Beckett is known to have commented, “I had little talent for happiness.”- This sentence in itself is absurd, like the most famous drama of Beckett: Waiting for Godot. But what exactly absurdity means?
The original or dictionary meaning of absurd is ‘Out of harmony’. utterly or obviously senseless, illogical, or untrue; contrary to all reason or common sense; laughably foolish or false.But the word has a different meaning when it is used int he theatre of the absurd.
Marking the difference between a good play and an absurd play, Martin Esslin opines:
If a good play must have a cleverly constructed story, these have no story or plot to speak of : if a good play is judged by subtlety of characterization and motivation, these are often without recognizable characters and present the audience with almost mechanical puppets; if a good play has to have a fully explained theme, which is neatly exposed and finally solved, these often have neither a beginning nor an end; if a good play is to hold the mirror upto nature and portray the manners and mannerisms of the age in finely observed sketches, these seem often to be reflections of dreams and nightmares’ if a good play relies on witty repartee and pointed dialogues, these often consist of incoherent babblings.
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Waiting for Godot is chock-full of pairs. There’s Vladimir and Estragon, the two thieves, the Boy and his brother, Pozzo and Lucky, Cain and Abel, and of course the two acts of the play itself. With these pairs comes the repeated notion of arbitrary, 50/50 chances. One thief is saved and other damned, but for no clear reason. If Vladimir and Estragon try to hang themselves, the bough may or may not break. One man may die, one man may live. Godot may or may not come to save them. In the Bible, Cain’s sacrifice was rejected and Abel’s accepted for no discernible reason. It’s minor, but Estragon’s line in Act I: “My left lung is very weak [â€¦]. But my right lung is sound as a bell!” More pairs, more arbitrary damnation. Even the tone of Waiting for Godot is filled with duality: two person arguments, back-and-forth questions, disagreement-agreement, questions and (often inadequate) answers.
The tree is the only distinct piece of the setting, so we’re pretty sure it matters. Right off the bat you’ve got the biblical stuff; Jesus was crucified on a cross, but that cross is sometimes referred to as a “tree,” as in, “Jesus was nailed to the tree.” That Vladimir and Estragon contemplate hanging themselves from the tree is likely a reference to the crucifixion, but it also parodies the religious significance. If Jesus died for the sins of others, Vladimir and Estragon are dying for nothing.
But we can also think of the two men not as Jesus, but rather as the two thieves crucified along with Jesus. This fits quite nicely with gospel’s tale as Vladimir tells it; one thief is saved and the other damned, so Didi and Gogo are looking at a fifty-fifty chance. The uncertainty that stems from inconsistency between the four gospels is fitting, too, since Vladimir can’t be certain if Godot is coming to save either one of them.
Furthermore, Vladimir reports that he was told to wait for Godot by the tree. This should be reassuring – it means the men are in the right place. As Estragon points out, they’re not sure if this is the right tree. And, come to think of it, they can’t even be sure if this is a tree or not. It kind of looks like a shrub.
The tree could be the tree of life. So the tree’s random blooming would suggest that it is something of a tree of life. And, according to the proverb, that means a desire has been fulfilled.
Moreover the tree’s sprouting leaves could be an ironic symbol pointing out that, far from fulfilled desires, hopes have been deferred yet another day – much like Vladimir’s ironic claim in Act II that “things have changed here since yesterday” when, clearly, nothing at all has..
While Vladimir and Estragon wait for Godot, they also wait for nightfall. For some reason (again, arbitrary and uncertain), they don’t have to wait for him once the night has fallen. The classic interpretation is that night = dark = death. The falling of night is as much a reprieve from daily suffering as death is from the suffering of a lifetime.
There’s also the issue of the moon, as its appearance in the sky is the real signal that night has come and the men can stop waiting for Godot. Estragon, in one of his “wicked smart” moments, comments the moon is “pale for weariness [â€¦] of climbing heaven and gazing on the likes of us.” Though the man remembers nothing of yesterday, he does in this moment seem to comprehend the endless repetition of his life. And if the moon is weary just from watching, imagine what that says about the predicament of the men themselves.
Carrots and turnips are in one sense just a gag reel for Vladimir and Estragon’s comic bits. But I was interested in their disagreement over the vegetable: “Funny,” Estragon comments as he munches, “the more you eat, the worse it gets.” Vladimir quickly disagrees, adding that, for him, it’s “just the opposite.” On the one hand, this could be a completely meaningless conversation – the point is simply that Vladimir is in disagreement, playing at opposites, adding to the bickering duality between himself and Gogo.
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On the other hand, the carrot could be about the meaning of life. It could be a hint as to the differences between the way Vladimir and Estragon live their lives. Vladimir’s subsequent comment, an addendum to his carrot claim, is that he “gets used to the muck as [he goes] along.” He resigns himself to banality. Estragon, on the other hand, wearies as time passes – much like the weary moon he observes in Act II. When Pozzo later dishes about smoking, he claims that a second pipe is “never so sweet [as the first]. But it’s sweet just the same.” This is a third and distinct answer to the carrot question.
When Lucky is commanded to dance in Act I, Pozzo reveals that he calls his dance “The Net,” adding, “He thinks he’s entangled in a net.” You would think a guy tied up on a rope leash would feel confined enough. Of course, the image of Lucky writhing in an imaginary net is a lasting image for the play as a whole, and especially for the plight of Vladimir and Estragon, who, as we’ve said before, are confined in a prison – or perhaps a net – of their own imaginations.
There seems to be no shortage of inane props in Waiting for Godot, and these three have one thing in common: they are all absurd objects on which the men have developed irrational dependences. Lucky cannot think without his bowler. Pozzo needs his vaporizer to speak. Estragon seems condemned to forever take his boots on and off, as does Vladimir with his hat. This is another great combination of the tragic and the comic; the situation is hilarious for its absurdity, but dismal at the same time.
Estragon is repeatedly repelled by smells in Waiting for Godot. Vladimir stinks of garlic, Lucky smells like who knows what, and Pozzo reeks of a fart in Act II. It seems every time Estragon tries to get close to a person, he is repelled by their odor. It looks to us like smells represent one of the barriers to interpersonal relationships. Estragon isn’t just repelled by odors – he’s repelled by the visceral humanity of those around him. There’s something gritty and base about the odor of a human body, and for Estragon it’s too much to handle.
There are several interpretations of Waiting for Godot, the two most well-known are the religious one and the political one.
The religious interpretations posit Vladimir and Estragon as humanity waiting for the elusive return of a savior.
If this is the basic idea, then this makes Pozzo into the Pope and Lucky into the faithful. The faithful are then viewed as a cipher of God cut short by human intolerance. The twisted tree can alternatively represent either the tree of death, the tree of life, the tree of Judas or the tree of knowledge.
Political interpretations also abound. Some reviewers hold that the relationship between Pozzo and Lucky is that of a capitalist to his labor.
This Marxist interpretation is understandable given that in the second act Pozzo is blind to what is happening around him and Lucky is mute to protest his treatment. The play has also been understood as an allegory for Franco-German relations.
An interesting interpretation argues that Lucky receives his name because he is lucky in the context of the play. Since most of the play is spent trying to find things to do to pass the time, Lucky is lucky because his actions are determined absolutely by Pozzo. Pozzo on the other hand is unlucky because he not only needs to pass his own time but must find things for Lucky to do.
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