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Waiting for Godot | Discussion Questions 1 - 10

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What is the tone of Waiting for Godot?

Waiting for Godot is both bleak and absurdly humorous. From the moment the curtain rises, the barrenness of the set conveys loneliness and isolation, and the rundown characters exude a subtle desperation. They seem to have hope, persevering in waiting for some sort of meaning or salvation, but it is ultimately revealed to be foolish and futile. But the humor created by the absurdity of the characters and their situation saves the play from total darkness. The audience's laughter is cathartic, counteracting the sense of hopelessness to create a lighter mood. In a way, the two tones reinforce each other. Things are bleak to the point of absurdity, and the absurdity reveals bleak truths about humanity and existence. The first line of the play, "Nothing to be done," in addition to summing up the action in the play, demonstrates both bleak resignation and a comically absurd casualness. Beckett called the play a tragicomedy, and his work has been interpreted both bleakly and humorously on the stage.

Why is Vladimir appalled in Waiting for Godot, Act 1 (Estragon and Vladimir) and what does it mean in the context of the play?

In Act 1 (Estragon and Vladimir), Vladimir is talking about "the last moment" when he says he feels "it coming." He is both relieved and appalled. He has also just tried to remember a quotation he heard before about "hope deferred" making someone sick. Presumably it is death that he feels coming, and remembering the quotation provokes these mixed feelings. Although he mentions being both relieved and appalled, the feeling of being appalled is clearly stronger because the word is repeated, written in capital letters, and broken into syllables to be spoken with strong emphasis. Virtually, the only hope demonstrated in the play is implied by Vladimir's insistence on continuing to wait for Godot despite his ongoing failure to appear and Vladimir's recurring longing for death. For just a brief minute, Vladimir seems to recognize that waiting is the cause of his suffering, leaving him appalled and perhaps even making him physically ill. However, as often happens in the play, he quickly gives up on the thought with the comment "Nothing to be done."

What does Vladimir mean by a man "blaming on his boots the faults of his feet" in Waiting for Godot, Act 1 (Estragon and Vladimir)?

Like many statements in the play, Vladimir's statement in Act 1 (Estragon and Vladimir) sounds like a profound truth, but becomes absurd on closer examination. This is often interpreted as pointing out the tendency of humans to blame their problems on external sources (the boot) rather than looking to themselves (one's own foot) for the root of the problem. While this is something people do, the metaphor is based on the absurd premise that feet should somehow fit their boots rather than the other way around. It also is an example of situational irony that Vladimir and Estragon are never able to take it upon themselves to escape the excruciating waiting by just leaving instead of waiting for an external figure, Godot, to appear and save them.

What does Estragon suggest repenting of in Waiting for Godot, Act 1 (Estragon and Vladimir)?

In Act 1 (Estragon and Vladimir) when Vladimir comes up with the idea of repenting of something, Estragon suggests they repent of being born. In Christianity, repentance is usually understood to involve feelings of deep regret for past wrongs, so Estragon is suggesting their very existence is a regrettable mistake. If Estragon feels they would have been better off not being born, he must not feel their lives have contained much worth living for, thus contributing to the ideas in the play about life being devoid of purpose. Another interpretation suggests itself in the idea of Estragon repenting of something that cannot possibly be his own fault—his birth. This exposes the idea of repentance as absurd.

In Waiting for Godot, Act 1 (Estragon and Vladimir) why does Estragon say, "People are bloody ignorant apes"?

Estragon makes this statement in Act 1 (Estragon and Vladimir) in response to Vladimir's complaint about the story of the two thieves in the Bible. Only one of the four Gospels in the New Testament says Christ took mercy on and saved one of the thieves crucified alongside him, yet Vladimir says it is the only version people know. (Another Gospel says both thieves were damned, and the other two don't mention the thieves at all.) Estragon explains this by saying you can't expect any more of people because they're really nothing but animals. Rather than thinking through complex ideas, they simply choose whatever seems likely to be better for them. It is fitting that, of the two main characters, Estragon is the one to observe that people are no more than animals because he is the character most in touch with his animal drives, including pain and hunger. Like the apes he decries, Estragon also refuses to think through complex ideas with Vladimir. It is also interesting to note that this statement, which is based on the theory of evolution, occurs during a discussion of a Bible story. It is only in evolutionary science that humans are believed to have descended from apes. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, people are created separately from animals and considered to be inherently superior.

What must Godot do before answering Vladimir and Estragon's request in Waiting for Godot, Act 1 (Estragon and Vladimir) and what does it reveal about Godot?

According to Vladimir and Estragon in Act 1 (Estragon and Vladimir), before answering their "kind of prayer," Godot must "think it over" and consult with his family, friends, agents, correspondents, books, and bank account. This list is delivered in the same comic free-association format Vladimir and Estragon repeat throughout the play, in which they seem almost to compete to see which one can come up with the most ways to say the same thing. This raises the question of whether they're listing meaningful things or simply saying the next thing that occurs to them. If, however, their list is meaningful, it reveals that this higher power they are depending on to save them, instead of having final decision-making power, must first consult with pretty much everyone he knows as well as established learning and financial institutions to make a decision. This reveals Godot to be less than a definitive or divine authority and points out the foolishness of Estragon's and, especially (because he represents the mind) Vladimir's reliance on him to provide meaning to their existence.

Why does Vladimir stifle his laughter in Waiting for Godot, Act 1 (Estragon and Vladimir)?

In Act 1 (Estragon and Vladimir), Vladimir "breaks into a hearty laugh" and stifles it, "his hand pressed to his pubis, his face contorted." Then Vladimir claims laughter is not allowed. He is the only character who makes this claim, however, and apparently the only one bound by it because both Pozzo and Estragon laugh freely and without consequence before the end of Act 1. This restriction Vladimir imposes clearly applies only to himself. Obviously, Vladimir has a prostate problem, but on a subtler level the restriction he tries to impose on everyone implies that he sees his physical illness as a type of punishment. Later in the play, he says they cannot drop (abandon) Godot because he will punish them. It explains perhaps why Vladimir insists on waiting for Godot, and it shows that he really does believe in Godot's powers.

What is the significance of the confusion about Pozzo's name and identity in Waiting for Godot?

In both acts Estragon asks whether Pozzo is Godot when he and Lucky first arrive. They have been waiting for an authority figure, and Pozzo appears to be one, at least in Act 1 (Lucky and Pozzo Arrive). The idea is chilling: This pompous person who treats a fellow human being so callously could be the higher authority Vladimir and Estragon have been waiting for. Thankfully, Vladimir is certain he is not Godot—mostly. In the confusion about Pozzo's name in Act 1, Estragon calls him "Bozzo," comparing him to a clown. Vladimir says he knew a Gozzo family, the mother of which had a sexually transmitted disease (gonorrhea, known as "the clap"). He offers this information to try to calm Pozzo, but the unfavorable comparisons only highlight the absurdity of Pozzo's demands for recognition and respect.

What is the significance Vladimir and Estragon's reaction when they examine Lucky in Waiting for Godot, Act 1 (Lucky and Pozzo Arrive)?

As they examine Lucky in Act 1 (Lucky and Pozzo Arrive), Vladimir and Estragon first notice that rubbing from the rope is causing a sore on Lucky's neck. Estragon declares this inevitable. After noticing he's "not bad looking," Estragon points out Lucky's "slobber," and Vladimir declares that inevitable. They speculate that he is mentally disabled. Vladimir thinks Lucky has a goiter (an abnormal enlargement of the thyroid gland in the neck), but Estragon says it is uncertain. Then Vladimir notices Lucky's "goggling" eyes, and Estragon says Lucky is at his "last gasp," but Vladimir calls that uncertain, too. The contrast between their two primary conclusions, things are either inevitable or uncertain, is comical, but their conclusions are also self-serving. Concluding that the sore and the slobber are inevitable is heartless; accepting Lucky's condition without question, and dismissing his signs of illness, even possible death, as "uncertain" ensures that they don't need to help him. They can continue to avoid action and resume waiting.

In Waiting for Godot, Act 1 (Lucky and Pozzo Arrive) how do the chicken bones help illustrate differences between Estragon and Vladimir?

As the half of the pair that represents the body, Estragon is primarily concerned with his hunger, and nakedly shows his interest in the chicken bones. In Act 1 (Lucky and Pozzo Arrive), he holds to social conventions enough to ask permission to take the bones but feels no embarrassment about greedily scooping them up and gnawing on them once he has been given the go-ahead. Estragon can also be seen as personifying the id in Freud's theory of the human psyche, or personality. The id functions purely on instinct, is only concerned with biological needs, and demands instant gratification. As the one concerned with reason and logic, Vladimir is more bound by social conventions, and is scandalized by the forwardness of Estragon's request. In Freud's framework, Vladimir best represents the ego, the part of the psyche concerned with reasoning and social consequences. He is also the only character who occasionally demonstrates features of the superego, which is concerned with higher societal values such as morality.

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