Characterization in Albert Camus' The Plague and Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot
Length: 670 words (1.9 double-spaced pages)
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Characterization is an important aspect of Waiting for Godot and The Plague. In both works, the authors use characters to express their own views and enable the reader to understand themes and messages.
In The Plague, Camus discloses a small part of himself in each of the primary characters. The main character, Dr. Bernard Rieux, represents Camus' own rejection of needless suffering and his overwhelming compassion and respect for people searching for meaning in life (Lebesque 80). He silently accepts all that happens in the course of the epidemic, waiting patiently for the pestilence to die away. His role in the book can be summed up when he tells Father Panaloux that "Salvation's much too big a word for me. I don't aim so high. I'm concerned with man's health; and for me his health comes first" (219). Rieux rejects any form of heroism, focusing all of his energy on his duties as a doctor.
Dr. Tarrou, the other protagonist in the work, shares a smaller portion of the narrative duties. Unlike Rieux, Tarrou often gives a personal, more moral account of the events happening around town. He often gives his own opinions on something, rather than a simple impartial explication. Tarrou expresses a desire for simplicity and directness while also wishing to rid himself of all evil. He identifies the plague with the death penalty and launches into an elaborate story about how his father was a lawyer and regularly fought for the death penalty. His emotional reactions against capital punishment express Camus' own views of a world in which the murder of people is legal and human existence becomes worthless (Rhein 44).
Characterization is key in establishing the theme of Waiting for Godot. Vladimir and Estragon seem to have two modes of existence: together and by themselves. One critic observes, "As members of a cross-talk act, Vladimir and Estragon have complementary personalities" (Esslin 29).
Vladimir seems to be the more stable of the two, while Estragon is more of a dreamer. Vladimir pretty much makes all of the decisions, and he is the only one to remember significant events from the past. He is always the one to remind Estragon that they must wait for Godot, and he seems to be the only one who cares about the consequences of not waiting.
Being the more religious of the two, he is more concerned about the fate of the two thieves and wonders why one was saved while the other was damned, whereas Estragon simply accepts the story. Vladimir is also more compassionate toward humanity and recognizes that he does not contribute to society. Estragon focuses more on himself than anything else. He is much less concerned with meeting Godot, and he is devoid of religion. When Pozzo and Lucky fall down and cry for help, it is Vladimir who realizes that this is a unique chance to help them.
Vladimir: It is not everyday that we are needed... To all mankind they were addressed, those cries for help still ringing in our ears!... But at this place, at this moment in time, all mankind is us, whether we like it or not... Let us represent worthily for once the foul brood to which a cruel fate consigned us! (51)
For one shining moment, Vladimir recognizes that he is stuck, and that this is his chance to actually exist by contributing to society. Soon though, he realizes that he must wait for Godot to come before he can do anything, and he slumps into his normal self. Vladimir and Estragon illustrate man's struggle in that they both must wait for Godot even though they are different people with different values. Neither Vladimir nor Estragon is able to contribute to society, even though Vladimir would like to. Thus, neither man exists. This is a central theme in Waiting for Godot. If a person serves no purpose and effects nothing, then how can one prove that the person exists?