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Analysis of Themes and Characters of ‘Waiting for Godot’

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This paper aims to reflect on themes of ”Waiting for Godot” and analyzing the characters of the play. To analyze the play we have to consider about author’s life and what kind of effects of his life exist in the play.

Samuel Beckett was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1906. He was provided with an excellent education, graduating from Trinity College, Dublin, with a major emphasis in French and Italian. So based on this, we can say that Samuel Beckett saw two World Wars as well. He was influenced by the post-war period like thousands of people. In the post-war period, emotions such as pessimism, despair, and helplessness were experienced intensively. People began to lose faith in God and question this atrocity. People started to question both the existence of God and the existence of mankind. If God exists, why people suffer? Why man was created by God? Or Was it not the God who created us? Who are we indeed? These kinds of questions changed people’s points of view. New trends showed up in the literature and arts in that period.

Modern world literature puts up many sorrowful and melancholic works by the influences of horrifying actions of wars. After the outbreak of the Second World War, different reflections in all areas of art have emerged in the field of theater and absurd theater has emerged. Samuel Beckett and Eugene Ionesco are the most important names of absurd theater.

The theatre of the absurd

Esslin (1960) introduced the term “Theatre of the Absurd” to describe the pioneering work of some playwrights who appeared in the early 1950s, such as Eugene Ionesco, Samuel Beckett, Jean Genet, and Arthur Adamov, as well as of the younger generation of playwrights who were inspired by them, including Harold Pinter. With this term, Esslin does not suggest a proclaimed school or an organized movement. Rather, he proposes a common label for those post-war dramatists who express in their work the sense of loss and the futility of existence after the modern human has declined religious faith and is faced with the absurdity of his or her essence. As Ionesco (1989: 45) maintains, Esslin uses the term ”absurd” to describe this genre because of the broad discussion around this notion at that time. That is, Esslin sees the work of these playwrights as giving articulation to Camus“ philosophy as expressed in his philosophical essays entitled Le Mythe de Sisyphe (The Myth of Sisyphus, 1942). Camus presents Sisyphus, the archetypal absurd hero, as a reflection of the absurdity that pervades the human condition, namely the alienation of humans from their universe and their condemnation to being pointlessly preoccupied perpetual action while accomplishing nothing (Simpson, 1998: 35). He thus suggests that life is inherent without meaning. This existential perspective, at first developed in conventionally structured plays that followed logical reasoning, has then become the core of absurdist drama as a genre, which emerged after the horrors of World War II. The innovation of these texts lies in the unique way in which this topic is presented, through the abandonment of the conventions of realism, rather than in the topic itself: The Theatre of the Absurd has renounced arguing about the absurdity of the human condition; it merely presents it in being – that is, in terms of concrete stage images. (Esslin,1980: 25)

In Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, Beckett represents the world of Vladimir and Estragon as one of chaos, devoid of any meaningful structure or pattern. Time cannot be applied in this World where a day can end without notice and where one cannot remember their actions from the previous day. Time is essentially meaningless, as it is only experienced by a terminal repetition of waiting with no end in sight, except death. Life has two absolute truths, birth, and death. The momentary experiences and memories that define what lies between these two truths have been structured into a linear progression of the human mind into the concept known as time. If one accepts this existentialist view of existence, then the concept of fate and predestiny simply cannot exist. Each moment of life is dictated by chance and circumstance, bestowing fortune on some while misery on others.

Existentialism

Existentialism is a term like “rationalism” and “empiricism”, “existentialism” that belongs to intellectual history. The term was explicitly adopted as a self-description by Jean-Paul Sartre, and through the wide dissemination of the postwar literary and philosophical output of Sartre and his associates—notably Simone de Beauvoir, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Albert Camus—existentialism became identified with a cultural movement that flourished in Europe in the 1940s and 1950. On the existential view, to understand what a human being is it is not enough to know all the truths that natural science—including the science of psychology—could tell us. The dualist who holds that human beings are composed of independent substances—“mind” and “body”—is no better off in this regard than is the physicalist, who holds that human existence can be adequately explained in terms of the fundamental physical constituents of the universe. Existentialism does not deny the validity of the basic categories of physics, biology, psychology, and the other sciences (categories such as matter, causality, force, function, organism, development, motivation, and so on). It claims only that human beings cannot be fully understood in terms of them. Nor can such an understanding be gained by supplementing our scientific picture with a moral one. Categories of moral theory such as intention, blame, responsibility, character, duty, virtue, and the like do capture important aspects of the human condition, but neither moral thinking (governed by the norms of the good and the right) nor scientific thinking (governed by the norm of truth) suffices. “Existentialism”, therefore, may be defined as the philosophical theory which holds that a further set of categories, governed by the norm of authenticity, is necessary to grasp human existence. To approach existentialism in this categorial way may seem to conceal what is often taken to be its “heart” (Kaufmann 1968: 12), namely, its character as a gesture of protest against academic philosophy, its anti-system sensibility, its flight from the “iron cage” of reason.

Themes of ‘’ Waiting for Godot’’

”Waiting for Godot” is an existentialist play. It presents many themes of existentialism such as absurdity, nothingness, futility, uncertainty, nihilism, thoroughness into being, angst(anxiety) and disappearance of solutions on the part of human beings, who are in turn left exploited, suffered and bewildered by powerful forces of the bourgeoisie prevalent in the social formation. Therefore, its main theme is also absurdity. The play describes existentialist philosophy and its absurdity. It possesses an overall feeling of absurdity while simultaneously expresses many other themes of existentialism. Absurd is, in fact, an existentialist term, which describes an existence-a world without the inherent meaning of truth.

Secondly, Meaningless of life is a significant theme. None of the charecters has a meaningful purpose in life. The human was dumped into the world and abandoned by God. There is nothing to do with this situation except waiting. And it si not clear that waiting will be a solution to find a meaning. Gogo and Didi want to commit suicide. Because there is no meanaing in life but they could not. Again there is no clear knowledge what will happen after death. This makes them suffer from the repetition of moments and meaningless life. This is the folly of seeking meaning. It represents futility and folly of such a search for meaning in an inherently meaningless existence. human beings are born without asking to be born and they die without seeking to die.

The third theme is uncertainity of time presents a slew of problems in Waiting for Godot. The very title of the play reveals its central action: waiting. The two main characters are forced to whittle away their days while anticipating the arrival of a man who never comes. Because they have nothing to do in the meantime, time is a dreaded barrier, a test of their ability to endure. Because they repeat the same actions every day, time is cyclical. That every character seems to have a faulty the memory further complicates matters; time loses meaning when the actions of one day have no relevance or certainty on the next.

The forth theme is Suffering is a constant and fundamental part of human existence in Waiting for Godot. Every character suffers and suffers always, with no seeming respite in sight. The hardship ranges from the physical to the mental, the minor to the extreme. It drives some men to find companionship, causes others to abuse their companions (to lessen the suffering of the self), and for still others leads to self-isolation (since watching people suffer is a kind of anguish on its own). Vladimir and Estragon suffer not for lack of happiness, but for lack of certainty. It is worse to not know whether or not they are miserable than to be certain of their anguish.

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The fifth theme is Mortality. None of the characters in Waiting for Godot shy away from the fact that death is inevitable. In fact, death becomes at times a solution for the inanity of daily life. The main characters contemplate suicide as though it were as harmless as a walk to the grocery store, probably because there’s nothing in their life worth sticking around for anyway. They ultimately do not commit suicide because they claim not to have the means, but also because they are uncertain of the result of their attempt (it may work, it may fail). Because they can’t be sure of what their actions will bring, they decide on no action at all.

Analysis of Characters

The main characters do not address each other by their own names. Instead, they use the pseudonym Gogo and Didi. Their names don’t matter, because their personalities don’t matter. They are both strong enough to represent “everyone, and faint to represent“ nobody ”. The concept of nothingness destroys itself when it is considered and spoken. Because when we talk of nothing, we have it. The relationship between nothingness and being emerges when people in the play appear on the stage concretely. Gogo and Didi are always together. They’re completely opposite, but they can’t do without each other. They know they won’t do anything by themselves, so they don’t separate.

Vladimir: He represents the intellectual side of human. It is an imaginative, hope-oriented creation that values human dignity. He has time consciousness. Vladimir’s intellectual discomfort is determined by constantly taking off his hat and checking his inner self. It is Vladimir who tries to find out if there is an essence of “existence” that tries to remember the past. He read the Bible, and tells stories from the Bible as if he wanted to prove that he knew the Bible well.

Estragon: This character reflects the instinctual side of man. Estragon doesn’t remember the past. It does not ponder human values. His mind is either in his stomach or his feet. He represents the instinctual body needs of humans. The reduction of Estragon’s existence to its physical position is determined by the constant wearing of boots that it cannot comfort its feet in. Estragon has an attitude that ignores everything except physical requirements. The reason why he was held captive by Godot was that he could not leave Vladimir.

The fact that these double are in constant conflict tells about the conflicts one experiences in his inner world. In other words, Beckett told people by dividing them into pieces.

Pozzo represents colonial sovereign powers. He is in need of Lucky to earn more money. He gets blind in the second act of the play.

Lucky symbolizes the intellectual and physical labor. He is like a slave of Pozzo. He becomes a dumb in the second act of the play.

Pozzo is a blind and Luck is a dumb. So they need to each other to move on. Thus, the owner-slave relationship is in decline. Changing time conditions are a summary of the events in the social and historical process.

Child: At the end of each act play, he appears. The child is chosen as a messenger to let Godot know that he could not come. Because the child is pure, he conveys exactly what is desired with his purity.

Godot: This unknown and unseen character might be a God for religious people or hope for hopeless people or whatever people want to see and worth for waiting. It might be anything that depends on who considers this unknown thing. The notion of Godot might have a different meaning and value according to who and how to perceive it.

References

  1. Camus, A. (1942). Le Mythe de Sisyphe: Essai sur l‘ Absurde. Paris: Gallimard.
  2. Esslin, M. (1960). The theatre of the absurd. Tulane Drama Review, 4(4): 3-15.
  3. Esslin, M. (1980). The Theatre of the Absurd (3rd edition). London: Penguin.
  4. Ionesco, E. (1989). Theaters of the absurd. Partisan Review 56(1), 45-9.
  5. Simpson, P. (1998). Odd talk: Studying discourses of incongruity. In Culpeper, J., Short, M. & Verdonk, P. (eds.), Exploring the Language of Drama: From text to context. London: Routledge, 34-53.
  6. Kaufmann, W., 1968. Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre, Cleveland: Meridian Books.

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Analysis of Themes and Characters of ‘Waiting for Godot’. (2022, Jun 09). Edubirdie. Retrieved October 2, 2022, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/analysis-of-themes-and-characters-of-waiting-for-godot/
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Analysis of Themes and Characters of ‘Waiting for Godot’ [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Jun 09 [cited 2022 Oct 2]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/analysis-of-themes-and-characters-of-waiting-for-godot/
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