The helplessness of man in Beckett’s Waiting for Godot
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Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot was first published in France, 1952. As in his other plays, the caustic effect of the play reduces the human figure to the minimal dimensions of its importance. In addition, it demonstrates in an effective way how man struggles to find itself and how unsuccessful this attempt is. Beckett's protagonists are bereft of every characteristic which would make him seem the master of his situation (Copeland, 1975).
The opening words of the play include the theme of the play, saying, 'Nothing to be done.' Estragon's words refer to his boots but later, as Vladimir repeats this phrase twice, they get the meaning of the uselessness of life and aspiration. As it turns out through the long and seemingly meaningless conversations, the subject of the play is how to pass the time, given the fact that the situation is hopeless. Beckett used these themes in various works: habit, boredom and the suffering of being appeared in his novels, such as in one of his essays. 'Habit' as Beckett himself wrote, 'is a compromise effected between the individual and his environment, or between the individual and his own organis eccentricities, the guarantee of dull inviolability, the lightning conductor of his existence.' At the end of Godot, Vladimir says something very similar in a much balder way and with the whole weight of the play behind him: ' Habit is a great deadener' (Alvarez, 1992). It is prooved by the two hours he and Estragon had spent on the stage before it. There are some moments through the play when 'the suffering of being' obviously affects the figures, however, neither of them seem to comment on them. At one point, Vladimir starts to laugh but he stops immediately with a convulsed expression on his face. In addition, when the little boy appears bringing the news that Godot will not come that evening, Estragon attacks him, then covers his face. Then, when he drops his hands, his face is tormented but he cannot say anything more than he is unhappy. Every other action is mostly ritual which the two men try to fill the emptiness and silence with. When Vladimir has the idea of telling the story of the Crucifixion, he explains it: 'It'll pass the time.' This picture can also refer to the unchangeability of human destiny. Like Jesus Christ ont he cross had to die to a higher order every person's existence has a determined aim. However, this aim cannot be recognised and changed.
Vladimir and Estragon try everything to make time pass. When Pozzo and Lucky went off after their first appearance, there is a long silence. Then, they state that it helped to spend some time with something.
Vladimir: That passed the time.
Estragon: It would have passed in any case.
Vladimir: Yes, but not so rapidly.
The idea of Waiting for Godot as a play in which nothing happens is understood by no one as deeply as the tramps. Nothingless is exactly what they are fighting against and the cause why they keep talking (Alvarez, 1992). They have rituals, which are elaborate, to combat silence and emptiness They echo questions, answeres, repeat each other's sentences. Their conversations are trivial without history and real background since the subject of the play is habit and boredom. All that remains is a skeleton of language, logic and wit. As Alvarez (1992) states, the obsessionality is transformed in Godot into an elegant way of maintaining a dialogue when there is nothing to say. One effective means of keeping the talk going is Estragon's instant forgetfullness. He is unable or unwilling to recognise the evidence of his senses until Vladimir patiently explains it all to him. He cannot remember anything for two minutes together and cannot refer back to further than the last phrase uttered:
Vladimir: Is it possible that you've forgotten already?
Estragon: That's the way I am. Either I forget immediately or I never forget.
Vladimir: And Pozzo and Lucky, have you forgotten them too?
Estragon: Pozzo and Lucky?
Vladimir: He's forgotten everything!
As if a great fog of boredom buried the memories, Estragon forgets every event and every word the instant it occurs or is uttered. This forgetfulness, however, can be the main connection between the two men. Estragon forgets continuously so Vladimir always reminds him, and during these time is passing. It is their habit. And through this habit they divert their thoughts from their misery, dull their sensibility, and, this way deaden the pain of existing, the suffering of being (Copeland, 1975). Talking is essential to conserv their minimal sanity. The sound of their own voices keeps back the cloud of unknowing and, which is more important, reassures them that they are still existing, of which they are not otherwise always certain because of the dubiousity of the evidence of their senses. Although, they need reassurance, they do not get it. When Pozzo reappeares in Act II, he cannot remember that they met the day before. The same happenes when the little boy meets them again, he denies that he has ever seen them before. 'You did see us, didn't you?' Vladimir asks as if he himself were not sure about it either. From the monologues of Pozzo it can be clearly seen that He and Vladimir have both got on a level where the boredom of living is replaced by the suffering of being. Neither of them likes what he sees, but they know that there is nothing to be done. 'On!' oblidges Pozzo as they make their last exit. 'I can't go on,' Vladimir says, and Estragon repeats 'I can't go on.' Repeating this phrase, Beckett puts an emphasis on the fact that only this is how it is in his world. Whatever the cast, whatever the situation, there is nothing beyond habit, boredom, forgetfulness and suffering.
In Godot, Pozzo and Lucky can embody one way of getting through life with someone else, while Estragon and Vladimir embody another way of it. Godot himself can represent a kind of deity like other divine political, intellectual or personal gods for whom men wait, hopefully and in fear. He is the one from whom people expects to solve their problems and give a sense to their sensless lives, and for whose sake they give up their freedom, their free-will (Alvarez, 1992).
The main question Beckett takes is how we can get through life. With the play he gives the answer; we have to live according to habits, go on despite boredom and pain, talk and not listen to the voices of our inner us which let us not alone.
Alvarez, Al. Beckett. London: Fontana Press, 1992. 85-96. Print.
Copeland, Hannah Case. Art and the artist in the works of Samuel Beckett. Paris: Mouton, 1975. 29, 33. Print.
Beckett, Samuel. Duthuit, Georges. Proust: Three dialogues. Calder, 1965. Print.