kind of absurd comedy that isn’t actually funny. Tragic, I’ll agree with.

The premise is simple: two men are waiting for Godot. Like the two main characters, Vladimir and Estragon, the reader too spends the entire play waiting for something. Things happen of course (“things happen” is almost an axiomatic definition of existence) but *mild spoiler* not the thing the characters nor the reader waits for. Godot never materializes and the emotional payoff—some closure to the story—never materializes for the reader. In fact, what is said isn’t the important or interesting thing, it’s what isn’t said, what the shape of the silences create, the negative space, that gives this play depth and existential meaning. After all, the dialogue is often terse, confounding, trivial, fragmented, absurd:
[Exhibit A]

ESTRAGON: Then adieu.
POZZO: Adieu.
POZZO: Adieu.
Silence. No one moves.
POZZO: Adieu.
POZZO: And thank you.
VLADIMIR: Thank you

[Exhibit B]

LUCKY: Given the existence as uttered forth in the public works of Puncher and Wattmann of a personal God quaquaquaqua with white beard quaquaquaqua outside time without extension who from the heights of divine apathia divine athambia divine aphasia loves us dearly…

From the incomprehensibility of large swathes of the dialogue, it’s clear to the reader that Beckett probably intended this work to have some allegorical meaning. Godot, must be in reality a symbol for something bigger.

ESTRAGON: (having tried in vain to work it out). I’m tired! (Pause.) Let’s go.
VLADIMIR: We can’t.
ESTRAGON: Why not?
We’re waiting for Godot.
ESTRAGON: Ah! (Pause. Despairing.) What’ll we do, what’ll we do!

The line “We’re waiting for Godot” is repeated six times, always in the context of why they cannot leave the side of the road. We don’t know why they’re waiting for Godot, just that they are. In fact, the only alternate solution to the waiting that’s proposed with any possibility is suicide by hanging. Their only problem? They don’t have a rope that’s long or strong enough.

I personally interpret the act of waiting for Godot as a symbol for life passing by (something reinforced by the fact that four out of the five characters in the play are aged). The two men are essentially physically tied to that one spot by the roadside, merely whiling away the time until either Godot arrives or night falls—whichever is first (and it’s always night).

Vladimir: …What are we doing here, that is the question. And we are blessed in this, that we happen to know the answer. Yes, in this immense confusion one thing alone is clear. We are waiting for Godot to come—…Or for night to fall. (Pause.) We have kept our appointment and that’s an end to that. We are not saints, but we have kept our appointment. How many people can boast as much?

Each day, their waiting is merely another go around in futile circularity, the only breakpoint of which is death.




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