Waiting for Godot - the wait without end

by Zachary Zuccaro

"Waiting for Godot" is a play written by Samuel Beckett. The plot seems simple, and perhaps boring, enough - two men (Vladimir and Estragon) are awaiting the arrival of a certain Mr. Godot. However, as the play progresses it becomes evident that the work is overflowing with metaphorical subtleties and jokes, and is anything but simple. "Waiting for Godot" belongs to the theatre of the absurd meaning that cause and effect do not necessarily have their traditional import, and logical actions and speech are by no means prerequisites in the character's behaviors.

Every day, Vladimir and Estragon spend the entire day waiting by a tree for Godot. The two men seem to believe it is important to meet the man although they themselves do not know who he is or why they are meeting him. Such ignorance and/or forgetfulness is characteristic of the two men, and they have difficulty in remembering anything at all during the play. In boredom and desperation they attempt to amuse themselves by telling stories but to no avail. They even contemplate suicide but decide it is useless as they have no rope to hang themselves with.

Presently two men, Pozzo and Lucky, travel down the road and encounter Vladimir and Estragon. Lucky has a rope around his neck and is carrying Pozzo's bags and trunks. It soon becomes obvious that Pozzo is an arrogant and wealthy individual and Lucky is his slave. However, it eventually becomes evident that master and slave are interdependent and one can not manage without the other. Eventually Pozzo and Lucky resume their journey leaving Vladimir and Estragon to wait in solitude again.

This is where the final character, a young boy, comes into play. This boy is a messenger from Godot and informs the two men that although Mr. Godot was unable to come "today" he will surely come tomorrow. However, Vladimir and Estragon indicate that this is not the first time they have received such a message - in fact, the same boy comes every day and every day tells the two men that Mr. Godot will come tomorrow "without fail". This miserable message ensures that the men will always wait "tomorrow" although they have been repeating this routine endlessly (apparently for fifty years). The entire cycle of events is repeated in the play (with some variations) to help give the viewer the sense of hopelessness in this "infinite loop" of waiting until "tomorrow" every single day.

To fully appreciate the play, it is important to understand just who the characters are and what they represent. It is probably impossible to determine with certainty what each character represents, even Mr. Beckett claimed ignorance towards Godot's true identity; however, giving the characters identities (even personal ones) is necessary to receive the full emotional impact that the play is capable of imparting.

Without doubt Vladimir and Estragon are the easiest characters to identify - they represent all of mankind (as they say themselves during the play).

Pozzo gives subtle hints that he may represent the governments in the world; however, it is also possible that he merely represents the wealthy. Again, Lucky is his slave so thus represents either people who are "slaves" to the governments or wealthy of the world - i.e. Lucky probably metaphorically represents the impoverished in the world.

The young boy is, as mentioned before, Godot's messenger. However it is also related to the viewer that the boy minds Godot's goats, and the boy's brother (who gets beaten by Godot) minds the sheep. Although the messenger's identity is questionable, I believe the boys most likely represent ignorance and wisdom.

Now Godot is unquestionably the most critical character in the play - and also the one we never get to see and who is shrouded in mystery. One of the most common interpretations is that Godot represents God or Jesus especially due to the boy's mention of the goats and sheep and the religious discussion that Vladimir and Estragon have at the beginning of play. However, I view this characterization of Godot as being highly unlikely. Samuel Beckett himself claimed that he did not know who Godot was, but insisted that Godot was not intended to represent God.

Instead, I believe the most like interpretation of Godot is as death. I believe this interpretation helps give the play greater meaning and makes it considerably sadder - that is the play is actually a depiction of man's failed attempt to find happiness and meaning in life while perpetually waiting for death to come.

Viewed from such a standpoint, "Waiting for Godot" becomes ever more depressing. Here we see two men whose entire lives are ruined because day in and day out all they can worry about is when death is going to come. They go through the motions of life and pretend to be happy, but in truth they are miserable because they believe death is really just around the corner.

This anticipation and torture drives the men insane to the point of desiring suicide. All they want is peace, yet that peace will never be granted to them because they are worriedly waiting for the Godot who is always promising to arrive yet never does. The utter despair of the play is felt most keenly near the end during Vladimir's great soliloquy and his final emotional dialogue with the boy near the end, "You're sure you saw me, you won't come and tell me tomorrow that you never saw me!" Here we know that the boy will in fact come tomorrow and claim never to have seen Vladimir before just as he has probably thousands of times before.

By the end of the play we realize that what we have watched one of the most miserable situations possible - two men waiting although they know it is useless. Still they cannot leave because there is always the promise of tomorrow - tomorrow Mr. Godot will come, without fail. They are stuck in a limbo where they cannot live yet cannot die, where they desperately want to leave but are forbidden to do so. What the viewer is left with is a picture of utter despair and misery.

Although it is by no means certain what all the characters are supposed to represent, going into the play understanding that the characters are metaphors for something, and that the play itself is a metaphor of the human condition should ensure that the viewer gets the most out of this unique and wonderful play.

- Review by Zachary Zuccaro

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