M.A English Part 2 Notes | Waiting For Godot Notes
Question : Account for the widespread appeal or Beckett's Wailing for Godot despite a complete absence in it or any romantic or female interest.
Waiting for Godot possesses neither a conventional plot nor any female interest. What, then, are the reasons for it immense popularity on the stage?
Nothing happens, twice. Wailing for Godot does not, indeed, contain any sensational or gripping or even moderately interesting story; the element of love is completely absent from it; there is no female interest in it whatever. As a critic remarked, in this play "nothing happens, twice." In fact, so far as plot-construction is concerned, a remark by Estragon provides the keynote to it. Says Estragon at one point: "Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes, it's awful!" According to one of the critics, "There is nothing done in it; no development is to be found; and there is no beginning and no end." In spite of these deficiencies, however, Waiting for Godot has proved immensely successful on the stage. The play has appealed to the common people as well as to intellectuals.
The Play World Theatre
Since its performance in Paris in 1933, this play has been performed by all sorts of actors in all sorts of places in many different countries, ' and it has been translated into many different languages. It is not a play with only a limited appeal. Nor can it be called, as some do call it, an elaborate intellectual hoax. Waiting for Godot has proved itself to . be world-theatre in spite of the fact that it has no spectacle, no star-part, no sex, not even a woman in the cast. The question why it has achieved such a striking success is not easy to answer. The immediate appeal of the play is due perhaps to the fact that, even though nothing much happens, it is intensely theatrical. The dialogue is always funny, and at the same time sad. Under the farcical ripple of the dialogue lies a serious concern.
A Situation having a General Human Application.
One reason for the wise popularity of this play is that it depicts a situation, which has a general human application. The main subject of the play is "waiting", and the act of waiting is an essential aspect of the human condition. The words "We're waiting for Godot" are repeated in the course of the play like a refrain. Different interpretations of what is meant by Godot have been offered, but it does not really matter who or what Godot is. The tramps themselves have only a vague idea of who Godot is..They wait for him in a state of ignorance and helplessness. They have no control over the situation in which they find themselves. The play thus depicts waiting, ignorance impotence, and boredom; and all these are things of which every one of us has a direct personal experience in life. Everyone of us has waited and waited for something or other the offer of a job, the possibility of promotion, the return of a long lost friend or relation, a love letter, etc. Thus, we can discover a common ground between ourselves and the two tramps who are waiting for Godot.
The general feeling of the pointlessness of existence reflected in the plight or the tramps.
It'is not only the mood of expectancy in the play which has a general validity. While the play dramatises the themes of habit, boredom, and "the suffering of being," it also conveys to us the pointlessness of existence. The play is a fable about a kind of life that has ho longer any point. Godot may stand for God, or for a mythical human being, or for the meaning of life, or for death; but the play is a representation of stagnant life. The two heroes, or antiheroes, are merely alive, but no longer living in a world. Theirs is a life without action, and all their attempts to pass the time peter out. In our world today millions of people- have begun increasingly to feel that they live in a world in which they dp not act but are acted upon. The two tramps, in spite of their inaction and the pointlessness of their existence, still want to go on. The'millions of people today do not after all give up living 'When their life becomes pointless. Thus, ,-the plight of the two tramps is something, which most people can easily recognise and understand, and that is why they are to respond to the play. People can also understand Estragon's misery symbolised by his nightmares and by the mysterious persons who regularly give him a beating. It is not without reason that Estragon suggests hanging as a remedy for the tramps' predicament. Under the conditions in which we live most of us have subconsciously thought of hanging ourselves even though we may not confess this thought. The mood of despair is not limited only to a small minority of people in the modern world; it is more or less a general attitude.
The Appeal of Lucky's Monologue for the Thinking Mind
There is something to appeal to most people even in Lucky's incoherent and disconnected monologue. It is undoubtedly a long speech, which puzzles and even irritates us. But there is much in it to appeal to the thinking mind. Lucky s speech should not be dismissed as so much nonsense. Lucky speaks first of all of a personal God who loves human beings dearly with some exceptions, but Lucky also speaks of those who for reasons unknown are plunged in torment. Lucky speaks too of the great deterioration in man's taking intelligence. In other words the them of Lucky's speech is regression in a world in which the inventions of science will bring about a catastrophe. Man's mind is moving back to a primitive condition. This is certainly a depressing thought but, for the modern intellectual it has a certain plausibility and credibii'ty.
The Appeal or the Tramps Mutual Relationship
Another reason for the wide appeal of this piay is the manner in which the Pozzo Lucky and the Estragon-Vsadimir relationships are depicted. Pozzo and Lucky represent the tyrant-slave relationship. Pozzo reminds us of a feudal lord who dominates by his gestures and his inflated language. Pozzo and Lucky are tied to each other, both ways, not by their natures but by their external conditions. The slave is tied but the master is tied also, because he must hold the rope. Vladimir and Estragon, have a different relationship: they are at once loving, suspicious, and resentful, wanting to break away yet still anxiously returning to each other; theirs is a voluntary relationship, with binding natural ties. Pozzo arid Lucky represent one way of getting through itfe with someone else; Vladimir -and- Estragon represent another way of doing so, a more sympathetic and a more acceptable way. Thus, through Vladimir and Estragon we come to a clearer knowledge of ourselves, to an increased capacity for living fully, and so to a spiritual liberation. The play is valid for 'all those who can assimilate the general anguish into the': oarticular" experience and thus trap-'0*'" ii into ihcir cr-1"' te.;v.c, To such art experience we might apply Aristotle's term 'catrrarsis". The contrast between the relationships of the two pairs, of characters thus becomes an important clue to the understanding of the play and produces certain echoes in us.
The Religious Appeal or the Play
Some people respond to what may be regarded at the religious appeal of the play. Godot is the external figure who can bring a change in the immobility of the two tramps tor whom-he certainly exists. The idea of grace or the possibility of salvation is prominent in the play, from the moment when Vladimir expresses his puzzlement over the different accounts given in the four Gospels of the fate of the two thieves certified with Christ. Acccrcting to one version, one of the two thieves was saved and the other damned. As Vladimir remarks: "It's a reasonable percentage." A religious, Indeed theological, motif runs through this near static play, and it is not surprising that critics should have found some similarity between Beckett and Pascal. The Pascalian picture of the misery of man abandoned to himself is Beckett's picture in this play. Vladimir's and Estragon's "waiting" might be explained as signifying their steadfast faith and hope, while Vladimir's kindness to his frieno, and the two tramps mutual interdependence might be seen as symbols of Christian chanty. The tramps, who are waiting for Gcdct, may be regarded as superior to Pozzo and Lucky who have no appointment and no objective, and who are wholly egocentric, wholly wrapped up in their sadomasochistic relationship. The two tramps are less self centred arid have fewer illusions. xThe hope, the habit of honing that Godot might come after a!! may be an ii'usion but It is an illusion that sustains them and keeps them go^g. Godot lends to their pointless existence a certain meaning even though Godot himself'is an ambiguous, unpredictable person.
The Appeal or the Comic Elements in the Play
Thus, we see that a piay, which seems to be made up oiit cf nothingness, has a manifold appeai: arid that is the reason why the audience is caught fro n beginning to end and remains riveted to the two tramps who do nothing and say practically nothing. But it is not only thematic variety that accounts for the popularity of this play. There are a couple of other ingredients too. Waiting for Godot, despite its serious and *ragic implications is a funny play, which contains a number of comic and farcical elements. Estragon and Vladimir have rightly been compared to the famous Hollywood comedians of the nineteeh-thirties, Stan-Laurel and Oliver-Hardy. They give rise to a lot of mirth by their gestures, actions, moverryents, and by their conversation. Many of their actions are• borrowed"i'rdm the circus, such as Estragon's amusing efforts to take off his boots, Vladimir's repeatedly peering into his hat, the two tramps permuting hats the futile attempts or the tramps to hang themselves, and the immobility of the tramp even after they"have decided to move away. The amusing cross talk of the tramps is borrowed from the English music-hall comedy: To take only a couple of examples, they indulge in the pastime .of calling each other names: "moron", "vermin", "abortion", "sewer rat", 'curate", "critic". At the end of this game of abusing each other, the two tramps make up the mock quarrel and call each other "Gogo" and "Didi". Towards the end of the play we have the following bit of dialogue which illustrates the kind of humour that occurs again and again;
Vladimir: Pull on your trousers.
Vladimir: Pull on your trousers.
Estragon: You want me to pull off my trousers.
Vladimir: Pull ON your trousers.
Estragon: (Realising his trousers are down). True. (He pulls up his trousers).
Memorable Remark and Utterances
Finally, there are a number of memorable remarks and utterances, which have an instantaneous appeal for the audience. For instance, in one of his speeches Pozzo lays that the tears of the world are a constant quantity, and that for each one who begins to weep, somewhere else another stops weeping. This remark is like an aphorism. Then there is Pozzo's lament, symptomatic of many human misfortunes: "I woke up one fine day as blind as Fortune." But Pozzo's great contribution to this play is the speech in which he points out the brevity of human life: "They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it's night once more." Vladimir too makes a few remarks that appeal to us greatly. In one of his speeches he refers to Pozzo's repeated cries for help and says that these cries were addressed to ail mankind. At this place and at this moment of time, Viadimii and tstiagon are "all mankind". They should therefore do something; "The tiger'bounds to the help of his congeners without the least reflection, or else he slinks away into the depths of the thickets. But that is not the question........What are we doing here, Jhat is the question We are waiting for Godot to come." Soon afterwards Vladimir makes the following philosophic remark: "In an instant all will vanish and we'll be alone once more, in the midst of nothingness.''1Yet another remark worthy of note by Vladimir is: "Astride of a grave and a difficult birth we have time to grow old. The air is full of our cries. But habit is a great deadener." One of the highlights of this play is the poetic dialogue in which tha two tramps describe "the dead voices" which make a noise like wings, like leaves, like sand; which whisper, rustle, murmur: which make a noise like feathers, like leaves, like ashes This dialogue ends with a long pause at the end of which ' Vladimir entreats his friend to "say something".
If the prisoners of San Quentin responded to Waiting for Godot, it was because they were confronted with their own experience of time, waiting, hope, and despair; because they recognized the truth about their own human relationships in the sadomasochistic interdependence of Pozzo and Lucky and in the bickering love-hate between Vladimir and Estragon. This is also the key to the wide success of Beckett's plays: to be confronted with concrete projections of the deepest fears and anxieties, which have been only vaguely experiences at a half-conscious level, constitutes a process of catharsis and liberation (a process similar to the curative effect in psycho-analysis of confronting the subconscious contents of the mind). This is the moment of release from deadening habit, through facing up td-the suffering of existence, that Vladimir almost attains in Waiting for Godot.