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The Meaning of Personal Relationships in Waiting for Godot

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In this essay I will answer question number three. To do this I have decided to analyse the personal relationships in one of the texts that we have read in the module: Waiting for Godot, by Samuel Beckett. Waiting for Godot (in French: En attendant Godot is a work belonging to the theatre of the absurd, written at the end of the 40s by Samuel Beckett and published in 1952. Beckett wrote the original work first in French, which is his second language. The English translation was made by Beckett himself and published in 1955.

The work is divided into two acts, and in both appear two tramps called Vladimir and Estragon who wait in vain next to a road to a certain Godot, with whom - perhaps - they have some appointment. The audience never gets to know who Godot is, or what kind of issue they have to deal with him. In each act, two more characters appear, the cruel Pozzo and his slave Lucky, followed by a boy who sends the message to Vladimir and Estragon that Godot will not come today, 'but tomorrow sure' but the play finishes with Godot never showing up. In fact, the audience and the readers could never now if Godot was alive or even real. The plot, of which the origin is not to have any relevant fact and is very repetitive, symbolizes the boredom and lack of meaning that human life has, recurrent theme of existentialism.

A famous interpretation of the mysteriously and absent Godot is that it represents God, although Beckett has always denied this. Beckett confirmed that the name was derived from godillot, which in French means boot. Taking this in count, the title could suggest that the characters are waiting 'for the boot”. In the one hand we could say that it could be a metaphor: they are waiting for some kind of shoe-wear to keep walking through life. It can also be seen as another kind of metaphor saying that they are waiting for a “kick”, in a way of saying that they are waiting for bad news. As a proper name, Godot could also have been derived from different French verbs. Waiting for Godot belongs to the “absurd” . The theatre of the absurd covers a set of works written by certain American and European dramatists during the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s and, in general, the one that emerged from the work of those. Its main feature is to have plots that seem to lack any kind of meaning, that talk with repetitive dialogues and have lack of dramatic sequence that often creates a dreamlike atmosphere.

The theatre of the absurd is also characterised by having strong existentialist features and usually questions society and man, what is wrong and what is right. Through humour and mythification they hid a very demanding attitude towards their art. Incoherence, nonsense and illogical are also very representative features of these common works . The work really highlights the fact that it lacks abundance of characters. This is one of the facts that makes much harder describing the personal relationships between the plot. Also, the dialogues are repetitive and meaningless. In the play we can see that there are only five characters on stage (six if we count Godot, who never appears or speaks). These five characters are: Estragon and Vladimir, being these two the main characters – who are always on the stage, and then we have Pozzo and Lucky, who are side characters, and the fifth character is a boy who doesn’t have a name and appears two times just to tell the other characters that Godot is not coming. First of all, I would like to define what a personal relationship is.

The thing we call personal relationships refers to close contact between people, formed by emotional and sometimes sentimental bonds and interactions. These relations often age from and are stablished by mutual experiences. There is one kind of personal relationships that is really linked to Waiting for Godot according to John Robert Keller . This kind of relationship is called dyadic relationship. The dyad is the term registered by the German sociologist Georg Simmel, in his research on the dynamics of small social groups, to refer to social groups composed of two people. Marriages, intimate relationships or intimate friendships are groups of this type. Godot, who never appears on stage, represents the maternal side of a dyadic relationship in where the mother is an absent character. It is something that builds up the emotional background of the play’s internal world. This means that the relationship that everyone has with Godot is dyadic, and Godot is always playing a role of absent mother. The other relationships in the play are also dyadic and they are fluid too, because the characters assume mother–infant roles. From the very beginning of the play we can see the companionship between Vladimir and Estragon – who are also a dyadic relationship.

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The play starts with Estragon alone on the stage trying to take off his boot and constantly failing. Then Vladimir enters in stage and that is the first time we see them both together, but by their dialogue we can tell they have known each other form way before. We are told that the characters have been separated over the night, but we never get to know how they met each other or when and most importantly for how long. When Vladimir is on stage, Estragon’s shoe falls off without any effort. Here we could say that Estragon needs Vladimir on stage to get what he wants or to achieve something. The ease with which they meet each other in that moment gives us, as an audience, a vision and allows us to pay attention to the fact that we are not seeing two strangers on stage, but that we are witnesses of two friends. The play goes on with Vladimir saying: VLADIMIR: I'm glad to see you back. I thought you were gone forever. ESTRAGON: Me too. VLADIMIR: Together again at last! (…) (Act 1 – Beckett, Samuel, Waiting for Godot, 1953). These lines imply that when Estragon is not by the side of Vladimir, Vladimir feels sad, and the word “glad” gives us an unmistakable clue that they do share a companionship and a friendship.

David Smith said that this pair seem to reflect the society of modern day and it is important to remember their loneliness and isolation, their sempiternal waiting for Godot and he finds himself wandering if this is the cause of their strong attachment for one another. Like any pair of friends, they fight and then they make up, but Vladimir and Estragon surely share the strongest want and need for each other’s presence and friendship. In fact there is a moment in the first act when Estragon violently says “I’m hungry” and Vladimir quickly offers him everything he has in his pockets – as if feeding Estragon made him happy. It is a bit patriarchal and close-minded but it has been considered that Vladimir plays the “female” role and Estragon the “male” role. It looks like their needs and wants match the other’s perfectly and this may be the reason why Beckett said that they were a “pseudo-couple” – maybe they do not want to be together all the time but they recon the other as a necessary person in order to survive. Vladimir: Gogo! Estragon: Didi! Vladimir: Your hand! Estragon: Take it! Vladimir: Come to my arms! Estragon: Your arms? Vladimir: My breast! [They embrace. They separate. Silence.] (Beckett, Samuel -Waiting for Godot, Act 2.) This dialogue – which belongs to Act 2 – roughly represents the relationship of these two characters: they doubt about each other’s actions and they fight mainly because of their isolation and boredom, but it doesn’t matter whatever happens to them, they always come back together and embrace each other.

Another fact to mention is the humour with which this passage is written. It looks like they are making fun of their friendship, they come together in a hug but they at once separate again. It is also an important fact that sometimes they do not want to be friends, but they realise they can’t leave without each other. This makes the audience doubt about the realism of the friendship. In order to think about this deeper, in this passage where they embrace, Vladimir to his chest as “breast”. Anew, it has a “feminine” connotation. David Smith said in 2009 that ‘Estragon and Vladimir are like a married couple who’ve been together too long”. This means, the couple no longer see themselves as individuals, but as one. This can also explain the fact that whenever one of them says “I’m going” none of them move. They are emotionally and physically dependent to one another. However, are these moments of tenderness that make some people question if the two characters are only friends or something more. The fact that they fight, make up, embrace each other etc reminds of a marriage.

By the end of the first act, we can notice how long they have known each other because we can read: ESTRAGON: How long have we been together all the time now? VLADIMIR: I don't know. Fifty years maybe. After this they discuss about if they were made for each other or not, if they could have bee better off alone. But they eventually say that nothing is certain, and the first act ends with them saying “let’s go”, however, they don’t move. Then, the second act begins with Vladimir singing, apparently very happy. After realising that the pair of boots that he sees are Estragon’s, it looks like the fact of Estragon only being there with him is what gives to Vladimir the most sense of meaning of life. Another couple in the play is the one composed by Lucky and Pozzo. These two characters appear less in the play, so we poorly know their relationship. We could affirm that their relationship is a prototypical “master/servant” relationship. Even though there is one moment where their positions appear reversed . At first sight it is really ironic that Lucky is called that way, because we could discuss he has no luck. Pozzo takes Lucky around on a leash or a rope, and is forced to carry all of Pozzo’s luggage, and never allowed to rest. Lucky is extremely obedient.

The majority of Pozzo’s lines are instructions to Lucky (“Stop! Forward! Back!”). In spite of all the abuse that Lucky receives, he is still submissive. In fact, there is one line in which Pozzo says he wants to get rid of Lucky: VLADIMIR: You want to get rid of him? POZZO: I do. But instead of driving him away as I might have done, I mean instead of simply kicking him out on his arse, in the goodness of my heart I am bringing him to the fair, where I hope to get a good price for him. The truth is you can't drive such creatures away. The best thing would be to kill them. In the revival that took place in the Royal Court Theatre in 1964, Beckett said that ‘Godot is very much about relationships between human beings’ . The writer continued to explain that some moments of the play should be tender occasions ‘of complete understanding between the two characters.’. Thus, we understand that Beckett wanted the two characters to share a relationship.

As a conclusion, I think that personal relationships have always been difficult to sustain but it is not the case of Vladimir and Estragon in Waiting for Godot. We can see how they fight, they make up, shout to each other and embrace each other all the time. I think that the relationship between Lucky and Pozzo is harder to sustain than the relationship between Estragon and Vladimir. Lucky and Pozzo share a master/servant relationship. Also, Pozzo wants to get rid of Lucky and it is very easy. On the other hand, Vladimir and Estragon want to be together because they are happy together, but Lucky and Pozzo seem to not like each other. Personally, I think that personal relationships have always been difficult to maintain. If you spend a lot of time with the same person, you will end up finding something you do not like about them. Sometimes the “thing” is a minor issue, and sometimes is bigger than we think. Regarding the statement I do think that these relationships become increasingly stranger.

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