The “waiting” in Waiting for Godot

Many critics have ceaselessly occupied themselves with the task of assessing the role of Godot in Samuel Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot. Owing to multiplicity of interpretations, Godot is usually perceived as a savior, God, a tyrant or an employer who has the future of the tramps in his hands, at least their immediate future. However, if one is to see the play in the context of the age in which it has been written, one can see that Godot is neither a presence, nor is it an idea, an ideal or a savior. Rather, Godot represents an absence of hopes, while “only hope left is to disappear”. This fact manifests in the play as well in which Godot remains physically absent from the framework of the play. It is in this regard that the waiting in the play seems uneasy, hopeless and more tragical than comical.

Even in the title of the play ‘Godot’ and ‘waiting’ have been used together. It is to signify that Godot, which represents a promise, is awaited. But in the play we see that the very act of waiting precedes in importance over the significance of Godot.

‘Waiting’ is an interesting verb, and very difficult to enact. But Beckett makes it possible to enact the action of waiting, while making the audience wait in anticipation too. Waiting implies a situation of expectation. One oscillates between hope and despair in this act of waiting. Therefore, waiting becomes an important metaphor. It is used in present continuous tense to show that it is a continuous condition for every man.

Moreover, waiting usually echoes passivity, yet, paradoxically, it can never be carried out without some action. Didi and Gogo claim that they cannot escape their present position as they are waiting for Godot. Therefore, in order to while away their time, they indulge in some activity. Beckett has artistically portrayed this situation in the play through the use of theatricality. To show action in the process of waiting, Beckett has employed various non-verbal techniques in the form of music-hall movements, gestures and pantomime. He also borrows from Vaudeville the idea of clowning that the tramps carry out in order to pass time. Sometimes they indulge in pleasant formalities: “No no, after you/No no, you first”; at other times they get into abusive arguments: “That’s the idea, let’s abuse each other”. These arguments ultimately culminate in a reconciliation: “Now let’s make up.” Their actions also range from cringing, crouching and cuddling to staggering, tumbling and falling limply.

All these actions serve a double purpose. On the one hand, these actions indicate pathetic attempts of human beings to divert attention from facing their real situation in the cosmos. On the other hand, they emphasize upon the despair that human beings constantly juggle with. In this context, one can see Beckett’s fascination with a quote by St Augustine: “Do not despair, one of the thieves was saved; do not presume, one of the thieves was damned.”

In the play, Vladimir contemplates this philosophy, which seems as his attempt to pass time. But it is another instance when Vladimir struggles with hope and despair. It is with hope that Vladimir looks at the prospect of salvation and deliverance: “It is a reasonable percentage.” But then he immediately recalls that out of the four gospels, only one speaks of human salvation. The other three gospels either show the thieves’ damnation, or they don’t mention that subject at all. In this way, even as Vladimir sees hope, he is immediately grounded by despair. It is this despair that drives Estragon to declare: “only hope left is to disappear”. Therefore, he constantly desires death, but he fails to commit suicide, as it too provides no definitive answers. In this regard, then, waiting becomes a hopeless, endless tragedy.

Waiting also seems tyrannical because Gogo and Didi feel trapped within the boundless space of void. This situation is best described by Hugh Kenner as ‘nowhere-nowhen’. Kenner’s classic statement reflects nothingness and emptiness that is ubiquitous. The tramps are forced to wait because they have no place to escape the void. Even as the physical space seems boundless to move in, they feel psychologically fixed to the void. Therefore, though at the end of both acts they say “Let’s go”, they do not move.

Further, the act of waiting is not only filled with activity, but also it is punctured by ponderous silences. In these silences, Gogo and Didi are reminded of their hopeless condition. They are continuously waiting for the future when Godot would show up, or when some higher intervention will save them from their present condition. It is an antithesis to W.B. Yeats’s wishful thinking of ‘The Second Coming’. But in this act, they are reminded of absences, especially that pertaining to Godot. Waiting becomes a state in which they experience a range of emotions – hope, despair, anxiety, angst, etc. Moreover, they become conscious of time. They feel that with each passing moment, things have changed, although important changes have not taken place. They also suggest that they may now live only moment by moment. Therefore, at the end of each act, there is longing for closure, but all they are left with is uncertainty. As Kenner points out, ‘the substance of the play is waiting, amid uncertainty’. It is through this uncertainty that the play unravels for us the predicament of modern human life, and this is where Beckett’s genius lies.

 

 

(c) Riya Payal 2016

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