Your life has no meaning—at least according to Samuel L. Beckett. Waiting for Godot, written by Samuel L. Beckett is a classic play. It was written in the 1950’s, and stood out immensely from the other works published at the time. It is often categorized as a tragic comedy, yet displays few typical qualities of either genre. The plot, is quite simply about nothing. There is no tragic climax, no conflicts, and no clear resolution. It follows two men with an apparent long-lasting friendship, Estragon and Vladimir. Throughout the entirety of the play the two men are situated by a tree, where they wait for a man they have never met, Godot. They encounter three other characters, Pozzo, Lucky, and Boy. The three of them do not offer any apparent significance to the plot other than people for Estragon and Vladimir to talk to as they wait. Having only read the synopsis provided above, I would think this play sounded like a complete mess. Yet instead, it is something very beautiful and powerful. The nothingness in this play is what makes it renowned and original. Beckett writes this risky piece to prove a deeper point. The characters are literally waiting for a man with the word “god” in his name, but at the end of the play Godot does not appear. This shows that there is no deeper meaning to life, especially the lives of Estragon and Vladimir. The men display this lack of meaning in their conversations, as they rarely talk about anything of significance. The lack of character and plot development demonstrated in Waiting for Godot, is what allows it to be so powerful and esteemed.
The conversations between Estragon and Vladimir lack thought and remain superficial, strengthening the artistry of the piece. Waiting for Godot begins with Estragon and Vladimir sitting by the tree arguing about Estragon not wanting to take off his boots. Immediately, the audience has no idea what is going on. Who are these men? Where are they? Why are they talking about shoes? Why did I buy tickets to see this show in the first place? And in all honesty, these questions remain in the audience’s head for the whole play. The audience listens closely to the words spewing from Estragon and Vladimir’s mouths, yet fail to learn anything crucial about their characters, their feelings, or their back story. Beckett does this thoughtfully, stopping any connection to be made with the characters. The characters are viewed as pointless, and no one really cares what happens to them. This adds to the beauty— many play writes would shy away from making a character or scene so meaningless, but Beckett embraces it. His show is notable because of the message he sends. This isn’t a show for someone looking to have a good Saturday night, it challenges and critiques the viewer, provoking thought and calling for reflection.
Beckett simplifies imperative conversations, so that they too seem pointless. Shortly after the boot scene, the men decide they are bored. Estragon suggests they hang themselves, and Vladimir agrees. However, they ultimately decide not to because they are worried the tree cannot hold their weight, and they are curious what Godot will say when he comes. This conversation takes place over a page and a half. This in itself says a lot. The men are making one of the biggest decisions that can be made, yet barely address the consequences and their reason to kill themselves is because they don’t know what to talk about. Suicide is a powerful and climatic event for writers to entwine into their work, however Beckett nonchalantly introduces the idea within the first ten minutes. The men have shown no build up leading them to suicide, and the audience still does not even know how they know each other (a question that never gets answered). Beckett takes such a risk in writing this bit alone. However, it is scenes like this that make the play renowned. Beckett has such a clear message, that life has no meaning, which could only be spread with such literary risks. This scene is beautiful in its simplicity of a complex topic, and is one of the most memorable parts of the play.
Beckett makes the piece even more powerful as he brings it to an ending, without really ending it. Having been told the previous day that Godot is coming tomorrow, the men decide to wait again by the tree. A whole day passes. At the end of the day a boy who works for Godot comes and tells them Godot will come the next day. The men speak:
VLADIMIR. Well? Shall we go?
ESTRAGON. Yes, let’s go.
(They do not move) (85).
Beckett ends his piece, as aimless as he begins it. The men do not move, signifying that they are not actually leaving, and are only going to continue to wait. Many people would be enraged with this ending, nothing has happened, and there was probably no point in even reading or watching this play, but I think it couldn't have ended more beautifully. Beckett’s ending is so trivial, yet so gentle. His message that there is no deeper meaning to life, screams out in the last seconds of the show. The two men are so pointless they can’t even leave the stage, they have no where to go and nothing do. Waiting for Godot is written so purposefully, the allure is maintained in the small, quiet, stupid moments. Beckett literally ended his play the stupidest way he could, not at all. But it’s the perfect ending. You are provoked and compelled by this dumb ending, it is so beautiful your mind, my mind, can only categorize it as dumb and stupid, when in fact is the smartest ending for this piece.
The structure of the play itself, maintains power and beauty. The first and second acts are modeled exactly like one another. First, Estragon and Vladimir meet at the tree, and bicker about meaningless topics. Estragon has forgotten all of what has happened the previous day, and Vladimir explains vaguely. They branch into different conversations, consistently referencing back to the fact that they are waiting for Godot. Pozzo and Lucky walk on, the four of them talk, and Pozzo and Lucky leave. The two men are left alone again. Suddenly a boy appears and tells them that Godot will be there the next day, then the act ends. This formula doesn’t allow for character development, as all of their days are modeled exactly like one another. Beckett makes his writing directionless, creating a pointless play, to spread his message. The characters cannot develop, and the story cannot progress, but it is beautiful. His intentional lack of development in characters and plot send a stronger message than any classically told story. In the eyes of Aristotle, as well as some frustrated audience members, this play would seem to be utter garbage. In Poetics by Aristotle, he describes step by step how to write a successful tragedy. Ranking plot as the most important component and characters as the second. Aristotle discusses the structure of the plot and the tragedy as a whole, having clear emphasis on the importance of action. He discusses the emotions leading up to the action, and the ending that comes as a result. Aristotle claims that character is of less value than plot; there can be plot without character, but no character without plot. Yet, how is it that a play with neither, is one of the most renowned tragedies? The description that Aristotle provides for a tragedy is the exact opposite of Waiting for Godot. He claims that action is one of the most crucial components, yet there is no action at all in the play, there isn’t even really an ending. The characters never decide anything, and don’t even get what they want. However, the more I reflect on the nothingness and almost anti-tragedy-like qualities of this play, the more I am moved by it. The play has power because it is unlike any other play, it is esteemed because Beckett took a risk to show a truth we struggle to admit.
Beckett’s risks to make his play so meaningless, in the sense that there is no plot or character development, are the only things that provide the play with value. He wrote his play as if it was pointless, he made the pointless characters Estragon and Vladimir wait for a pointless man Godot, who never comes, to prove that there is no real point. The conversations in the play are about nothing, the whole play is about nothing. This is because he is saying that nothing matters, theres no deeper meaning to life. Waiting For Godot, like real life, does not make a lot of sense, it does not have a clear direction, it just is. Like this paper, you are reading it, why? Theres no point, no point to life, no point to this, no point to the play. But it’s powerful, only in reflection are you able to finally understand the beauty. The beauty comes from the nothingness, the risks Beckett made to critique people’s needs for meaning, a critique that still stands. It is human nature to look for meaning, but what if there is none as Beckett suggests? What do we do? Read a high school student’s opinion on a play? Or sit back and enjoy the beautiful nothingness?
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