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Some people wondered why in high school my favorite book was Waiting for Godot, a drama described on the title page as “a two-act play in which nothing happens twice.” In fact, my liking a play that does not portray a series of connected incidents telling a story but instead presents a pattern of images showing bewildered people in an incomprehensible universe initially baffled me too, as my partiality was more felt than thought. But then I read a piece by the critic Martin Esslin, who articulated my feelings. He wrote in “The Search for the Self” that
throughout our lives we always wait for something, and Godot
simply represents the objective of our waiting—an event, a thing, a
person, death. It is in the act of waiting that we experience the
flow of time in its purest most evident form. (31)
I realized that I was seventeen in high school passively waiting for something amazing to happen to me just like Vladimir and Estragon. I also realized that experiencing time flowing by unproductively was not for me regardless of how “pure” that experience might be. At several points in the play, Estragon states that he wants to leave, but Vladimir always responds, “We can’t . . . we’re waiting for Godot” (8). Neither one knows why the wait nor who Godot is or looks like, and they both admit, when asked by Pozzo why they mistook him for Godot, that “we hardly know him at all” (20). Yet, they wait for him instead of looking within themselves for meaning in their lives. They even turn to close-at-hand sources about them to provide reasons for their wait: from inside a hat or a boot (8). But, as Lucky points out, the “reasons [are] unknown” and always will be (28). Therefore, their external search is pointless to give life meaning. Or put another way, Vladimir and Estragon wait endlessly for life to begin.
As simple as it is, I see myself in them, waiting for someone or something to bring me meaning, to guide me, to spark my life. The existentialist ideas behind much of Waiting for Godot cut to the quick, as I, too, struggle through life trying to achieve some sort of purposeful meaning (Bryce). Like everyone else, I am a victim of waiting and going nowhere fast. As embarrassing as it is to me now, in high school, I ached as I searched to fill an empty part of me with love or true friendship, and at last I found him! But rather than acting on what I felt for him, I sat there and waited, hoping that he would notice me, the perfect soul mate.
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While waiting for Godot, Vladimir and Estragon experience the flow of time “in its purest most evident form” (Esslin 31), which means, ironically, that time is hardly present, as Becket shows that none of the characters ever actually knows how much time has passed. For example, in the play’s beginning, Estragon and Vladimir do not even know what day it is. The characters know that they are to wait for Godot on a Saturday, but Estragon states, “but what Saturday? And is it Saturday? Is it not rather Sunday? Or Monday? Or Friday?” (10). The second act of the play claims to start on the next day, but the phrase the next day can be interpreted as any day after the first act. When Vladimir and Estragon return to the tree where they are supposed to wait for Godot, Vladimir insists that both he and Estragon were there the day before and tells Estragon, “But we were there together, I could swear it!” (68). Estragon, however, has no memory of that. Coming across Pozzo and Lucky, Vladimir and Estragon discover that Pozzo and Lucky have become blind and mute. After Vladimir pesters him about when he became blind, Pozzo states, “I woke up one fine day and was blind as Fortune. Don’t Question me! The blind have no notion of time” (99). Having a limited amount of time on one’s hands—a lifetime, for example—does not matter if one sees no purpose and does nothing to make life meaningful. Beckett’s characters continue to go without purposeful action and, thus, live an absurd life devoid of meaning.
I confess that before my encounter with Godot, I never really thought about time or even what day of the week it was. None of it really mattered. Every day seemed just another day: school, work, friends, soccer practice, whatever. And worse, when I experienced my crush on that guy, I became completely oblivious to time. Time evaporated, and the world was slipping from my grasp. Friends disappeared; school became a blur. I cannot remember work at all. And not because I was in Never-Never Land with him that time stopped, but because I was waiting doing nothing that I let time stop, and my life became foolishly absurd. The play forced me to ask what exactly it was that I had been doing with my life, and am I now creating purposeful action? This question stays in my mind. Godot gives me pause to reflect on who I am, what I am doing here, and the dreams I want to pursue.
Ruby Cohn states, “Godot is the promise that is always awaited but never fulfilled” (45). Vladimir and Estragon never break through the state of nothingness because they use the excuse that they will be given purposeful action only when Godot arrives. Beckett ridicules people who wait for someone like Godot to tell them what to do with life. It is their excuse for inactivity. Godot will never arrive. Essentially Godot is waiting for Vladimir and Estragon to do something, but neither Vladimir nor Estragon knows what to do. But I do, and the play reinforces my resolve to continue pursuing my dreams, my purposeful action, despite how difficult or lonely the struggle. I shall not end up on the wayside waiting to “be saved” (60), shrugging my shoulders, and resignedly sighing, “Nothing to be done” (7).
Beckett, Samuel. Waiting for Godot. 1954. New York: Grove, 1982.
Bloom, Harold, ed. Modern Critical Interpretations: Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. New York: Chelsea, 1987.
Bryce, Helen. “Existentialism in Literature.” Class Lecture, Dept. of English. Lakewood High School, NJ. 18 Feb. 2003.
Cohn, Ruby. “Waiting.” Bloom 41-55.
Esslin, Martin. “The Search for the Self.” Bloom 23-40.
Redding, Otis. “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay.” 1968. 2 Dec. 2003.