The “Theatre of the Absurd” was a dramatic philosophic movement in France during the 1950s. This metaphysical theory was thought to be influenced by World War II considering that the Nazi’s were infiltrating France. With people feeling hopeless to the inhumane treatment of other’s it is hard to think that there is a meaning to life. “Absurd” is a term in philosopher Albert Camus’s work that “refers to the contradiction between humanity’s quest to find meaning in the Universe and the Universe itself, which is meaningless.” Plays were created displaying themes of what happens when faced with the absurdity of the universe. The plays themselves became the anti-plays and essentially confronted the audience with disorder, randomness and nothingness which was unlike the audience had experienced before however spoke to them due to the climate of its time.
Traditionally, characters in plays come with a personality to draw the audience and conduct themselves in a way that make sense to the public. In the Theater of the Absurd, playwrights have a way of “shaping the characters with the sense of absurdity and tries to dig out their hopelessness to life and society.” In “Waiting for Godot” we are met with two wanders who are compelled to stay in place, where they are unsure of is the right spot, waiting for a man, which they are unsure of what he looked like or what was said, for an unknown opportunity. Estragon and Vladimir oppose each other in speech and manner almost every step of the way yet are so tightly intertwined. The two men explore their options as they wait for Godot but physically walk and talk in circles. Not only does their situation become stagnate, they themselves acknowledge their own lack of growth “Estragon: Very likely. They all change. Only we can’t”. One of many times the men state their hopelessness facing the reality of nothingness.
Language has its own way in the Theater of the Absurd. In plays, language comes with a certain logical order and the audience can follow and sometimes even predict what is going to be said. This is another aspect in which the Absurd defy. “Language has no fixed or settled form and regularities. The protagonists usually speak or talk in disorder. What the character has said sometimes is not the words that his partner has asked or wanted to get. Sometimes a character asks his partner something, but the partner says another thing that is irrelevant to what they are talking about. That is to say, language has no regularity to infer or obey.” Vladimir and Estragon continuously talk in circles, sometimes possibly talking to each other, while other moments it’s clear they are not. The moments that they talk to each other doesn’t sound as if they are listening or just doesn’t follow what the audience would think of as proper dialogue in the way that it would make sense. They repeat words that it loses meaning, reflective that their days mesh together and lose track of start to finish. They also ask each other the same question, never really answering each other mimicking the uncertainty throughout the play.
Plot usually forms from regular patterns and order from time, place or logic. “Waiting for Godot” the scene is set so vauguely on a country road by a tree. This could be any rocky road by any tree, to the point that the character themselves don’t know if they are waiting for Godot in the right road near the right tree. Vladimir and Estragon argue of the setting, establishing the scene for uncertainty:
“ESTRAGON: Looks to me more like a bush.
VLADIMIR: A shrub.
ESTRAGON: A bush.
VLADIMIR: A—. What are you insinuating? That we’ve come to the wrong place?
ESTRAGON: He should be here.”
We are unclear of the day, and the only perception of time passing is with the sun setting and moon rising. The second act could have taken place the next day, days later, or even longer. The tree by which they waited has a few leaves. Vladimir insists they were there the day before. Every other character, not so much. It is apparent that none of this matter and the only thing we do know is that the men are waiting. Nothing happens. The Theater of the Absurd has done it again with the broken and isolated plot.
Faced with meaningless of their existence, the men are forced to explore their options while remaining in the same place. Waiting for this man is possibly the only meaning they can fathom which keeps them coming back day after day rather than facing yet another uncertainty. During this time their emotions range from joy to despair. Vladimir sings and wants to embrace Estragon to discussing suicide… only if they had the means to and only if they were certain that it would work. The talk of suicide excites them. But the audience has already heard the relief in the men’s voice when it comes to death.
VLADIMIR: I don’t know. A willow.
ESTRAGON: Where are the leaves?
VLADIMIR: It must be dead.
ESTRAGON: No more weeping.
Didi and Gogo try and to distract each other. Even eating a carrot becomes a debate. They play games with Gogo’s boots, taking them on and off. With the bowl hats, taking them on and off. Just shows that games are just arbitrary acts to bring temporary joy. When the men meet Pozzo and Lucky, they are concerned with Lucky’s position but have no problem asking for him to entertain them. It isn’t often “a diversion comes along”. In the end, nothing happens. The are right back to where they started, days are a blur, conversations a blur, waiting for a man that never comes.
Being face with nothingness can be liberating as in you are accepting that nothing is meaningful and that things just randomly happen. Even with that possibility that the Theater of the Absurd propose, we still try and find meaning. Theater of the Absurd is the anti-play as we know it and beyond 50 years later, we still are discussing the meaning. “Waiting for Godot” purposes how society reacts when faced with nothingness. We try and create meaning, if not we search for purpose to keep going, distract ourselves from the futility of daily living or even find relief in contemplating suicide.
- Beckett, Samuel. Waiting for Godot: Tragicomedy in 2 Acts. New York: Grove Press, 1954. Print.
- Philosophy Tube. “’Waiting for Godot’ Explained with Philosophy | Philosophy Tube” Youtube, 25 November 2016, https://youtu.be/nsxkEs6G-9s
- Zhu, Jiang. “Analysis on the Artistic Features and Themes of the Theater of the Absurd.” Theory and Practice in Language Studies, vol. 3, no. 8, Aug. 2013, pp. 1462–1466., doi:10.4304/tpls.3.8.1462-1466.