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Waiting for Godot | Themes

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In Waiting for Godot, Beckett builds his themes through the minimalist setting and the characters' absurd conversations and actions. Characters represent humanity, the setting represents human existence, and words and actions demonstrate larger truths about the human condition.

Absurdity of Existence

One of the most noticeable features of the play is utter absurdity: Vladimir and Estragon dress shabbily, engage in physically inept actions, and partake in clownish nonsensical conversations. They absurdly wait endlessly for an unchanging situation to change when it is clear Godot will never come. They occasionally discuss ending their wait by hanging themselves or simply leaving, but absurdly, they never take any action. Although they agree there is "nothing to be done," they work absurdly hard to fill the time while they wait. The unavoidable conclusion is that human existence itself is absurd. Beckett's emphasis on the absurdity of human behavior shows both the tragic and comedic sides of the existential crises.

Purposelessness of Life

None of the characters in Waiting for Godot has a meaningful purpose. Waiting for Godot might seem to give Vladimir and Estragon a purpose, but the fact that Godot never arrives renders their waiting meaningless. Likewise, Pozzo and Lucky might seem to be traveling toward something, but their travels are ultimately shown to be equally purposeless. Pozzo initially professes to be taking Lucky to the fair to sell him, but this purpose is never fulfilled. The second time they pass by, they express no purpose at all—they are simply moving from one place to another. Their traveling may even be counterproductive because they cannot seem to go any distance without falling down.

The messages from Godot delivered by the boy are equally purposeless. Godot will never come, and it is not at all clear the messages are even meant for Vladimir and Estragon—the boy calls Vladimir "Albert." All the characters seem to be trapped in their purposeless roles by little more than habit, which Vladimir calls "a great deadener." The idea that life has no purpose is a recurring theme in the Theater of the Absurd, which Waiting for Godot helped define.

Folly of Seeking Meaning

Although it is unclear who or what Godot represents, by waiting for him, Vladimir and Estragon are clearly seeking some type of meaning outside themselves. In Act 1, they remember making a "kind of prayer" to Godot, expecting it to give them some direction, and they decide it is safer to wait and see what Godot says rather than die by hanging themselves. Godot, however, never comes, representing the futility and folly of such a search for meaning in an inherently meaningless existence.

Uncertainty of Time

Time is a slippery thing in Waiting for Godot. It seems to pass normally during the period the characters are on the stage, with predictable milestones, such as the sunset and moonrise, although the characters are sometimes confused about it. But the intervals between the two acts and various events are wildly uncertain. When Vladimir and Estragon return at the beginning of Act 2, the growth of leaves on the tree suggests a longer period of time has passed than the one day Vladimir claims it has been. Estragon and Pozzo retain little or no memory of their encounter the "previous" day, and other changes have mysteriously occurred "overnight." Estragon and Vladimir have no firm idea of how long they have been together or how long ago they did other things, such as climb the Eiffel Tower or pick grapes in Macon country.

The characters also seem to be trapped by time, endlessly repeating essentially the same day again and again. This creates a despair that leads them to repeatedly contemplate suicide, although they never remember to bring the rope they would need to actually hang themselves. Time is one of the main ways people organize their lives and memories, so the uncertainty of time in the play contributes to the feeling of meaninglessness.

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