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Waiting for Godot is Not an Absurdist Play

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Waiting for Godot is Not an Absurdist Play

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.

The problem with designating Beckett's work as Absurdist is, precisely, that this interpretation reduces his work. When a critic describes a work as "Absurd," she does not simply mean that the work is "outrageous" or "nonsensical" or merely silly. Coined by American critic Martin Esslin, the term "theater of the Absurd" can be defined as a kind of drama that presents a view of the absurdity of the human condition by the abandoning of usual or rational devices and by the use of nonrealistic form....Conceived in perplexity and spiritual anguish, the theater of the absurd portrays not a series of connected incidents telling a story but a pattern of images presenting people as bewildered beings in an incomprehensible universe. (Holman 2)

In the introduction to The Theatre of the Absurd, Martin Esslin provides a comprehensive explanation of "Absurdist" theater. He quotes Albert Camus' jThe Myth of Sisyphus:

A world that can be explained by reasoning, however faulty, is a familiar world. But in a universe that

is suddenly deprived of illusions and of light, man feels a stranger. His is an irremediable exile,

because he is deprived of memories of a lost homeland as much as he lacks the hope of a promised
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