Waiting for Godot: Act 1
Waiting for Godot begins with the tramp Estragon trying to remove his boot because it is too tight. Sitting on a mound of dirt trying to remove it, he declares “there’s nothing to be done.” His fellow tramp Vladimir enters and tells him that, indeed, he also is beginning to believe there is nothing that can be done and that he is glad to see Estragon back again. He was worried he was never coming back. Estragon says “me too” (1). They should celebrate, Vladimir says, and asks Estragon to come closer for an embrace, but Estragon resists. He has spent the night in a ditch where he was as usual beat up by the “same lot” (1). Vladimir asks him where would he be without him and Estragon tells him to help him off with his boot. Vladimir asks whether it hurts, and Estragon responds: “Hurts! He wants to know if it hurts!” and accuses Estragon of never paying attention to what is troubling him. Estragon repeats Vladimir’s earlier remark “It hurts?” and then recites his friends precise declaration “Hurts! He wants to know if it hurts!” Estragon tells Vladimir to button his fly and Vladimir says one “should never neglect the little things of life” to which Estragon reminds him that he always waits for everything until the last moment. After some thought, Vladimir makes a comment about hope deferred and Estragon insists on knowing why Vladimir doesn’t help him with his boot. Vladimir begins fidgeting with his hat and repeats Estragon’s earlier statement “there’s nothing to be done” (2).
The two men begin to talk about the parable of the two thieves who were crucified next to Christ. Vladimir states that one of the thieves was saved and that that’s a pretty “good percentage” (2). He also wonders why, if the Evangelists wrote four different accounts of Christ’s death, only one mentions that one thief was saved. Two stories never mention the thieves and one account says the thieves abused Jesus because he refused to save them from death. Everyone, declares Vladimir, believes one thief was saved because they are only exposed to this single version of the story. “People are bloody ignorant apes,” Estragon replies and declares that he wants to leave (4).Vladimir says no, they can’t leave: they must wait for Godot.
Estragon inquires whether Vladimir is sure this is the spot they are to wait and Vladimir assures him, yes, right by the tree. Then they begin to doubt that perhaps they are not in the right spot after all, whether they have the correct day, and whether they were even waiting in this spot yesterday. They become completely befuddled. Estragon sits back down on the mound and soon falls asleep. Using Estragon’s nickname Gogo, Vladimir wakes him and when Estragon complains about never being allowed to sleep Vladimir explains that he was lonely. Estragon begins to tell Vladimir about his dream but Vladimir insists he doesn’t want to hear about the dream and then Estragon suggests that perhaps they should part. Vladimir tells his friend he wouldn’t go far without him and Estragon replies that it would be too bad especially “when you think of the beauty of the way . . . and the goodness of the wayfarers (6)”
The men begin to bicker. Vladimir leaves but quickly returns and they embrace. They attempt to figure out how to pass the time while they are waiting and Estragon suggests they hang themselves. Vladimir dismisses this idea because hanging would cause them to have an erection “and all that comes with it,” and insinuates that mandrakes, plants that have roots resembling human form and that scream when pulled from the earth, are seeded by the ejaculate of hanged men (6). Estragon insists they hang themselves immediately and they look towards the tree. Vladimir is dubious and tells Estragon that he should go first because he is the lighter of the two and, besides, his weight would only break the bough and that then he, “Didi,” would be left alone. They decide to wait to see how Godot will handle the situation: “let's wait till we know exactly how we stand” (7). They have already asked or prayed to Godot for guidance but have not received an answer because Godot has been busy with everything and everyone else. Estragon says they have lost their rights but Vladimir argues distinctly “we got rid of them” (8). For a second they become fearful, imagining they hear something, perhaps Godot, but Estragon says it’s only “the wind in the reeds” (8). Estragon says he’s hungry and Vladimir gives him a carrot just before Estragon asks whether or not they are tied to Godot. Vladimir rejects this idea and then they take turns soothing each other with platitudes “there’s nothing that can be done” and “no use struggling,” and such (9).
Then they hear a scream and run for the wings. Estragon runs back twice, the first time to retrieve the end of his carrot and second time to pick up his boot. Terrified, they stand huddled together at the approaching menace. At this point, Pozzo and Lucky enter. Pozzo drives Lucky, who carries a large bag, a stool, a picnic basket and a coat, by means of a rope around his neck and a whip. Estragon asks Vladimir whether Pozzo is Godot, who they have never seen, and explain that “he's a kind of acquaintance” (11). Pozzo is puzzled about why that they are waiting for someone they don’t know on his land and they say there is nothing they can do about it. Pozzo, who is Lucky’s master, commands his slave by calling him “pig,” and tells him when to stop, go, turn, and so forth, all the while jerking the rope around his neck. After ordering his stool, Pozzo sits down and starts to eat chicken and drinks while Vladimir and Estragon stare at lucky who has a running sore from the rope on his neck. Pozzo orders them to leave Lucky alone.
Pozzo drops chicken bones on the floor and to Vladimir’s horror Estragon begs Pozzo for them to eat. Pozzo tells him they belong to Lucky and so Estragon asks Lucky if he can have the bones instead. Lucky fails to respond and Pozzo gives the bones to Estragon, stating that Lucky must be sick. The angry Vladimir declares it’s a scandal the disgraceful way Pozzo treats Lucky. Pozzo, who is finishing his pipe, says he must leave but then debates whether or not he should smoke another pipe. The second pipe is not nearly as satisfying and, besides, it causes him heart palpitations. Vladimir wants to leave, Estragon wants to stay. Pozzo considers remaining just so he can also meet Godot.
Estragon asks why Lucky never puts down his bags and Pozzo, who takes forever to answer the question, has to make sure he has their complete devoted attention. He sprays his throat with a vaporizer twice, and finally recites a list: “it follows that he doesn't want to,” and “he wants to mollify me, so that I'll give up the idea of parting with him,” and “he imagines that when I see how well he carries I'll be tempted to keep him on in that capacity” (16). When Vladimir asks Pozzo if he is going to get rid of Lucky, Pozzo tells them that he is on his way to the fair to sell him. At this point, Lucky begins to cry. Pozzo gives Estragon a handkerchief for Lucky’s tears but when he gets close enough Lucky kicks him in the shins.
Estragon carries on about how his leg is bleeding and how he will never walk again and Vladimir attempts to calm him by promising to carry him if necessary. Lucky stops crying and Pozzo explains that the number of tears in the world are constant, and when one person starts to cry, another stops. Estragon limps over and spitefully spits upon Lucky and returns to his mound. Pozzo continues his reverie. He has known Lucky for sixty years and has come to recognize that without him he wouldn’t have learned half of what he knows. Vladimir becomes even more upset that Pozzo could just throw Lucky away: “after having sucked all the good out of him you chuck him away like a . . . like a banana skin.” Vladimir continues to condemn Pozzo and screams out how he could “crucify him like that” (18). Estragon wonders whether Pozzo, who has misplaced his pipe, wants to replace Lucky.
Vladimir exits to use the rest room, returns shortly and pushes Lucky out of his way. Estragon wonders whether night will ever come. Pozzo tells them he needs to leave, but Estragon insists he sit down. Pozzo allows himself at first to be persuaded but then insists on leaving because he must observe his schedule. Vladimir claims “time has stopped” (20). After using his vaporizer once again, Pozzo attempts to give a lecture on the effects of twilight. Estragon begins to fidget with his boot while Vladimir plays with his hat. When Pozzo cracks his whip to wake up Lucky, the boot and hat fall to the ground. Estragon insists that Pozzo sit down and Pozzo asks his name to which he replies “Adam.” Pozzo awakens Lucky and continues with his lecture on the sky explaining how the sky changes colors from light to dark and then how it springs back into light: “that's how it is on this bitch of an earth” (20).
After the lecture, Pozzo, with false modesty, asks Vladimir and Estragon about how well he performed citing his defective memory for causing him problems. They are agreeable and say there is nothing that can be done. Pozzo wonders if there is anything he can do to repay their civility and Estragon suggests ten franks, then five. He offers to have Lucky dance for them, although Vladimir would prefer Lucky to think. Lucky performs a dance dubbed “the net” because Lucky dances as if he’s entangled in a net. Pozzo explains that Lucky’s dancing used to be much better. When Vladimir suggests again that Lucky think, Pozzo orders Lucky to pick up his hat and put it on. At this point, Lucky begins to think out loud, but his thoughts are nothing but run-on gibberish. Finally, the three of them are forced to seize Lucky’s hat and remove it just to shut him up. Pozzo loses his watch and for a moment Vladimir and Estragon think that perhaps he swallowed it, but when they listen they realize the ticking they hear is his heart. Once again, Pozzo attempts to leave but he cannot exit the same way he entered and must exit instead from the opposite side of the stage after they all take turns in turn saying adieu.
After Lucky’s departure, Estragon remarks how the visitors helped to pass the time and Vladimir retorts with “it would have passed in any case” (27). Estragon says “let’s go” and Vladimir replies for the umpteenth time that they cannot leave because they must wait for Godot. Vladimir comments on how Pozzo and Lucky have changed and Estragon insists he’s never seen them. Vladimir says of course he does and Estragon wants to know, if that’s really the case, then why Pozzo and Lucky didn’t recognize them. Vladimir begins to think that perhaps he was wrong. Estragon complains of a pain in his foot when suddenly they hear a voice offstage.
A timid boy enters and after some coaxing announces that he has a message from Mr. Godot. He has been waiting for Pozzo and Lucky to leave. They both yell at the boy and ask if he lives around there. He replies that he does and they ask whether he is the same boy who came yesterday but he answers no. The boy tells Vladimir that Mr. Godot will not come this evening, but that he will surely come tomorrow. The boy then tells them he looks after the goats for Mr. Godot and that his brother is in charge of the sheep. The boy says he doesn’t know whether he is unhappy and Vladimir and Estragon dismiss him with the message for Godot that he did in fact see them. The boy leaves. Suddenly, it is night and the moon appears.
Estragon places his boots at the edge of the stage, turns and contemplates the moon which he says is pale with weariness from “climbing heaven and gazing on the likes of us” (31). Vladimir says that Godot will come tomorrow. He asks what Estragon is doing with his boots and Estragon tells him he is leaving them for someone else. After all, he maintains, Christ went barefoot. Vladimir asks whether he is comparing himself to Christ and he answers that he has done that his entire life. Vladimir tells him everything will be better tomorrow. After all, didn’t Estragon hear the boy promise that Godot would surely come tomorrow? Estragon says yes he did and then wishes they had a rope. He recalls an earlier time when he threw himself into the Rhone River. They have been together for fifty years. Once more they talk about parting: “we weren't made for the same road.” They agree to leave but remain on stage sitting motionless together on the mound.
Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot remains one of the most highly regarded and powerful plays ever written. Not at all like a traditional play that features a comprehensible linear plot, realistic characters and predictable dialogue, this play is very difficult to comprehend. Indeed, it can be downright frustrating. Readers, and viewers for that matter, need to put their expectations on hold and attempt to experience the play for what it metaphorically represents to each personally instead of endeavoring to understand the “real” meaning. After all, even while the events for which we wait continually change, waiting is something common to every human begin during our time on earth. Some would even claim we spend our lives waiting for death.
Beckett wrote Waiting for Godot in 1948, three years after Allied forces had liberated France from German occupation in World War II, and some scholars suggest that his war experience inspired the play. Readers and viewers either love it or hate it but they never remain indifferent. Indeed, during its first production in Paris in 1953 the audience either cheered or sat in frozen silence. Most of the reviews were negative.
The play consists simply of two main characters, two lesser characters, a boy who arrives with messages from Godot, a tree, a mound of earth, the sky and the moon. Vladimir and Estragon are the main characters who remain waiting for Godot, a man who never arrives, while the other two are the cruel master Pozzo who leads his slave Lucky by the end of a rope. Vladimir and Estragon are entirely dependent upon each other. Although they bicker continually, and talk over and over again about parting from each other, they nevertheless depend upon each other entirely for shelter, food, conversation and most of all, for reassurance that Godot will indeed show up. They are strangely like a long-time married couple who simply put up with each other rather then part. At times, Vladimir is tender toward Estragon going even so far as to offer to carry him if necessary after Lucky kicks him on the leg. On the other hand, Estragon props Vladimir up allowing him to continue on day after day in their never ending quest to wait for Godot.
Unlike traditional plays that are linear in form, Beckett’s Waiting for Godot is like a circle: one of the primary points of the play centers on the idea that all of this has happened over and over numerous times. Early on Vladimir and Estragon argue about the location where they wait for Godot. Estragon doesn’t recognize it. Vladimir, who always doubts himself, disagrees but later expresses more uncertainty when he tells Estragon “you said we were here yesterday” (4). This brings up the questions of why they don’t remember what they did the day before: why don’t they recognize the landscape? This is not just a matter of simple memory. Indeed, their life is so repetitive that it makes absolutely no difference what they did or where they were yesterday during their interminable wait for Godot.
At first it is difficult to tell the men apart. Indeed, they parrot each other by reciting lines of each other’s dialog. In the opening line of the play Estragon announces “Nothing to be done,” and shortly after Vladimir recites the exact same line (1). While textual repetition throughout the play indicates the repetitiveness of life and simultaneously suggests uncertainty, this simply demonstrates that the characters are interchangeable and furthermore suggests that all humans are interchangeable.
On first analyzing this cryptic play, one is uncertain of the title character's significance. Many critics agree that Godot stands for God and that Vladimir and Estragon who linger day after day after day by a withering tree are waiting for salvation. This idea is reinforced by their appeal "a kind of prayer . . . a vague supplication" to Godot, they maintain, he is considering. That Godot equals God is also reinforced by the similarity of names. However, the word Godot also derives from the French word for boot, godillot. Recall at the beginning that Estragon struggles with his boot. Other literary scholars suggest a connection between Godot and Godeau, a character who never appears in Honore de Balzac's Mercadet; Ou, le faiseur.
No doubt the author entices the reader, or viewer, to examine the play in terms of religious symbolism through its numerous references to Christianity. Vladimir states that "hope deferred make something sick, who said that?" here referring to the biblical Proverbs 13:12: "hope deferred maketh the heart sick." In Act II, Estragon will compare himself to Christ by deciding to go barefoot. When Vladimir tells him not to compare himself to Christ, Estragon responds that "all my life I've compared myself to him” (31). Also in Act II, Pozzo is compared to Cain and Abel, the sons of children of Adam and Eve. This suggests that the characters are representative of the human race. Perhaps, it has been suggested, that Vladimir and Estragon represent hope in a chaotic world in their unwavering faith in a Godot, a Messiah, if you will, who never comes. Or, are they simply tools for Beckett to illustrate the folly of religious faith? Is Lucky, who suffers so severely to carry his master’s burdens, a Christ figure? Does Pozzo represent a cruel God? Before readers or viewers progress too far down this road, however, they should consider that Beckett denied a religious interpretation of the play and stated instead that the play’s many ambiguities hold the meaning. Indeed, as scholars argue the play is rife with “illusions of significance” that ultimately end in nothing. In this Beckett exposes the idea that while language attempts to create meaning, ultimately no meaning exists. Thus, after all of this, there is still no absolute meaning, no truth in Waiting for Godot and the author may simply be hitting home his point about textual uncertainty.
Beckett illustrates the idea of textual uncertainty in Vladimir and Estragon’s discussion of the two thieves who are crucified next to Jesus. Although there are four gospels, each provide contradictory versions of the same story. John (19:18) reports that Jesus was crucified between two others; Mark (15:27) and Matthew (27:38) mention they were criminals and they insulted Jesus while Luke (23: 39-43) says when one of the thieves defended Jesus at which point Jesus said to the repentant thief “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” How then, Vladimir ponders, can anyone know the real story of the crucifixion? And, indeed, how can any text pronounce authority when even the gospels are unreliable? In this Beckett forces his readers, or viewers, to question his own work.