Now we will explore the world of one of Beckett’s most famous play from the “Theater of the Absurd”, Waiting for Godot. The play is seen by many as meaningless and irrational, however it contains inner symbols and ideas that Beckett had on life and religion.
Theater of the Absurd applies to a group of plays with a certain set of characteristics. These characteristics convey a sense of bewilderment, anxiety, and wonder in the face of an unexplainable feeling. These plays all have unusual actions and are missing a key element that would clearly define other pieces of literature. Language and actions differ from the usual and sometimes cannot be explained in the Theater of the Absurd. In the works of Albee and Ionesco language, behavior, and structure are abnormal if compared to other plays. Language is a key factor that is presented as a weak form of communication throughout “The Future is in Eggs,” “The Zoo Story,” “The American Dream,” and “The Leader.”
Henry Christ points out that the play is like a lock with many keys. Each key presents just a portion of the possibilities. Every new version opens up new vistas, without stopping new interpretations. Every generation studies the play, but never comes up with all relevant answers (Christ, 321).
At the centre of the existential angst, dominating the great movements of life, there lays an essential absurdity. England in the aftermath of the two wars inherited this absurdity that upheld the human predicament in a world where “nobody thinks, nobody cares. No beliefs, no convictions and no enthusiasm.” Camus in The Myth of Sisyphus diagnoses humanity’s plight as purposeless in an existence out of harmony with its surroundings. This irrationality and pointlessness of experience is transferred to the stage where by all semblance of logical construction and all intellectually viable argument is abundant. In the same strain, developed the Angry Plays of the Theatre of the Absurd. Beckett, Adamor and Pinter with the difference of attempting
Samuel Beckett wrote Waiting for Godot between October 1948 and January 1949. Since its premiere in January of 1953, it has befuddled and confounded critics and audiences alike. Some find it to be a meandering piece of drivel; others believe it to be genius. Much of the strain between the two sides stems from one simple question. What does this play mean? Even within camps where Waiting for Godot is heralded, the lack of clarity and consensus brings about a tension and discussion that has lasted over sixty years.
Throughout literature, much has been assumed and gathered about the state of man and his purpose in life. Different poets, novelists, and playwrights have employed the powerful tools of language to broadcast their respective statement to the literate world. Many authors stand out for their overly romanticized or horribly pessimistic notations on life, but only Samuel Beckett stands out for his portrayal of absence. As Democritus, a Greek philosopher, noted, "nothing is more real than nothing," a quote which became one of Beckett's favorites and an inspiration for his masterful plays (Hughes 1). Beckett's works have astounded many through their utter divergence from the typical basis of a play. His blatant discount for the traditional concepts of character development, setting, time, and sequence of events distinguish Beckett's plays from a myriad of themed dramas. Because of such breaks from the standard, the message of Beckett's plays rings clearly. In his ground breaking play Waiting for Godot, Beckett describes two men, Estragon and Vladimir, who come to a rock and a tree beside a road and wait for an unknown "Godot" in vain day after day, idly making frivolous conversation and casually meeting another pair of characters, Pozzo and Lucky, who pass by daily. His follow up play, Endgame, creates a similar scenario with a blind, chair-bound man, Hamm, and his servantile friend, Clov, stuck in a room characterized only by two high windows and two ashbins housing Hamm's parents, Nagg and Nell. Such unusual plays portray the American Theatre of the Absurd perfectly. In both Waiting for Godot and Endgame, Samuel Beckett expertly incorporates nonconformist setting and dual chara...
---. “Structure in Beckett’s theatre.” Yale French Studies. Vol. 46. Yale University Press, 1971. 17-27. JSTOR. 20 Mar. 2004.
While Beckett’s works are often defined by their existentialist themes, Endgame seems to offer no solution to the despair and melancholia of Hamm, Clov, Nagg, and Nell. The work is replete with overdetermination that confounds the efforts of critics and philosophers to construct a single, unified theme for the play. Beckett resisted any effort to reconcile the problems of his world, offer solutions, or quench any fears overtly. However, this surface level of understanding that aligns Beckett with the pessimism of the Modernist movement is ironically different from the symbolic understanding that Beckett promotes through his characters and the scene. Beckett’s work does not suggest total hopelessness, but rather that the fears of change, self-centeredness, and despair of Hamm and Clov contribute to their miserable existence. He opposes the Modernist attitude of focus on the subjective, internal state, and reveals the soul of the Modernist to be shallow and starving.
Humans spend their lives searching and creating meaning to their lives, Beckett, however, takes a stand against this way of living in his novel ‘Waiting for Godot’. He questions this ideal of wasting our lives by searching for a reason for our existence when there is not one to find. In his play, he showcases this ideology through a simplistic and absence of setting and repetitious dialogue. Beckett’s ability to use these key features are imperative to his ability of conveying his message of human entrapment and existence.
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How Does Beckett Use Time and Repetition in Waiting For Godot to Represent The Never Ending Cycles in Life?
We live on a planet revolving around the sun, while there are at least about one septillion other stars in this universe. What is the significance of our existence in this infinite cosmos? What is the purpose of our lives? With the explosion of scientific knowledge and the WWII bombs in the modernity epoch, the insignificance of our lives was realized; Samuel Becket staged the futility of human existence in the play Waiting for Godot. He portrayed nothingness through the use of structure, language, dialogue, and setting. He further demonstrated that the lives of the two characters Vladimir and Estragon takes meaning when they wait for the ambiguous Godot. In order to be relieved from the crippling question of existence, they occupy themselves with meaningless activities. Due to the lack of a plot in Waiting for Godot, one can deduce that perhaps Beckett is referring to the futility of human existence in general.
Samuel Beckett's stage plays are gray both in color and in subject matter. Likewise, the answer to the question of whether or not Beckett's work is Absurdist also belongs to that realm of gray in which Beckett often works. The Absurdist label becomes problematic when applied to Beckett because his dramatic works tend to overflow the boundaries which scholars attempt to assign. When discussing Beckett, the critic inevitably becomes entangled in contradiction. The playwright's own denial "that there is a philosophical system behind the plays" and his explicit refusal "to reduce them to codified interpretations" suggests, one could argue, that to search for such systems or interpretations in Beckett's work is, at best, a fruitless endeavor (Beckett quoted. in McMillan 13). Let me suggest, however, that Beckett's own statements and criticisms not be taken as a deterrent to the study of his work. His objections threaten only those interpretations which "reduce" his work. The challenge for the critic, then, is to evaluate and analyze Beckett in such a way that his works are not reduced but enhanced.
Although Samuel Beckett's tragicomedy, Waiting for Godot, has no definite meaning or interpretation, the play acts as a statement of hopelessness regarding human existence. Debate surrounds the play because, due to its simplicity, almost any interpretation is valid. The main characters, Vladimir and Estragon, are aging men who must wait for a person, being, or object named Godot, but this entity never appears to grace the men with this presence. Both characters essentially demonstrate how one must go through life when hope is nonexistent as they pointlessly attempt to entertain themselves with glum conversation in front of a solitary tree. The Theater of the Absurd, a prevalent movement associated with Waiting for Godot, serves as the basis for the message of hopelessness in his main characters. Samuel Beckett's iconic Waiting for Godot and his perception of the characteristics and influence of the Theater of the Absurd illustrate the pointlessness and hopelessness regarding existence. In the play, boredom is mistaken for hopelessness because the men have nothing to do, as they attempt to occupy themselves as, for some reason, they need to wait for Godot. No hope is present throughout the two-act play with little for Estragon and Vladimir to occupy their time while they, as the title indicates, wait for Godot.