In Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, Beckett seeks to explore the topic of death and mortality. Death is something that is not taken very seriously in the play as Vladimir and Estragon constantly undermine the severity and gravity of it. This is evidenced when they are trying to figure out what to do and Estragon suggests that they hang themselves, to which Vladimir replies “Hmm. It’d give us an erection,” and Estragon excitedly responds “An erection!…Let’s hang ourselves immediately!” (1.231-236). The characters lack an understanding of the consequences of death and do not seem to be able to fathom the seriousness that comes with it. Estragon talks about death further in the play when he says “the best thing to do would be to kill me, like the other,” and then when Vladimir asks “what other?” Estragon replies “billions of others,” causing Vladimir to say “to every man his little cross. Till he dies. And is forgotten” (2.136-140). While most people fear death, Estragon seems to find comfort in it, calling it the ‘best thing.’ Meanwhile, Vladimir seems to have a greater comprehension of the sadness associated with death as he sadly speaks of passing away and being forgotten. While Estragon appears to value life very little and is indifferent towards death, Vladimir seeks to find meaning in his own life. This is apparent after Pozzo asks him for help, causing Vladimir to go into a short speech about action, saying
“let us not waste our time in idle discourse! Let us do something, while we have the chance! It is not every day that we are needed. Not indeed that we personally are needed. Others would meet the case equally well, if not better. To all mankind they were addressed, those cries for help still ringing in our ears! But at this place, at this moment of time, all mankind is us, whether we like it or not. Let us make the most of it…” (2.638-644).
Vladimir becomes excited and assigns meaning to his life after being relied upon. He feels that Pozzo needs him, and that is suddenly enough to break the cyclical inaction that Beckett is known for. This suggests that while Estragon is largely unfazed by the prospect of death, Vladimir finds a meaning for his life when he feels needed by others.
In Zarrilli chapter 8, one of the topics is the 1900s move away from naturalism/realism and towards symbolism. Waiting for Godot is an excellent example of this as a mid-1900s play that is flooded with symbolism. One could speculate for hours or even days about the true meaning of the play and what Samuel Beckett’s message or intentions were. Theatre Histories describes symbolism as urging audiences to look past the surface and literal appearance of a play in order to “discover more significant realities within” (page 358). The exploration of death and mortality is a great example of this because Beckett orchestrates lines that can seem silly on the surface, but actually can be a message about more significant realities. An example of this is the erection line from earlier that is absurd but actually is a reflection of a carefree and potentially naive attitude regarding mortality.
Is there any evolution of character in Godot like we saw with Nora in A Doll’s House?
The obvious question the play brings up: What is the meaning of Godot and what can we make of its portrayal in the play?
Is there anything comparable to Waiting for Godot in modern media?
How could the play function differently or similarly with the addition of female characters?