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Among the best plays which can be compared to one another in different ways are "Waiting for Godot" written by Samuel Beckett and "The Dumb Waiter" written by Harold Pinter. One of the common elements the two plays share is the "waiting factor" which leads the few characters of both plays to do many absurd activities to fill the passing of time. Pinter has used many of the characteristics of Waiting for Godot in his own play showing the absurdity of the world through an absurd waiting for someone or something that never arrives. In this short essay these two plays are compared focusing on the waiting factor shared by the two. Examples are also provided from both plays in a comparison table on page 8 to 11, on the factors that result to the absurdity.
The plot in Waiting for Godot is a desert with a tree in the middle and the characters come to the scene at the beginning and leave at the end of each day. The scene is one location and it doesn't change throughout the play. This resembles the small world we are living at and it means we are all trapped in a cage like prisoners that we either cannot leave or are afraid to do so as a result the only thing we do is to wait for someone dominant and powerful to help us who never arrives so the waiting goes on.
Plot in The Dumbwaiter is a basement room with two beds, flat against the back wall, a serving hatch, closed, between the beds. Also a door to the kitchen and lavatory, left and a door to a passage, right. Many of Pinter's plays, as in Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot, take place in one location. The single location again takes on the form of a prison for the characters, a space from which they either cannot leave or are afraid to do so. Rather than bore the audience with lack of variation, the repetitive actions that come along with the single space generally constitute one of Pinter's (and Beckett's) main themes. The environment also assumes attributes beyond its scope. The serving hatch, for instance, becomes a symbolic channel to a higher power, or God, whom Ben fears, while the bathroom develops into a place of mundane repetition for Gus. The basement also functions as part of the mystery and betrayal of the Dumb Waiter. It makes us to think who owns the building? Is it still a café? Is Wilson inside? (4)
Britannica concise Encyclopedia
Waiting for Godot has five characters as Estragon, Vladimir, Pozzo, Lucky and a messenger boy. The Dumbwaiter has two characters named Gus and Ben. As with Godot, in The Dumbwaiter the two characters are one dominant, one submissive, who share the amount of letters and syllables in their names (although Pinter's Gus and Ben are simpler names-and simpler characters-than Beckett's Vladimir and Estragon). Gus's difficulty in putting on his shoe corresponds to a similar problem with a boot in Beckett's play. In both plays, moreover, the characters have been stranded in one place with an unclear purpose, at least from the audience's perspective (1).
In both plays, characters have not got any good communication. In Waiting for Godot plot is static. There is a lot of repetition, stability and progress. In The Dumb Waiter dialogues are non-sense of conversation. We see the scene as a room is his view of world. It is identical with Beckett's view of the world. The world is going down, the drain. We see the toilet which smells very bad, dirty. And the feet of Vladimir and the breath of Estragon are stinky (2). In Waiting for Godot, the two characters are not satisfied and they both are waiting but in The Dumbwaiter, Ben is hopeful and satisfied with the world which is the room, while Gus is questioning everything and is not satisfied.
Figure of Power (the Godlike)
Pinter's opinion of god is the man upstairs. He is the boss. He is the ruler, master. He is the figure of power. He comes with them and leaves. He doesn't get in touch. It could be anytime. This is direct influence of Beckett on Pinter with the idea of Godot who lives somewhere else nearby. In both plays the Godlike character is away and uses messengers to contact the characters on the scene. In Waiting for Godot, Beckett uses a boy as the messenger with the difference that in The Dumbwaiter Pinter uses the dumbwaiter as the messenger for Wilson (the figure of power).
Central Action (Theme)
Like a lot of theaters of the absurd, both plays are tragic and comic in nature. The plays are therefore referred to as a tragicomedy, or "black comedy." As the very titles of the plays reveals their central action, in both of them people are waiting. And the major theme is the act of waiting for someone or something that never arrives. Because they have nothing to do in the meantime, time is a dreaded barrier, a test of their ability to endure (3). Because they repeat the same actions every day, time is cyclical. And time loses meaning when the actions of one day have no relevance or certainty on the next.
In both plays the people are waiting for off-stage characters who exercise a powerful, god-like influence over the on-stage characters. No acceptable path existed for them to end their waiting and, therefore, they were forced to wait. Through this, the play showed that there are things for which one must wait and that no amount of initiative will end this waiting (1).
Their situation, then, is that of people waiting for nothing much, in a universe that has nothing much to offer. As they wait, and we watch, we learn something about how man behaves under such circumstances. We see them devising, with diminishing success, games to play to pass the time; we see them try again and again to understand the unintelligible; we see them discuss committing suicide, but never without finding an excuse to put it off; we see them cling to each other for company while continually bickering and talking about how much better off they would be apart (specially in Beckett's).
Time in both plays is a dreaded barrier, a test for their abilities to endure. It is also cyclical and loses meaning when actions of one day have no relevance or certainty on the next. We see in Waiting for Godot that the characters even cannot tell the time of the year or the day. And also in The Dumbwaiter the room does not have a window so they guess the time and there are no words of a watch or looking at a clock in the play. Ben intentionally does not remember the emotional subjects and the times they spend together before or a fun they had and when Gus brings them up Ben tells him not to talk or asks him to do something or changes the subject so nothing stop him from what Wilson has asked him to do which is murdering Gus which happens at the end of the play. The time factor has relation to the next part which is "Repetition" as it is well explained as follows. And as Velissariou indicates: "When reality is not measured by time and is not limited by spatial boundaries but lies in an infinite time and an abstract space, then words can never be definite about a meaning which must perpetually elude them." (2)
The repetition in the plays provides further evidence of the unimportance of time for Vladimir and Estragon and also for Ben and Gus. Both acts are identical excluding a few small deviations. With one day after another being basically the same during their wait, it is no wonder that Vladimir and Estragon had trouble telling one day from the next and that they had trouble remembering what happened during each day. Because of this lack of significant change, time had no meaning for them, and therein lays the larger theme that these scenes help to convey. If the day before was meaningless
and if most of the periods before this were meaningless, time itself was meaningless for them as well. As Estragon said at the beginning of the second day in reference to that day, "For me it's over and done with, no matter what happens," which suggested his own realization of the meaninglessness of that day and of time itself.
An example of a clearly cyclical pattern in Waiting for Godot that well introduces the repetition is when Estragon sings a song as follows:
A dog came in the kitchen
And stole a crust of bread,
Then cook up with a ladle
And beat him till he was dead.
Then all the dogs came running
And dug the dog a tomb
And wrote upon the tombstone
For the eyes of dogs to come:
A dog came in the kitchen . . . .
Questions while Waiting
"Estragon: (anxious). And we? â€¦ Where do we come in?"
Estragon's question is left unanswered by Vladimir. Note that these questions seem to bring pain or anxiety to Estragon. Beckett conveys a universal message that pondering the impossible questions that arise from waiting, cause pain, anxiety, inactivity and destroy people from within. Note that both Vladimir and Estragon ponder suicide, by hanging themselves from the tree, but are unable to act through to anxiety, as Estragon states, "Don't let's do anything. It's safer (1)." And also in the case of The Dumbwaiter whenever Gus tries to bring up something emotional, and to ask questions, Ben refuses to speak with him. This disconnection is the essence of their relationship. They do not speak with, but to each other.
Silences and Pauses
Both plays are filled with silences and pauses during the waiting. In theater of the absurd silences and pauses have three different applications. Either the characters are in a state of shock, or they are making time pass or they are hiding information from one another. Silences and pauses do carry meaning in these kinds of plays as if they are the same as using words to convey meaning. In Waiting for Godot, the silences are as a result of not having much to do trying to pass time until Godot
comes and also lack of good communication. In the Dumbwaiter, silences and pauses are as a result of hiding information from Gus who will be the victim of "the day" at the end of the play when Ben shots him and the secrets are revealed.
It is worth to mention Velissariou's point of silences in Waiting for Godot here as: "The silences in the play effectively "Becket" the terms an audience might adopt in order to understand them; the meaning is communicated by the intervals between words. In Didi and Gogo's dialogue about the dead voices the silences are evenly distributed, atomizing the exchange into fragments of cross-talk. The empty stage is filled for a moment with the presence of dead people, worn out voices, fragmented whispers, murmurs and rustlings, and this sudden proliferation of the thoughts, speech, and noises of dead people suffocates Didi and Gogo because they themselves are emblematic of that dead humanity. Beckett stages the sounds of silence, the other side of language, and Didi and Gogo, in their yearning for authenticity, aspire to the point of overlap, to the zero, to the point where all difference is obliterated. It is a form of death-wish. The dead voices are heard inside their silences talking of the past, of dreams and hopes; presence is once again commensurate with absence. (1)
Universality of the Waiting
As human beings we're all clinging to the hope of some kind of salvation, some kind of Godot to come and save us from our intolerable suffering, our poverty, our disease, our boredom, our quiet desperation (2) or a kind of Wilson to instruct us through our life. This hoping, this waiting, removes us from the potentially liberating awareness that the moment we're actually suspended in, this moment between birth and death that glows so briefly, is ultimately more important than any vague "better future" we might desire.
Life is a lengthy period of waiting, during which the passage of time has little importance. Each day the characters wait for the savior, and, if he doesn't come that day they will continue to wait. The amount of time that they had already spent doing this and the amount of time that would do so in the future is unknown, but neither is important because time is meaningless for them. Each day they would continue to wait for the unknown savior until he either came or time ended through their death.
The plays confront the absurdity of existence and challenge us to figure out who we are and what we're doing here. In this random universe, where everything who lives and who dies, who's up and
who's down, is a matter of pure chance, and the odds aren't necessarily in our favor, what do we do? What's our purpose? The Dumbwaiter shows the same waiting as in Waiting for Godot with the difference that there is a more violent atmosphere which gives the sense of deceiving and murder.
So Waiting for Godot and the Dumbwaiter are plays about waiting, about the repetition, the meaninglessness, the absurdity of waiting, of feeling (and being) suspended in time instead of moving forward in a meaningful direction and for the possibility of a better future that we are not quite fully convinced will ever arrive.
You can find the comparison table with examples provided based on the factors mentioned above from the two plays as follows:
Waiting for Godot
VLADIMIR: There's man all over for you, blaming on his boots the faults of his feet. ( He takes off his hat again, peers inside it, feels about inside it, knocks on the crown, blows into it, puts it on again.)
POZZO: (He puts the pipe in his pocket, takes out a little vaporiser and sprays his throat, puts back the vaporiser in his pocket, clears his throat, spits, takes out the vaporiser again, sprays his throat again, puts back the vaporiser in his pocket.)
Nothing to be done
ESTRAGON: Why doesn't he put down his bags?
POZZO: I too would be happy to meet him. The more people I meet the happier I become. From the meanest creature one departs wiser, richer, more conscious of one's blessings. Even you . . . (he looks at them ostentatiously in turn to make it clear they are both meant) . . . even you, who knows, will have added to my store.
ESTRAGON: Why doesn't he put down
VLADIMIR: That passed the time.
ESTRAGON: It would have passed in
VLADIMIR: Yes, but not so rapidly.
VLADIMIR: Shall I tell it to you?
VLADIMIR: It'll pass the time. (Pause.) Two thieves, crucified at the same time as our Saviour.
POZZO: (Silence.) It's the nicotine, one absorbs it in spite of one's precautions. (Sighs.) You know how it is. (Silence.) But perhaps you don't smoke? Yes? No? It's of no importance. (Silence.) But how am I to sit down now, without affectation, now that I have risen? Without appearing to -how shall I say- without appearing to falter. (To Vladimir.) I beg your pardon? (Silence.) Perhaps you didn't speak? (Silence.) It's of no importance.
Giving irrelevant answers to the other person
POZZO: True. (He sits down. To Estragon.) What is your name?
POZZO: (who hasn't listened). Ah yes! The night. (He raises his head.) But be a little more attentive, for pity's sake, otherwise we'll never get anywhere.
Not knowing the time the Godlike comes or sends message
He said Saturday. (Pause.) I think.
ESTRAGON: You think.
VLADIMIR: I must have made a note of it. (He fumbles in his pockets, bursting with miscellaneous rubbish.)
ESTRAGON: (very insidious). But what Saturday? And is it Saturday? Is it not rather Sunday? (Pause.) Or Monday? (Pause.) Or Friday?
VLADIMIR: (looking wildly about him, as though the date was inscribed in the landscape). It's not possible!
ESTRAGON: Or Thursday?
Got used to waiting
VLADIMIR: No further need to worry.
ESTRAGON: Simply wait.
VLADIMIR: We're used to it.
Not doing what they say they would
ESTRAGON: Well, shall we go?
VLADIMIR: Yes, let's go.
(They do not move).
ESTRAGON: Then adieu.
(Silence. No one moves).
VLADIMIR: (to Estragon). Give him his hat.
ESTRAGON: Me! After what he did to me! Neve!
VLADIMIR: I'll give it to him.
(He does not move).
Being promised that the master will come
BOY: (in a rush). Mr. Godot told me to tell you he won't come this evening but surely tomorrow.
Not remembering (or not wanting to Remember) the past
Vladimir mentioned the time that he and Estragon had spent in Macon country picking grapes. Estragon did not remember this period, and even Vladimir has trouble remembering details of their time there, such as the name of the man for whom they worked.
They couldn't remember the day before or even if it was the same place they were waiting for Godot
Not knowing the time
POZZO: What time is it?
VLADIMIR: (inspecting the sky). Seven o'clock . . . eight o'clock . . .
ESTRAGON: That depends what time of year it is.
POZZO: Is it evening?