Waiting for Godot is a French absurdist play written by an Irishman who then translated it himself into English. There is no plot. Two men, Vladimir and Estragon, meet at a tree every day and talk, while they wait for Godot, who says he will come at nightfall. While they wait, they meet another two men, Pozzo and Lucky, the latter leashed like an animal by a rope around the neck. The play is a tragicomedy.
I’ve had very little experience with tragicomedies and absurdist literature. I read the first act of this play in one day and was left perplexed. There didn’t seem to be any point, and I couldn’t tell if this was because it indeed had no point, or if I was just missing the point, or if Act 2 would bring Act 1 into perspective and thereby gain a point. The comedy in the play irked me (not a huge fan of bathroom humor) and I just didn’t get it. I decided to wait a day before I read Act 2, and to hold off judgement until then.
Act 2 started in much the same way as Act 1, and again just seemed pointless, but periodically a line or two would dance out and touch me in a slightly more meaningful or somber way. The play began to take on more weight, even if it still made very little sense to me. I toyed with ideas – that “Godot” was symbolic of God, that life is meaningless, etc, the sorts of things one would expect to wonder and think about while reading this play.
Towards the end, two lines really stood out for me, and I’m going to quote them here because they really put the play into perspective for me and made it something more than drivel, which is what it felt like up to that point. The first is from Vladimir, as Pozzo cries out for help in the background:
Let us not waste our time in idle discourse! Let us do something, while we have the chance! It is not every day that we are needed. Not indeed that we personally are needed. Others would meet the case equally well, if not better. To all mankind they were addressed, those cries for help still ringing in our ears. But at this place, at this moment of time, all mankind is us, whether we like it or not. Let us make the most of it, before it is too late!
Two thoughts went through my mind as I read this. First, it finally felt like something in this play, anything, had said something important. Like this was a nugget to be extracted, a philosophy that could be applied to life in general. Let us not waste our time in idle discourse. Let us do something. Let us make the most of it, before it is too late! Yes. Then, second, my thoughts flipped around to the scene, where Pozzo lies on the ground crying for help to stand up, while Vladimir waxes philosophical in front of him. And I realized, what is the point of all that philosophy? A man has fallen and needs help getting up. A man cries out for help. Do you really need to turn such a small event into something grandiose and worthy of whole philosophies?
So I wondered – was Beckett specifically pointing out the absurdity of this kind of philosophy, the way human beings try to make sense of the world by turning it into something larger and grander in order to give it meaning? Was I initially relieved by this quote because of my need to make sense of something senseless and incomprehensible? Perhaps. Perhaps that’s the point.
Second quote. This is also from Vladimir, as he looks at Estragon, who has fallen asleep.
At me too someone is looking, of me too someone is saying, He is sleeping, he knows nothing, let him sleep on.
This quote literally gave me chills. Of course, I went through all the same thoughts as with the first quote, but added in some new ones. Thoughts about life and how we mostly go through it in a dreamlike state, how we don’t realize just how much we miss as we wander through life. These are the sorts of thoughts that Thornton Wilder discussed in his play Our Town, which is one of my favorites specifically for those thoughts. It’s another philosophy about life, and again, I wonder if maybe Beckett was just pointing out the pointless absurdity in this one as well. Maybe I reacted to these two lines solely because they are philosophies I’m familiar with and that I identify with.
In the end, what I really got out of Waiting for Godot is that there is no point to anything, no meaning to anything, that the play itself is nothing, nothing at all, really an absolute waste of time…except that without the play, perhaps we would be less able to see that there is no point. An absurd catch-22 in itself.
I have done no research into Samuel Beckett or Waiting for Godot. These are simply my thoughts having read it. It’s possible, once I do some research and read some literary analysis, that I will come to entirely different conclusions. I may be extremely off-base. I don’t know. But I do know that pointless or not, this play really got to me. I didn’t even like it, but it got to me, until I loved it at the same time that I disliked it, and I am so, so glad I read it.