What does Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot suggest about the effectiveness of language as a tool of communication? Discuss, supporting your answer with evidence from the text.
Waiting For Godot is centered around the idea of hopelessness. Consist of two acts, the story revolves around Vladimir and Estragon who are waiting for Godot by the roadside. Waiting For Godot was written by Samuel Beckett and is considered to be part of the Theatre of the Absurd. There’s really no a dull moment in the play because the character often communicates with each other. But when you look closely, are they really communicating with each other and how effective is the language in said communication?
Language exists as a platform for both the characters and audience. With its own pattern, language serves its purpose to deliver certain information or address few problems. When the message is understood by both the speaker and listener, that is when language is deems as an effective tool of communication. But in Waiting For Godot, language does not seem to be utterly effective. When language is then use without any purpose, it becomes problematic in a sense that there is no context to what the speaker is trying to say which breaks the conversation.
Language, in the play, is not the key for communication. It is instead only used in an exchange of meaningless words between the characters. The language that Beckett is using in Waiting for Godot does not evolve into something comprehensible or understandable, instead it is empty and vague which left the audience bewildered. Vladimir and Estragon doesn’t really talk about things that are important but the conversation that they make are always short and interchangeable.
Reading the play text, the dialogues between the characters, mainly Vladimir and Estragon, does not make any logical sense nor they in a progressive order. However, when Waiting For Godot is seen in a stage perspective, the play text a lot more sense because the same meaninglessness, absurdity, and nothingness are difficult to express in language suggesting that language itself is insufficient.
Waiting For Godot is rich with stage direction and some of Beckett’s ideas cannot be convey only by spoken dialogue but also by stage language. “The stage directions achieve their special function when the coordination between expression and action is completely dissolved”, Iser (1996) Stage direction, in the play, took much part of it and therefore act as a narration when words utters by Vladimir and Estragon fail to tell what is really happening. For example, at the end of act one, Estragon suggest that they go somewhere and Vladimir agree to this idea but the stage direction said that they do not move. Then at the end of act two, the same dialogue was said by both Didi and Gogo. This introduce the idea that the character lives on beyond the play itself. The juxtaposition of the phrase ‘Let’s go’ and the stage direction ‘[They do not move]’ disrupts the causality between language and action.
Beckett uses repetition, whether through words, phrases or actions, quite often in Waiting For Godot. “Repetition of words often destroys the power of words, and also distance words from the time of the event which words try to describe”, Liao (2014). The phrase “waiting for Godot” was being constantly repeated in act 1 and doubled in act 2. The phrase loses its power to convince both Didi and Gogo to stay, hence the increase of the usage of the phrase because they want to further convince themselves to stay and keep on waiting for Godot.
The whole play itself is a repetition of actions with few variables. The characters are repeating what they have been doing in act 1 to act 2, mirroring one another. Surely, the characters have different topic of conversation but it is nonsensical nonetheless. This repetitive nature is giving the audience this idea that nothing is happening and life itself is stuck in a mundane cycle. Beckett’s use of repetition in action also able to convey this feeling of futility and lack of inherent meaning. Thus, it also proves how without language, message could be delivered and this could be related closely to the pantomime. “Beckett appears to be saying that communication through silence and gesture as in the pantomime is just as effective and perhaps more so than communication through the spoken word”, Oteiwy (2012).
Beckett’s most powerful attack on language would be the usage of silence. Silence, as we know, can be uncomfortable as they make seconds feels like minutes and even hours. Vladimir and Estragon does not create room for silence for a long time because they never wanted to acknowledge silence and that is when they started to communicate to avoid any silent moment. Here, Beckett uses one of the negative silences – avoiding, in which both of them talks but without addressing the real issues.
Through the play, Beckett manage to show a liberation in language that defies the rule of language itself and it was perfectly executed through Lucky’s speech. “In postmodern language games, the goal of the game is to make moves which expand the limits of the game, constantly disrupting its margins”, Nealon, (1988). In a sense, the speech could possibly be as Beckett himself as he also defies the rules of mainstream theatre.
There are two ways to see the idea of the speech unfolds, through the usage of the scientific and religious jargon or through the possible meaning that Beckett was trying to convey because nothing that Beckett do is purely accidental. Lucky’s starts of his speech with a hypothetical statement about the existence of a personal God. Though the whole speech was incoherent, Didi and Gogo are clearly affected enough by Lucky’s speech. There is no way of knowing whether they stopped him because they do not understand what he is trying to say or whether what he said had something to do with them. To an extent, language here is effective
Despite being incoherent, the speech is carefully structured around the repetition of some phrases and words. But one particular phrase, ‘for reasons unknown’, recurs more often than any other phrases. That phrase serves its functions as an effective concentration of Lucky’s message to the audience which is the impossibility of reasoning when causes are incomprehensible.
Ultimately, language is considered as an essential to a drama. In his play, Beckett uses language as a metaphor for the hopelessness of the human condition. Waiting for Godot showcased that both language and life have lost all of its meaning. Through this work, Beckett surely showed courage and his genius in creating dramatic dialogue of impossibility. Waiting For Godot also demonstrate Beckett’s expertise at contradiction where he uses language to create a sense of insignificance and the ineffectiveness of language.