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Course Hero. "Waiting for Godot Study Guide." Course Hero. 27 Oct. 2016. Web. 19 Sep. 2018. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Waiting-for-Godot/>.

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Course Hero. (2016, October 27). Waiting for Godot Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved September 19, 2018, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Waiting-for-Godot/

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Course Hero. "Waiting for Godot Study Guide." October 27, 2016. Accessed September 19, 2018. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Waiting-for-Godot/.

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Course Hero, "Waiting for Godot Study Guide," October 27, 2016, accessed September 19, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Waiting-for-Godot/.

Waiting for Godot | Context

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Waiting for Godot, like most of Samuel Beckett's works, contains little in the way of historical context. He wanted his audience to experience the play without the expectations and assumptions attached to a particular people, place, or time. The play is not entirely free from cultural context, however, containing references to the Bible, Shakespeare, and ancient Greek mythology, as well as a number of allusions to Christianity.

World War II

Beckett wrote Waiting for Godot shortly after World War II ended, and the conflicts and horrors of the war were fresh in his memory. He lived in occupied Paris, working with the French Resistance until he and his companion, Suzanne Déschevaux-Dumesnil, had to flee to avoid being arrested by the Germans. He and Déschevaux-Dumesnil spent the remainder of the war in a region of the French countryside not under German control. After the Allied victory in Europe, Beckett volunteered for the Red Cross, witnessing firsthand the consequences of war and the results of Nazi brutality.

Modernism and Postmodernism

Waiting for Godot displays characteristics of both modernism and postmodernism. The modernist period in literature, which began around the turn of the 20th century, saw writers respond negatively to the Industrial Revolution and the horrors of World War I. Modernism's goal—to create something completely new—sparked much experimentation by merging psychological theory with the creation of many new forms and styles. Characteristics of modernism include the following:

  • focus on the inner self or consciousness
  • concern with the decline of civilization and the effects of capitalism
  • characterization of technology as cold and unfeeling
  • alienation and loneliness of the individual
  • first-person narrators
  • stream of consciousness style
  • deviation from traditional plot structures

Postmodernism, which arose after World War II, turned away from modernism's insistence on entirely new literary forms. Instead, postmodern art, including literature, often reflected numerous traditional styles within one work. Characteristics of postmodernism include the following:

  • parody, paradox, or pastiche (imitation of another work)
  • fragmentation
  • interest in flattened emotions
  • focus on an anonymous or collective experience
  • self-reference or recursion (the use of repeating elements)
  • unreliable narrators

Both modernist and postmodernist works reject traditional values and generally accepted meanings for texts.

The Theater of the Absurd

Waiting for Godot was a defining work in what came to be known as the Theater of the Absurd, plays in which a lack of purpose and logic create uncertainty, hopelessness, ridiculousness, and humor. The absurdity of characters' words and actions reveals the absurdity of human existence. The characters may call one another by childish, almost clownish, nicknames and engage in conversations and interactions straight out of slapstick comedy. Though not a formal movement, the absurdist plays of Beckett, along with those of Eugène Ionesco, Harold Pinter, and some other playwrights of the mid-20th century had in common a pessimistic view of an essentially purposeless human existence. As in Waiting for Godot, absurdist plays break with traditional structures and use of language to convey images and ideas that have no clearly defined meaning or resolution.

In Waiting for Godot, the human condition is depicted as ridiculous and without purpose. Beckett labeled the play a "tragicomedy," emphasizing both the humor to be seen in the absurdity of existence and the anxiety and hopelessness resulting from a lack of purpose. Many also see the play as an illustration of the views of existentialism, especially the philosophy of French writer Jean-Paul Sartre, whose proposition that humankind "first surges up in the world—and defines [itself] afterwards," argues that there is no inherent meaning in human existence. Beckett warned audiences, however, against making religious or philosophical deductions, saying, "the key to the play was the literal relations among its surface features not any presumed meanings that could be deduced from them."

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