The Meaninglessness of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot
In Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett produces a truly cryptic work. On first analyzing the play, one is not sure of what, if anything, happens or of the title character’s significance. In attempting to unravel the themes of the play, interpreters have extracted a wide variety symbolism from the Godot’s name. Some, taking an obvious hint, have proposed that Godot represents God and that the play is centered on religious symbolism. Others have taken the name as deriving from the French word for a boot, godillot. Still, others have suggested a connection between Godot and Godeau, a character who never appears in Honore de Balzac ‘s Mercadet; Ou, le faiseur. Through all these efforts, there is still no definitive answer as to whom or what Godot represents, and the writer has denied that Godot represents a specific thing, despite a certain ambiguity in the name. Upon study, however, one realizes that this ambiguity in meaning is the exact meaning of Godot. Though he seems to create greater symbolism and significance in the name Godot, Beckett actually rejects the notion of truth in language through the insignificance of the title character’s name. By creating a false impression of religious symbolism in the name Godot Beckett leads the interpreter to a dead end.
For one to make an association between God and the title character’s name is completely logical. In fact, in producing the completely obvious allusion, Beckett beckons the interpreter to follow a path of religious symbolism. Throughout the play, references to Christianity are so often mentioned that one can scarcely identify a religious undercurrent; the presence of religion is not really below the surface. In the opening moments of the play, Vladimir asks “Hope deferred make something sick, who said that?” (8A). The real quotation, “Hope deferred maketh the heart sick,” comes from Proverbs 13:12 of the Bible. Shortly after, Vladimir asks if Estragon has ever read the Bible and continues on a discussion of the Gospels, the “Saviour,” and the two thieves surrounding Christ during the crucifixion (8B-9B). By inserting religious discussions in the first few moments play, the playwright encourages the interpreter to assume the play’s themes are greatly connected with religion. Then, when the discussion turns to Godot, Estragon associates their request from Godot with “A kind of prayer” (13A). The connection between God and Godot is seemingly firmly established, leaving room for a variety of interpretations. Vladimir and Estragon are the faithful adherents to God, and wait for Him, or a messianic figure, to come. Perhaps Vladimir and Estragon are representatives of hope by demonstrating unwavering faith to a God who does not present himself or, on the other hand, are showing the folly of blind faith as espoused by Beckett. Considering Lucky’s burdens and suffering and his alteration on Jesus’ last words in his speech, “unfinished,” he could be a Christ figure (29B). Pozzo could represent the earthly form of a God that treats his adherents like he treats Lucky. The range of possible religious interpretations is virtually endless.
In truth, the proponents of these interpretations have fallen victim to a ruse, for Godot does not represent God. Considering that the work becomes nearly incomprehensible at times, one finds the religious explanation too simple. If Beckett provides such clear references to religion, it seems he would simply call his title character God. Furthermore, Beckett, himself, has denied the existence of a key or myth to the play. The playwright did not produce religious ambiguities because Godot represents God; the ambiguities themselves hold the true significance. The word Godot is meaningless in itself, and those who associate the word with religious themes are fooled by Beckett’s language. The play leads some along a long and tedious path of interpretation; ultimately, the path hits a dead-end. Language is not synonymous with truth, and the interpreter emerges with nothing.
The meaninglessness of Godot is further explained through its connection to godillot or Estragon’s boots. The play begins as “Estragon, sitting on a low mound, is trying to take off his boot. He pulls at it with both hands, panting. He gives up, exhausted, rests, tries again. As before” (7A). When Godot is substituted for the boot, the meaning becomes obvious. The interpreter struggles with the significance of the word, exhausts himself, and begins again. Moments later, Estragon increases the level of intensity, tearing at the boot (7B). Finally, Gogo “with a supreme effort succeeds in pulling off his boot. He peers inside it, feels about inside it, turns it upside down, shakes it, looks on the ground to see if anything has fallen out, finds nothing, feels inside it again, staring sightlessly before him” (8A). After much work, one can find the significance of Godot, and, just as Estragon announces, “There’s nothing to show” (8A). The meaning of Godot is nonexistent, and the effort to find one is futile and exhausting. No matter how many times one searches, one will not find significance in the word. The action continues in the second act, when the two discover that Estragon’s boots have been changed. The two discuss the situation: “Estragon: Mine were black. These are brown. Vladimir: You’re sure yours were black? Estragon: Well they were a kind of gray. Vladimir: And these are brown. Show. Estragon: Well they’re kind of green. 43B” The conversation shows the utter meaninglessness of Godot. Gogo cannot even decide the true color of either pair of boots. Every thought or action to discover the meaning of Godot is ridiculous. The interpretations of the name vary, but, just as in the boots, there is nothing inside. Whereas the boots in the first act were too tight, Estragon decides that these are “too big” and concludes the discussion frustrated, saying, “That’s enough about these boots” (45A). The search for meaning in Beckett’s language is frustrating and futile, and, because there is no real meaning to Godot, the interpreter can never get all the significance to come together. An exact fit is impossible.
As the insignificance of Godot is established the lack of meaning expands to other names in episodes with Pozzo. Pozzo, himself, affirms the lack of meaning in a name as he periodically refers to “Godin. Godet. Godot. anyhow you see who I mean” (24A). He confuses the name with other words and seemingly feels no real need to learn the right one. Regardless of the language he uses, Vladimir and Estragon understand what he means. By correctly naming Godot, Pozzo would give too much significance to the name. In refusing to even regard the name as important, Pozzo communicates the misleading nature of Beckett’s language and acts appropriately. In addition, Vladimir and Estragon expand the scope of meaninglessness to other names when Pozzo first meets the pair. Introducing himself, Pozzo exclaims, “I am Pozzo!” and asks “I say does that name mean nothing to you?” (15B). The name does, in fact, mean absolutely nothing. Just as Godot is meaningless, so are the play’s other names. Vladimir and Estragon continue to repeat the name Pozzo, while interchanging it with Bozzo, and Vladimir concludes, “I once knew a family called Gozzo” (15B). The insignificance of all the words comes to the fore. Pozzo, Bozzo, Gozzo, and Godot are indistinguishable nonsense. When Vladimir and Estragon are referred to with their nicknames, all five names of the play have two syllables and end in a vowel sound. Furthermore, if the silent, final letter is removed from Godot, it appears as a mere variation of Gogo and Didi as Godo. In this way, characters’ names are reduced to incomprehensible utterances that an infant might make. Beckett’s language is totally separate from knowledge or truth. His names cannot be distinguished from one another and are completely devoid of any real meaning.
Godot, a meaningless word or mere sound, reveals the insignificance of all Beckett’s language. While the play contains obvious ambiguities into the word’s meaning, they are all for show. There is no real meaning. The interpretation of Godot’s religious significance, while this significance is clearly alluded to, leads to interpreter into a long, blind alley of meaninglessness. Just as Estragon’s boots contain nothing inside them, there is no central meaning to the word Godot. Furthermore, this meaninglessness can be expanded to all of Beckett’s language; full of hints of a greater significance, language hides the triviality of all things described. Only after this revelation can one finally get towards the central meaning of Beckett’s play; there is no meaning. His characters engage in ridiculous language to pass the time and to “give [them] the impression [they] exist” (44B). Illusions of significance continue throughout the play, but, in truth, the play comes from nothing and ultimately ends in nothing. Beckett exposes the pitfalls of a language that attempts to create meaning when none exists. Waiting for Godot is not a commentary on religion or really anything for that matter. Its meaning comes in its meaninglessness. That is the play’s greater truth.
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Waiting for Godot Study Guide
Waiting for Godot qualifies as one of Samuel Beckett 's most famous works. Originally written in French in 1948, Beckett personally translated the play into English. The world premiere was held on January 5, 1953, in the Left Bank Theater of Babylon in Paris. The play's reputation spread slowly through word of mouth and it soon became quite famous. Other productions around the world rapidly followed. The play initially failed in the United States, likely as a result of being misbilled as "the laugh of four continents." A subsequent production in New York City was more carefully advertised and garnered some success.
Waiting for Godot incorporates many of the themes and ideas that Beckett had previously discussed in his other writings. The use of the play format allowed Beckett to dramatize his ideas more forcefully than before, and is one of the reasons that the play is so intense.
Beckett often focused on the idea of "the suffering of being." Most of the play deals with the fact that Estragon and Vladimir are waiting for something to alleviate their boredom. Godot can be understood as one of the many things in life that people wait for.
The play has often been viewed as fundamentally existentialist in its take on life. The fact that none of the characters retain a clear mental history means that they are constantly struggling to prove their existence. Thus the boy who consistently fails to remember either of the two protagonists casts doubt on their very existence. This is why Vladimir demands to know that the boy will in fact remember them the next day.
Waiting for Godot is part of the Theater of the Absurd. This implies that it is meant to be irrational. Absurd theater does away with the concepts of drama, chronological plot, logical language, themes, and recognizable settings. There is also a split between the intellect and the body within the work. Thus Vladimir represents the intellect and Estragon the body, both of whom cannot exist without the other.
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Waiting for Godot Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Waiting for Godot is a great resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
The boy is a servant of Mr. Godot. He plays an identical role in both acts by coming to inform Vladimir and Estragon the Mr. Godot will not be able to make it that night, but will surely come the next day. The boy never remembers having met.
Asked by Milica S #545310
Answered by Aslan on 8/11/2016 5:09 PM View All Answers
Godot really isn’t a character but he’s in the title so he must be somebody. Godot contains the word GOD in it so did Beckett go for the obvious? I’m inclined to think so because everyone in the play attaches such importance to Godot though he or.
Asked by ali s #412790
Answered by Aslan on 12/24/2014 5:15 AM View All Answers
Consider the idea that these characters are simply mirroring one another, doing "something" yet doing nothing. The two acts show different sides of the same character, but their "waiting" is quite symbolic. Consider that their.
Asked by maya h #351358
Answered by judy t #197809 on 1/8/2014 8:27 PM View All Answers
Study Guide for Waiting for Godot
Waiting for Godot study guide contains a biography of Samuel Beckett, literature essays, quiz questions, major themes, characters, and a full summary and analysis.
Essays for Waiting for Godot
Waiting for Godot literature essays are academic essays for citation. These papers were written primarily by students and provide critical analysis of Waiting for Godot.
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Biography of Samuel Beckett
Samuel Beckett was born near Dublin, Ireland, on April 13, 1906 into a Protestant, middle class home. His father was a quantity surveyor and his mother worked as a nurse. At the age of 14 he was sent to the same school that Oscar Wilde attended.
Beckett is known to have commented, "I had little talent for happiness." This was evidenced by his frequent bouts of depression, even as a young man. He often stayed in bed until late in the afternoon and hated long conversations. As a young poet he apparently rejected the advances of James Joyce's daughter and then commented that he did not have feelings that were human. This sense of depression would show up in much of his writing, especially in Waiting for Godot where it is a struggle to get through life.
Samuel Beckett moved to Paris in 1926 and met James Joyce. He soon respected the older writer so much that at the age of 23 he wrote an essay defending Joyce's magnum opus to the public. In 1927, one year later, he won his first literary prize for his poem entitled "Whoroscope." The essay was about the philosopher Descartes meditating on the subject of time and about the transiency of life. Beckett then completed a study of Proust which eventually led him to believe that habit was the "cancer of time." At this point Beckett left his post at Trinity College and traveled.
Beckett journeyed through Ireland, France, England, and Germany and continued to write poems and stories. It is likely that he met up with many of the tramps and vagabonds who later emerged in his writing, such as the two tramps Estragon and Vladimir in Waiting for Godot. On his travels through Paris Beckett would always visit with Joyce for long periods.
Beckett permanently made Paris his home in 1937. Shortly after moving there, he was stabbed in the street by a man who had begged him for money. He had to recover from a perforated lung in the hospital. Beckett then went to visit his assailant, who remained in prison. When Beckett demanded to know why the man had attacked him, he replied "Je ne sais pas, Monsieur." This attitude about life comes across in several of the author's later writings.
During World War II Beckett joined the underground movement in Paris to resist the Germans. He remained in the resistance until 1942 when several members of his group were arrested. Beckett was forced to flee with his French-born wife to the unoccupied zone. He only returned in 1945 after Paris was liberated from the Germans. He soon reached the pinnacle of his writing career, producing Waiting for Godot, Eleutheria, Endgame, the novels Malloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable, and Mercier et Camier, two books of short stories, and a book of criticism.
Samuel Beckett's first play was Eleutheria and involved a young man's efforts to cut himself loose from his family and social obligations. This has often been compared to Beckett's own search for freedom. Beckett's great success came on January 5, 1953, when Waiting for Godot premiered at the Theatre de Babylone. Although critics labeled the play "the strange little play in which 'nothing happens,'" it gradually became a success as reports of it spread through word of mouth. It eventually ran for four hundred performances at the Theatre de Babylone and was heralded with critical praise from dramatists such as Tennessee Williams, Jean Anouilh, Thornton Wilder, and William Saroyan. Saroyan even remarked that, "It will make it easier for me and everyone else to write freely in the theatre." An interesting production of Waiting for Godot took place when some actors from the San Francisco Actor's Workshop performed the play at the San Quentin penitentiary for over fourteen hundred convicts in 1957. The prisoners immediately identified with both Vladimir and Estragon about the pains of waiting for life to end, and the struggle of the daily existence. The production was perhaps the most successful ever. Beckett's second masterpiece. Endgame, premiered on April 3, 1957 at the Royal Court Theatre in London.
All of Beckett's major works were written in French. He believed that French forced him to be more disciplined and to use the language more wisely. However, Waiting for Godot was eventually translated into the English by Beckett himself.
Samuel Beckett also became one of the first absurdist playwrites to win international fame. His works have been translated into over twenty languages. In 1969 he received the Nobel Prize for Literature, one of the few times this century that almost everyone agreed the recipient deserved it. He continued to write until his death in 1989, but towards the end he remarked that each word seemed to him "an unnecessary stain on silence and nothingness."