One of my favorite pieces of art of all time, I apparently took advantage of my pubescent knowledge about it for an easy book report (since, technically, I did have the book of the play). It’s not very good as book reports go. I grasp desperately at the beautiful intellectual confusion that the play gives me. Still can’t really articulate it. I do have a fairly unique interpretation of Didi and Gogo, though. I hope I didn’t steal it.
Waiting for Godot: an Existentialist Treasure
When reading drama, one must remember that the writer chose the medium for a reason. In most cases, it was to ensure the impact on the audience by bringing the events and themes to life and in close proximity with his or her audience. Twentieth century drama seems to be more concentrated on the thematic repercussions of a work, and this is evident in the plays produced in the most recent half-century. After a cursory examination, Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot seems so full of symbolism and allegory that there is no base on which a theme can stand. However, if one considers Beckett’s intended purpose, as well as several more aesthetic thematic options, the reader begins to see Waiting for Godot for what it is: a play rich with philosophy, existentialism, and humor.
First, one must establish the fact the Samuel Beckett, in the writing of this masterpiece, did not consciously intend any philosophical symbolism in his play. His play was meant to leave the audience wondering about the meaning of existence, and this open-endedness is what many consider to be the single most influential factor in its popularity around the world.
However, one cannot help but make the comparison between the mysterious Mr. Godot and God. When one considers the circumstances, this becomes a reasonable explanation. Two poor men, with nothing to live for, find themselves in the same spot, day after day, waiting for a man, about whom they know nothing except that he can offer them something. To many who criticize religion, this may seem to be “faith-on-a-stage,” but there is more.
One of the tramps, Estragon (Gogo), is beaten nightly by unseen assailants. He used to be a poet, and once traveled the world, but now does nothing but wait. His friend, Vladimir (Didi), is the less practical of the two, preferring to discuss Scripture and wax poetic, but does always have food in his pockets upon request. It is not unreasonable to see a theme in them. Gogo represents the human race as it is, and Didi is who humanity would like to be. At the end of each day of waiting, a servant boy of Mr. Godot’s comes to tell the tramps that Godot will not come today, but will surely come tomorrow, whereby the tramps briefly contemplate suicide, but decide against it, in favor of giving Godot another day.
When analyzed, obvious themes rise to the surface. Every day, two tramps (humanity) wait for their “savior” from boredom, Mr. Godot (God), but he never comes. Always an agent of Godot (perhaps the ministry?) comes to tell the tramps to wait another day. Already, without hardly any digging, several themes and symbols can be found in a cursory look at the play.
As one delves deeper in the Godot well, other more whimsical themes rise to the surface. These tramps have nothing in their lives but waiting, as well as various activities used to alleviate their boredom. The tramps do not appear happy, nor do they enjoy their plight. Perhaps Beckett (or Beckett’s unconscious mind) is telling the audience that waiting will not result in a fulfilling life.
Perhaps also, the message is that life is nothing but waiting for God, and all pastimes are futile, because at the end of the day, everyone will be told to wait another day anyway. These themes are much less uplifting, and therefore less readily accepted, but they must be considered because of the possibility that they might be true. Once begins to see that in dealing with plays as deep and avant-garde as Godot, speculation begins to takeover. But that does not mean that we must reject soundly possible themes such as these.
Another aspect of Waiting for Godot that makes it the classic drama that it is, is the fact that it affects each audience member differently. Individuals can see themes in Godot that are of a personal nature, the result being that it appears that Beckett’s play is one of universal and microcosmic importance. Personal themes within Godot might deal with marriages, life directions, faith, and depression. It is unlikely that this feature was an intentional decision; in fact, there is hardly any way for it to be. But nevertheless, the existence of personal themes elevates the play to level rarely attempted by other playwrights. To have a play speak to an audience member in such an exclusive manner nearly transcends a religious experience, because of the gravity of the subjects involved, and because of the eloquence of the portrayal. After seeing or reading Waiting for Godot, the audience always feels touched, and often changed, by the experience of a play so thick with philosophy and personal meaning.
Waiting for Godot has been described as “the quintessential play of the twentieth century,” because of the topics covered and its universal applications. Never before has a dramatic production probed the limits of the collective unconscious, and sent existentialism soaring off into the heavens. Beckett has exploited the power of the stage to get close to his audience and awaken parts of their souls that have never seen the light of day. The playwright’s unique combination of talented dialogue, universal meaning, and open-endedness coat this work like an existentialist shellac, and the effect upon an audience is absolutely breathtaking. It could only be hoped that more authors and playwrights would see the benefits of this kind of story, so that one might immerse oneself more frequently in eloquent baths of philosophical wonder.
VLADIMIR: Well? Shall we go?
ESTRAGON: Yes, let’s go.
They do not move.