Waiting for Godot

Waiting for Godot

Waiting for Godot

A Scene from a performance of Waiting for Godot Source: https://www.theartsdesk.com/theatre/waiting-godot-royal-lyceum-theatre-edinburgh

Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot relates the experiences of two tramps, Vladimir and Estragon who spend their time waiting by a tree for the arrival of a mysterious character named Godot.



Waiting for Godot, written by Samuel Beckett in 1953, is an absurdist comedy/tragicomedy. It has two acts and was first performed in Paris on January 5th, 1953, at the Théâtre de Babylon. Originally penned in French as En attendant Godot, the play is significant in the study of Modernist and Irish Drama.

The play is considered a 20th-century theatre classic and a significant piece in the Theater of the Absurd. The play revolves around two characters, Vladimir and Estragon, who spend their time waiting by a tree for someone called Godot. The exact meaning of the play is a subject of much discussion and can be understood in different ways.

People view the play in different ways. Some think it’s about life’s challenges, where the characters waiting for Godot represent the quest for meaning in a world that seems pointless. Others see it as a criticism of religion, suggesting that Godot stands for a distant or unresponsive higher power.


Some Basic Facts

Author: Samuel Beckett

Genre: Tragicomedy, absurdist comedy, and black comedy

Movement: Theatre of the Absurd

Literary period: Postmodern Age

Written: 1946-1949

First Performed: 1953

Main Characters: Vladimir, Estragon, Pozzo, and Lucky.

Themes: Existentialism, passage of time, human suffering, and the futility of hope and human endeavour.

Setting: An unknown country road.


Major Themes

Waiting for Godot encourages audiences to contemplate the meaning of life and their own existence through its absurdist and nihilistic tone. Some of the ideas (or themes) presented in the play are:

1. Existentialism

We always find something, eh Didi, to give us the impression we exist?”

—Estragon, Act 2

Estragon says this to Vladimir to assert that the stress caused by their uncertainty about existence and the meaning of their actions is relieved by waiting for Godot, providing a sense of certainty and purpose to their lives.

Waiting for Godot is a play about the meaning of life, portraying human existence as absurd. With their futile actions, Vladimir and Estragon is unable to break free from this absurdity. So they derive meaning from waiting for Godot. However, when they discover that Godot won’t arrive, they lose their sole sense of purpose.

The two decide to leave but they don’t move. The play ends with them stuck exactly where they started. Apparently Beckett suggests that we must not wait for someone to tell us the meaning of our existence, rather figure out our own individual meanings and live life happily without worrying about the objective or real meaning of our existence. This, according to Beckett, will liberate humanity from the stress arised from inability to find purpose of life.

2. Passing of Time

Nothing happens. Nobody comes, nobody goes. It’s awful.”

—Estragon, Act 1

Estragon expresses dissatisfaction while he waits for Lucky to show how he is thinking. He laments the emptiness of his days, feeling that time drags on as he wait for Godot’s arrival, yet nothing changes, and Godot doesn’t arrive.

The passing of time in the play is illustrated by the reappearance of secondary characters like Pozzo, Lucky, and the boy. Additionally, the stage directions enhance this depiction as the leafless tree undergoes a transformation, sprouting leaves as time unfolds.

Waiting for Godot revolves around the theme of waiting. Throughout the play, Vladimir and Estragon anticipate Godot’s arrival, providing a sense of purpose to their time, and that doesn’t make them feel as if they’re wasting their time. Repetition is used in the language of the play and also as a dramatic technique. The recurrence of events, where Pozzo, Lucky, and the boy repeatedly appear in the same sequence on both days, highlights to the audience that the central characters are essentially trapped in a repetitive cycle.

3. Human Suffering

Was I sleeping, while the others suffered? Am I sleeping now?

— Vladimir, Act 2

By saying this, Vladimir shows that he acknowledges that everyone is suffering. But, he also aware that he is not looking at the people around him who are suffering. Yet he takes no action to remedy the situation.

Waiting for Godot addresses the human condition, which inevitably involves suffering. It asserts, through different characters, that different people are suffering differently. Estragon is starving and he mentions that many people have been killed. Although, this is an unclear remark, as most things in the play are non-specific. Vladimir feels frustrated and isolated because he’s the only person who remembers, while everyone else consistently forgets. Lucky is a slave who is treated like an animal by his master, Pozzo. Pozzo becomes blind.

In an attempt to ease their suffering, the characters seek comfort in companionship. Despite constantly discussing the possibility of parting ways, Vladimir and Estragon remain together out of a profound fear of loneliness. Pozzo abuses his companion, Lucky, in a unreasonable attempt to ease his own misery. Ultimately, the characters’ perpetual suffering stems from their failure to connect with one another.

Lucky and Pozzo don’t care that Vladimir and Estragon are losing their only purpose: Godot is probably never coming. Conversely, Vladimir and Estragon remain passive, not intervening in Pozzo’s mistreatment of Lucky or assisting Pozzo when he becomes blind. This perpetuates a cycle of suffering due to their collective indifference to each other.

Waiting for Godot is not a tragedy, not because the cause of their suffering, especially of Vladimir and Estragon, is not a major catastrophe. Their suffering is absurd because of their incapacity to choose; their indecision and lack of action perpetuate a repetitive cycle that keeps them trapped.


Symbolism in the Play

Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett is rich in symbolism, contributing to its layered interpretation. The symbols used by the playwright help accentuate the themes of the play. Some of the symbols are:

1. Godot

Godot is a symbol that has been interpreted in different ways. Samuel Beckett intentionally refrained from specifying its meaning. Beckett entrusted the understanding of this symbol to the individual perspectives of readers or audience members. Sometimes, Godot has been interpreted as God. Godot as a religious symbol represents some higher power. Vladimir and Estragon wait for Godot’s arrival and hopes that it will bring answers and meanings to their life. Alternatively, Godot also symbolises the purpose that the characters are waiting for. They live an absurd existence and hopes that Godot will bring purpose to their life. Sometimes, Godot has also been interpreted as death. Vladimir and Estragon are passing their life until they die.

Think about It

How do you interpret Godot? What do you think is the meaning of this symbol?

2. The Tree

The tree has been interpreted variously by the audiences and readers. Some regard it as a symbol of the passage of time. In Act 1, the tree is leafless which grows some leaves in the second act. This suggests that some time has passed. The tree also serves as a symbol of hope. Vladimir was told that he should wait for Godot by the tree. Although he is not sure that he is waiting for him near the right tree, but he hopes that Godot might meet him there. Besides, when Vladimir and Estragon meet near the tree, they find hope in each other’s presence because they share the same purpose—the purpose of waiting for Godot. Near the end of the play, when they realise that Godot will not come, they become hopeless losing their purpose. To escape their suffering, they briefly consider committing suicide by hanging upon the tree. Thus, the tree serves as a hope for escaping their meaningless existence.

The tree has also been interpreted to symbolise the tree Jesus Christ was nailed to. Vladimir once tells Estragon the gospel story of the two thieves who were crucified with Jesus. This implies that Vladimir and Estragon symbolise those two thieves.

Think about It

Can you think of some other interpretations of the tree?

3. Night and Day

Vladimir and Estragon can be together during the day while they wait for Godot. When night arrives they are separated. Besides, the two men wait for Godot only during the day which suggests that Godot cannot arrive at night. Night comes just after the boy brings the despairing news that Godot won’t come. Therefore, daylight symbolises hope and opportunity, while night represents a time of nothingness and despair.

4. Objects

The playwright has used a minimal setting symbolically. The boots, for example, symboises a vicious circle of daily suffering. Estragon takes off the boots to get rid of his pain, but he has to put them back on. This suggests that he cannot escape the pattern of his suffering. Lucky’s never leaves his baggage, and always carries them with him. This also suggest that he is bound to continue with his load and that he cannot get rid of it.

Similarly, hats have also been used symbolically. When Lucky puts on his hat, it represents thinking. While Vladimir and Estragon’s exchanging their hats symbolises exchange of their identities and  their uncertainty about their individuality.




©2024. Md. Rustam Ansari [profrustamansari@gmail.com]


You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You can change the language to 'Hindi' by clicking on the 'British Flag' icon at the bottom-right corner of the page.

error: Content is protected !!