The Meaninglessness of Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot
Length: 1499 words (4.3 double-spaced pages)
In Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett produces a truly cryptic work. On first analyzing the play, one is not sure of what, if anything, happens or of the title character's significance. In attempting to unravel the themes of the play, interpreters have extracted a wide variety symbolism from the Godot's name. Some, taking an obvious hint, have proposed that Godot represents God and that the play is centered on religious symbolism. Others have taken the name as deriving from the French word for a boot, godillot. Still, others have suggested a connection between Godot and Godeau, a character who never appears in Honore de Balzac's Mercadet; Ou, le faiseur. Through all these efforts, there is still no definitive answer as to whom or what Godot represents, and the writer has denied that Godot represents a specific thing, despite a certain ambiguity in the name. Upon study, however, one realizes that this ambiguity in meaning is the exact meaning of Godot. Though he seems to create greater symbolism and significance in the name Godot, Beckett actually rejects the notion of truth in language through the insignificance of the title character's name. By creating a false impression of religious symbolism in the name Godot Beckett leads the interpreter to a dead end.
For one to make an association between God and the title character's name is completely logical. In fact, in producing the completely obvious allusion, Beckett beckons the interpreter to follow a path of religious symbolism. Throughout the play, references to Christianity are so often mentioned that one can scarcely identify a religious undercurrent; the presence of religion is not really below the surface. In the opening moments of the play, Vladimir asks "Hope deferred make something sick, who said that?" (8A). The real quotation, "Hope deferred maketh the heart sick," comes from Proverbs 13:12 of the Bible. Shortly after, Vladimir asks if Estragon has ever read the Bible and continues on a discussion of the Gospels, the "Saviour," and the two thieves surrounding Christ during the crucifixion (8B-9B). By inserting religious discussions in the first few moments play, the playwright encourages the interpreter to assume the play's themes are greatly connected with religion. Then, when the discussion turns to Godot, Estragon associates their request from Godot with "A kind of prayer" (13A). The connection between God and Godot is seemingly firmly established, leaving room for a variety of interpretations.
Vladimir and Estragon are the faithful adherents to God, and wait for Him, or a messianic figure, to come. Perhaps Vladimir and Estragon are representatives of hope by demonstrating unwavering faith to a God who does not present himself or, on the other hand, are showing the folly of blind faith as espoused by Beckett. Considering Lucky's burdens and suffering and his alteration on Jesus' last words in his speech, "unfinished," he could be a Christ figure (29B). Pozzo could represent the earthly form of a God that treats his adherents like he treats Lucky. The range of possible religious interpretations is virtually endless.
In truth, the proponents of these interpretations have fallen victim to a ruse, for Godot does not represent God. Considering that the work becomes nearly incomprehensible at times, one finds the religious explanation too simple. If Beckett provides such clear references to religion, it seems he would simply call his title character God. Furthermore, Beckett, himself, has denied the existence of a key or myth to the play. The playwright did not produce religious ambiguities because Godot represents God; the ambiguities themselves hold the true significance. The word Godot is meaningless in itself, and those who associate the word with religious themes are fooled by Beckett's language. The play leads some along a long and tedious path of interpretation; ultimately, the path hits a dead-end. Language is not synonymous with truth, and the interpreter emerges with nothing.
The meaninglessness of Godot is further explained through its connection to godillot or Estragon's boots. The play begins as "Estragon, sitting on a low mound, is trying to take off his boot. He pulls at it with both hands, panting. He gives up, exhausted, rests, tries again. As before" (7A). When Godot is substituted for the boot, the meaning becomes obvious. The interpreter struggles with the significance of the word, exhausts himself, and begins again. Moments later, Estragon increases the level of intensity, tearing at the boot (7B). Finally, Gogo "with a supreme effort succeeds in pulling off his boot. He peers inside it, feels about inside it, turns it upside down, shakes it, looks on the ground to see if anything has fallen out, finds nothing, feels inside it again, staring sightlessly before him" (8A). After much work, one can find the significance of Godot, and, just as Estragon announces, "There's nothing to show" (8A). The meaning of Godot is nonexistent, and the effort to find one is futile and exhausting. No matter how many times one searches, one will not find significance in the word. The action continues in the second act, when the two discover that Estragon's boots have been changed. The two discuss the situation: "Estragon: Mine were black. These are brown. Vladimir: You're sure yours were black? Estragon: Well they were a kind of gray. Vladimir: And these are brown. Show. Estragon: Well they're kind of green. 43B" The conversation shows the utter meaninglessness of Godot. Gogo cannot even decide the true color of either pair of boots. Every thought or action to discover the meaning of Godot is ridiculous. The interpretations of the name vary, but, just as in the boots, there is nothing inside. Whereas the boots in the first act were too tight, Estragon decides that these are "too big" and concludes the discussion frustrated, saying, "That's enough about these boots" (45A). The search for meaning in Beckett's language is frustrating and futile, and, because there is no real meaning to Godot, the interpreter can never get all the significance to come together. An exact fit is impossible.
As the insignificance of Godot is established the lack of meaning expands to other names in episodes with Pozzo. Pozzo, himself, affirms the lack of meaning in a name as he periodically refers to "Godin . . . Godet . . . Godot . . . anyhow you see who I mean" (24A). He confuses the name with other words and seemingly feels no real need to learn the right one. Regardless of the language he uses, Vladimir and Estragon understand what he means. By correctly naming Godot, Pozzo would give too much significance to the name. In refusing to even regard the name as important, Pozzo communicates the misleading nature of Beckett's language and acts appropriately. In addition, Vladimir and Estragon expand the scope of meaninglessness to other names when Pozzo first meets the pair. Introducing himself, Pozzo exclaims, "I am Pozzo!" and asks "I say does that name mean nothing to you?" (15B). The name does, in fact, mean absolutely nothing. Just as Godot is meaningless, so are the play's other names. Vladimir and Estragon continue to repeat the name Pozzo, while interchanging it with Bozzo, and Vladimir concludes, "I once knew a family called Gozzo" (15B). The insignificance of all the words comes to the fore. Pozzo, Bozzo, Gozzo, and Godot are indistinguishable nonsense. When Vladimir and Estragon are referred to with their nicknames, all five names of the play have two syllables and end in a vowel sound. Furthermore, if the silent, final letter is removed from Godot, it appears as a mere variation of Gogo and Didi as Godo. In this way, characters' names are reduced to incomprehensible utterances that an infant might make. Beckett's language is totally separate from knowledge or truth. His names cannot be distinguished from one another and are completely devoid of any real meaning.
Godot, a meaningless word or mere sound, reveals the insignificance of all Beckett's language. While the play contains obvious ambiguities into the word's meaning, they are all for show. There is no real meaning. The interpretation of Godot's religious significance, while this significance is clearly alluded to, leads to interpreter into a long, blind alley of meaninglessness. Just as Estragon's boots contain nothing inside them, there is no central meaning to the word Godot. Furthermore, this meaninglessness can be expanded to all of Beckett's language; full of hints of a greater significance, language hides the triviality of all things described. Only after this revelation can one finally get towards the central meaning of Beckett's play; there is no meaning. His characters engage in ridiculous language to pass the time and to "give [them] the impression [they] exist" (44B). Illusions of significance continue throughout the play, but, in truth, the play comes from nothing and ultimately ends in nothing. Beckett exposes the pitfalls of a language that attempts to create meaning when none exists. Waiting for Godot is not a commentary on religion or really anything for that matter. Its meaning comes in its meaninglessness. That is the play's greater truth.