Waiting For Godot Essay, Research Paper
Discuss the Ways in which Form and Visual Element of Waiting For Godot Reveal Beckett s view of the Meaning of Existence.
On the surface Waiting for Godot is a hopeless play and was summed up by Jean Anouilh
Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes, it is terrible . However, Waiting for Godot is also a play primarily about hope in a hopeless situation. The act of waiting for hope to arrive. The subject of the play quickly becomes an example of how to pass the time in a situation which offers no hope. Beckett s meaning of existence therefore revolves around hope, hopelessness and chance. He uses various concepts and objects to represent tis ideas such as the hat, the tree, the boots and the bible.
The meaning of the human life is an unanswerable question as it varies from person to person. Existentialism is an idea raised in this play, that is a theory emphasising the existence of the individual person as a free and responsible agent determining his or her own development. The underlying premise of Waiting for Godot is that chance is the determining factor behind existence and thus human life is controlled by chance. This notion is established early on in the play when Vladimir mentions the parable of the bible.
V: One of the thieves was saved. Its a reasonable percentage.
The word percentage takes on significance because it ties in the with idea of chance and represents how the fate of humanity determined is random, based on luck as to whether we shall perish or be saved by Godot.
Time is meaningless in this play and this comes about as a direct result of chance, chance being the underlying factor of existence. There is continuos, cyclic pattern to the events in Waiting for Godot. Vladimir and Estragon return to the same place each day to wait for Godot and experience the same general events with slight variations each time. It is not known for how long in the past they have been doing this or how long they will continue to do it but since time is meaningless in this play, it is assumed that past, present and future all mean nothing.
Time is essentially a mess and the ramifications of this on the existence of human life is symbolised by the differences in Pozzo and Lucky between the two acts. In Act 1 Pozzo is travelling to the market to sell Lucky his slave. Pozzo has decided to sell Lucky because they have been together over sixty years and Lucky, although he used to be a pleasant slave to have around has become quite annoying. There is nothing wrong with Pozzo and Lucky is told to dance and think. What comes out is a oratory mess filled with unfinished ideas. This is their situation the first time they meet Vladimir and Estragon. The next day however, everything has changed. Pozzo is now blind and Lucky mute.
Like both Vladimir and Estragon, Pozzo also has absolutely no recollection of the previous meeting and claims that Lucky has always been mute even though just the day before he gave a long philosophical but confused narrative when commanded to think. Vladimir asks
Pozzo when he became blind and Pozzo responds I woke up one fine day as blind as fortune . Vladimir is very persistent and continues questioning him. Pozzo becomes irritated and responds violently Don t question me . Pozzo s situation symbolises the effect of time on humans. The meaningless of a world based on chance degenerates human
life into something that is worthless and is played with by luck and fortune. Beckett uses
this change in Pozzo and Lucky to show us that human life is meaningless because time is meaningless.
The world is Waiting for Godot is one without any meaningful pattern. There is absolutely no orderly sequence of the events and both time and place lose form. The objects take on greater importance and this symbolises chaos as the dominating force in the world. The tree is strick and barren one day but is covered with leaves the next day. The boots which are too tight and small one day fit perfectly the next. Night falls instantly and Godot never comes. The entire setting of the play is meant to demonstrate that time is based on chance and therefore human life is based on chance.
Both Vladimir and Estragon return to the same place everyday to wait for Godot and they can never remember exactly what happened the day before. Estragon cannot remember anything past what was said immediately prior to his lines and Vladimir, although possessing a better memory than Estragon distrusts what he remembers. Since Vladimir cannot rely on Estragon to remind him of things, he too exists in a state of forgetfulness.
This existentialism of their forgetfulness is one of the main reasons why they remain together. Since Estragon cannot remember anything, he needs Vladimir to tell him his history. It is as if Vladimir is establishing Estragon s identity by remembering for him. Estragon also serves as a reminder for Vladimir of all the things that they have done together. Thus both men serve to remind the other man of his very existence. This is necessary since no one else in the play ever remembers them.
V: We met yesterday, do you not remember?
P : I don t remember having met anyone yesterday. But tomorrow I won t remember having met anyone today. So don t count on me to enlighten you.
A similar episode occurs later with the boy, a servant of Mr Godot. The boy claims never to have seen either Vladimir or Estragon before and he does not remember one day from the next. The boy is important as he is the only link that the two men have with Godot but in both Acts the boy serves the same purpose. He tells Vladimir and Estragon that Godot will not becoming today but will surely come tomorrow, thus signalling hope, giving them something, a reason to wait.
The theme of hope is evident throughout the play, although it may be a pessimistic hope it is still hope none the less. It revolves around Vladimir and Estragon and their pitiful wait for hope to arrive. The subject of the play quickly becomes an example of how to pass the time in a situation which offers no hope.
E: Nothing to be done
V: I m beginning to come round to that opinion.
Godot provides both men with hope to survive. He is an illusion of salvation which is needed to cope with a meaningless life. Godot gives them a reason to live and without him both Vladimir and Estragon would have perished long ago but this belief in Godot keeps them waiting and thus living. It is never clear whether or not Godot is real or not and in both acts Vladimir and Estragon mistake Pozzo as being Godot. They have never seen Godot nor will they ever see him. The only contact with Godot comes via a messenger boy who cannot remember anything, another indication of the absence of a meaningful time sequence.
Vladimir s and Estragon s lives are filled with hopelessness and a direct result of this hopelessness is their daily struggle to pass the time. Most of this play is dedicated to devising games which will help pass the time. This is the other reason why they stay together. Passing time becomes their mutual occupation and Estragon struggles to find games to help them accomplish their goal. Both Vladimir and Estragon admit to being happier when apart but one of the main reasons they continue their relationship is that they need each other to pass the time. This being the paradox, they are happier apart, yet cannot bear to part each other, each mutually dependent on the other party.
We would think that both Vladimir and Estragon would have died from oppression as to the reader their situation is totally hopeless. However, throughout the play Vladimir and Estragon both remain cheerful and seek distraction in their pointless activities. Beckett is trying to show that humans try to ignore and remain oblivious to their conditions. In a sense Vladimir and Estragon, being double negatives become a positive. This is where the humorous element of the play enters. Both tramps try to distract on another from the endless wait by arguing over very petty and pedantic topics. They even contemplate suicide but cannot decide who should go first. They do this to try to forget the fact that they are waiting for something and the fact that they do not know when it is the thing they are waiting for will arrive, if ever.
As we can witness Beckett thinks that the meaning of existence is one based chance and hope. Time has no meaning as a world which is based on chance can have no orderly time sequence. However humans can survive as long there is an element of hope. The situation of both Vladimir and Estragon is totally hopeless yet they continue to wait as they have faith and hope that one day Godot will come. They contemplate suicide but that would mean that they would not be there when Godot finally does arrive, this being the mutual goal of both men. There is no guarantee that even when Godot comes they will be saved but the hope that Godot will bring change to their lives is enough to empower them to keep waiting.