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Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot: "nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes, it’s awful."
When the play first opened, it was criticized for lacking meaning, structure, and common sense. These critics, however, failed to see that Beckett chose to have his play, Waiting for Godot, capture the feeling that the world has no apparent meaning. In this misunderstood masterpiece, Beckett asserts numerous existentialist themes. Beckett believed that existence is determined by chance. This basic existentialist tenet is first asserted in Vladimir’s discussion of a parable from the Bible. Of the two thieves crucified at the same time as Christ, one was saved and one was damned. Given this knowledge, Vladimir ponders: "…how is it…that of the four Evangelists only one speaks of a thief being saved. The four of them were there - or thereabouts - and only one speaks of a thief being saved….Of the other three, two don’t mention any thieves at all and the third says that both of them abused [Christ]….But all four were there." The reports of the Evangelists shows that probability determines human life. That each Evangelist speaks of a different fate for the thieves prove the role of chance in our existence. It is generally accepted that one thief was saved and another one damned, which further illustrates the probability of life. In addition, Beckett expands on this paradox by stating, "Do not despair; one of the thieves was saved. Do not presume; one of the thieves was damned." Because fate is determined by chance, there is nothing anyone can do to insure their savior. In the play, it is stated that Godot himself beats the minder of sheep but cherishes the minder of goats. The arbitrariness of Godot’s decisions elude to the arbitrariness of life itself, raising questions over who will be saved and who will be damned. In the play, Pozzo remarks about his fate in comparison to Lucky’s: "Remark that I might easily have been in his shoes and he in mine. If chance had not willed it otherwise." In Stoppard’s play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern flip a coin that escapes the natural laws of reason. Here, the existentialist viewpoint focuses on refuting probability in favor of chance.
To many people, Godot symbolizes God. The name Godot even reflects an attenuated version of the word God. Godot’s silence but ubiquitous presence resembles that of God’s, and Vladimir and Estragon’s helplessness mirrors our own frailty.
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Beckett also examines Sartre’s description of "bad faith" self-deceptive attempts to dodge reality by making excuses for one’s actions. Vladimir and Estragon fool themselves by engaging in petty discourse that reflects the absurdity of life. They even contemplate suicide numerous times for numerous reasons, but ultimately persist in the futility of life. They choose to wait, just as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern submit to the futility of their own lives and merely await death.