Sunday, January 20, 2013

Waiting for Godot

Courtesy: The Hindu

The literary world is celebrating the 60th Anniversary of the first performance of Samuel Beckett’s short play, Waiting for Godot.  It was first staged on 5 Jan 1953 in Paris.  Though it has no plot in the conventional sense, it went on to create history in literature.  It established a new convention in drama called the Theatre of the Absurd.  True, dramatists like Ionesco and Arthur Adamov had already written plays in that convention in 1950.  But Beckett catapulted the genre into limelight.

Estragon and Vladimir are the two major characters in the play.  They are beggarly creatures waiting in a desolate street for someone called Godot.  But they are not sure whether they really have this appointment, nor whether they are in the right place.  They don’t know why they are waiting for Godot.  In fact, they are not even sure of their own names. 

While waiting, they indulge in seemingly meaningless conversation.  They talk about the two thieves crucified along with Jesus, of leaves falling and the transitoriness of life.   They contemplate suicide and even attempt it but fail due to sheer incompetence.  Sometimes Estragon’s shoes fit him and sometimes they are too tight.

In each of the two Acts of the play, Estragon and Vladimir meet another pair, Pozzo and Lucky.  The fat and opulent Pozzo is the master of the thin and old Lucky, though Pozzo says that Lucky taught him everything.  Lucky speaks little and when he does at his master’s order it is meaningless, apparent burlesque on some scientific or philosophical argument.   Pozzo controls Lucky with a halter and whip.  In Act 2, when Pozzo has gone blind, Lucky is struck dumb.

Nothing really happens in the play.  The absence of the conventional elements of a play – the exposition, middle and end – is conspicuous.  There is no study of any character.  There is no analysis of life in any meaningful way.  The final situation is just the same as the opening one – waiting for Godot.  Both the Acts end with a boy announcing Godot’s inability to come, but there is also a promise that he would come the next day.

Beckett refused to give any meaning or interpretation to the play.  He even claimed that he didn’t know what it meant.  Literary critics have given various interpretations.  Most interpretations rely heavily on the Existentialist philosophy propounded mainly by Nobel laureate novelist, Jean Paul Sartre.

Nothing really happens in human life though we all go about doing a lot of things: marrying and begetting children, earning and spending, ensuring as great a future as possible for our offspring, grabbing and bequeathing, worshipping god(s) and even fighting for them… waiting for some glorious future!

“Godot is nothing but the name for the fact that life which goes on pointlessly misinterprets itself as ‘waiting,’ as ‘waiting for something,’” said literary critic, Günther Anders.  The waiting is futile because life is essentially absurd, without meaning or purpose.

Except the meaning and purpose given to it by each one of us.  The Existentialist philosophy says that each one of us is responsible for what is happening to us.   True, life sets limits to our potential and it may even proffer a tragic dimension to our existence.  Yet there are possibilities and opportunities.

We have no choice about being thrust into the world, but how we live and what we become are the result of our choices.  If we don’t make the choice with intellectual honesty, we won’t be any different from Estragon and Vladimir.

Note: This blog is occasioned by an article [The hopeless human predicament] that appeared in the Sunday Magazine of today’s Hindu [20 Jan].


  1. Thanks to you, now I know I ain't waiting for no Godot (how do you pronounce this name?)! Yes, I know what Existentialism is, where your existence precedes the essence of your life, what it means to be you, which you make up as you go along.

    Your parents may have had some idea for you but it is you who makes that life, only as you go along, making choices and taking responsibility for your choices. I would have had difficulty in understanding this message from the play (I am no play going person!).



    1. You are most welcome, Raghuram. Existentialism is a philosophy that attracts me much. When I did a course in Psychology, I found the Existentialist approach to counselling equally attractive. [I'm now in the process of applying that approach to my own present condition :)]

      Becket wrote the play originally in French. The French have their own peculiar way of silencing the last consonant. So the last 't' in Godot remains silent.

    2. Still Matheikal, is it Goda or Godoo :)

      Like Focault is Foocoo!


  2. Very nice post..I think there was a play in Bangalore too..recently. Took me back to the college days..& this of course as led to so many other similar plays too.

  3. One of my favourite bits of graffiti -- 'Out for Lunch. Back at 2. Godot'


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