Waiting for Godot: Act 2
The following evening Vladimir enters and feverishly begins to walk around the stage. It is the same time and the same place as the evening before in the opening of Act I except now the tree now has four or five leaves on it. Estragon's boots and Lucky's hat are also on stage. As Vladimir walks repeatedly over the same ground, he sings a repetitive song about a dog and a crust of bread. Estragon enters head down, dejected, and suggests that Vladimir seems happier when they are apart. Estragon doesn’t know why he keeps returning to Vladimir. When Vladimir attempts to embrace him, he exclaims “Don't touch me! Don't question me! Don't speak to me! Stay with me!” (35).Vladimir reassures him and both embrace, friends once more. But the bickering continues when Estragon repeats that Vladimir is indeed happier when he’s not around. Vladimir insists that Estragon feels better when they are together “because you don't know how to defend yourself. I wouldn't have let them beat you” (35). Estragon admits he doesn’t know why he is continually beaten up and Vladimir tells him it’s because “there are things that escape you that don't escape me” (36). He also explains that deep down he is also happy but that he doesn’t know because things escape him. They agree they are both happy and then wonder what to do next. Vladimir pipes up “wait for Godot,” and attempts to change the subject after Estragon groans by remarking on how things have changed since yesterday. But Estragon is clueless about yesterday.
Vladimir asks him if he remembers Pozzo and Lucky. Estragon is puzzled: “either I forget immediately or I never forget,” but recalls getting hit by Lucky and getting a bone from Pozzo and is amazed to learn that this occurred yesterday (36). Vladimir asks whether he recognizes the scenery and Estragon says it all looks the same. When Vladimir disagrees by claiming it to be strikingly different from the Macon County scenery, Estragon insists he’s never been to the Macon County. The bickering escalates and Estragon, yet again, declares that they should part. Instead, they attempt to remain silent but this proves impossible because when they are silent they hear the incessant voices of the dead, rustling, whispering and speaking all at once: “to have lived is not enough for them” (38). Estragon asks Vladimir to sing something but he says no. Thinking, they decide is the worst of all so then they decide to ask each other questions because there’s much less misery in that. Then Vladimir wants to know where the skeletons came from and Estragon ignores him by continuing on the same line of thought “we must have thought a little” (39). Soon, this conversation comes to an end and they agree that while “it wasn’t such a bad little canter,” they now need to come up with another topic (40). They return to what Vladimir claims was their previous topic of conversation, the tree.
The tree is now covered with leaves, whereas yesterday it was all “black and bare” (41). Estragon argues “we weren't here yesterday” because the tree couldn’t have changed overnight. Okay, so what did we do last night, Vladimir challenges, and Estragon says they spent the evening before blathering about nothing, which is the precise thing they have done every evening for the last fifty years. He doesn’t recall Pozzo, when Vladimir reminds him, but he does remember getting kicked by Lucky. Vladimir asks to see the wound and, sure enough, there is a festering wound on his leg. Estragon asks Vladimir “what about it?” (42). Vladimir asks Estragon where his boots are before pointing to the boots that Estragon left on the ground the evening before. Estragon, however, insists those boots are not his because they are a different color. Vladimir suggests then that someone must have exchanged his boots for Estragon's boots because they fit better. A frustrated Estragon suggests they leave but yet again Vladimir remind him they can’t because they are waiting for Godot.
Vladimir offers Estragon a radish and suggests Estragon try on the boots. After all, it would be something to do, an occupation of sorts, a relaxation. After a variety of physical contortions they get the boots on Estragon and they fit. Estragon returns to his mound and curls into a fetal position while Vladimir sings “bye, bye, bye” over and over to him as a sort of lullaby, and wrapping him in his coat, soothes him after he wakes up from a nightmare. Estragon once more insists on leaving, but as Vladimir points out they must wait for Godot. Estragon claims they came too early but Vladimir assures him they always come at nightfall and that night will fall suddenly just like it did yesterday. Then soon, Vladimir continues, it will be day again. Estragon cries out in despair “what'll we do, what'll we do!” (42). Vladimir tries to get him to be quiet and picks up Lucky’s hat. Estragon says he is leaving and that he will never see him again.
Putting on Lucky’s hat Vladimir says their troubles are over and hands Estragon his own hat. Then the men exchange hats back and forth over and over incessantly. Vladimir decides to keep Lucky’s hat as his own and asks Estragon to play. When Estragon asks play at what, Vladimir tells him they could play Pozzo and Lucky and suddenly he begins to act like the abused Lucky. In turn, Estragon, aka Pozzo, begins to yell “think, pig! . . . Dance, hog!” (46). Suddenly, Estragon exits left but immediately, after Vladimir calls out “Gogo,” he returns “there you are again, at last” and falls into Vladimir’s arms: “I thought you were gone forever” (46). Estragon cries out someone is coming and Vladimir is sure it’s Godot and that they are saved. He tries to get Estragon to come with him but Estragon runs away exiting right and, once again, returns immediately and falls into Vladimir’s arms. “I’m in hell,” he declares (47). Vladimir attempts to help him hide by pushing him forward towards the audience but Estragon recoils in horror. Vladimir tells him to hide behind the tree but the tree isn’t wide enough. Estragon calms down then, assures Vladimir it won’t happen again and asks what he should do. Vladimir remarks “there is nothing to do” (47). Standing back to back they continue to watch and continue their banter. After Vladimir calls Estragon a “moron,” they decide it’s a good idea to abuse each other and after a session of name calling, they embrace. Then for want of something, anything, to do they decide to perform exercises and deep breathing. Estragon does a tree exercise and wonders aloud whether God sees him before declaring “God have pity on me!” and Vladimir seconds his prayer “and me” (49). At this point, Pozzo and Lucky enter.
Although he could see in Act I, in Act II Pozzo is blind and bumps into Lucky who has stopped short and fallen at the sight of Vladimir and Estragon. Pozzo lands on top of Lucky among the scattered baggage. Vladimir is greatly relieved to see them because, instead of just the faltering two, now they have company, a diversion to pass the evening. Estragon mistakenly thinks Pozzo is Godot and when he finds out it’s only Pozzo who is calling for help, he utters “let’s go,” to which Vladimir predictably answers they can’t because they have to wait of Godot. Vladimir wants to help Pozzo get up and when Estragon resists he says that perhaps Pozzo will give him another bone. Estragon says that they should ask for the bone first and that if Pozzo refuses, they should not help. Vladimir encourages him to reconsider and warns that they should watch out for Lucky who attacked them yesterday but then gives a speech on the necessity of taking action without worrying about recompense: “let us do something, while we have the chance! It is not every day that we are needed” (51). Pozzo meanwhile continues to call for help. And, while they are not saints, Vladimir continues to expound, they have after all kept their appointment. Estragon thoughtfully says “we are all born mad. Some remain so” (51). Pozzo shouts that he will pay for help and Estragon asks him how much. One hundred francs, Pozzo responds, and then raises the price almost immediately to 200 franks. Vladimir continues his reverie: “we wait. We are bored. . . . No, don't protest, we are bored to death, there's no denying it,” and then castigates himself for wasting a good opportunity to relieve their boredom (52).
In their attempt to help Pozzo up, the characters fall all over themselves in a slapstick sort of way until they are all four on the ground. Vladimir and Estragon take advantage of the position and so take a nap. Pozzo begins to yell and Vladimir hits him in an attempt to quiet him. Estragon screams “Make him stop it. Kick him in the crotch,” forcing Pozzo to crawl away and Vladimir and Estragon to wonder what to do (54). They decide to call him together but Pozzo doesn’t respond. Then they decide, in another attempt to pass the time, to call him by other names and begin with “Cain,” and follow that with “Abel.” Estragon points out a little cloud in the zenith and then they decide to attempt to find some other way to pass the time. Pozzo answers to both names by calling for help and Estragon says he is all humanity. When they attempt to get up, Estragon suggests they leave and Vladimir responds as usual they have to wait for Godot. They decide to help Pozzo up to his feet but he falls right back down again. When they next hold him up, Pozzo, since he is blind, must ask their identity to determine whether they are friends and not highwayman thieves. They reassure Pozzo who wants to know what time it is. It is sunset but Estragon insists the sun is rising: “it's evening, night is drawing nigh.”
As they continue to hold Pozzo up, Estragon wants to know how much longer they will have to carry him around. After all, he insists, they are not columnar supports. Vladimir inquires how long Pozzo, who previously had excellent sight, has been blind and Pozzo responds that he woke up one morning blind. When Vladimir presses whether or not it was yesterday, Pozzo tells him the blind have no notion of time and asks them if this place is known as the Board. When he gets a negative response he asks what his surroundings look like and also wants to know where his menial Lucky is. Vladimir tells him the location is indescribable, “like nothing,” and that his servant Lucky is unconscious. Pozzo insists that they help Lucky and they promise not to leave him. Pozzo says one of them should go and Vladimir attempts to send Estragon but he says no, not after what Lucky did to him by kicking him, and when Vladimir asks “what are you waiting for,” Estragon responds “I’m waiting for Godot” (57).
Pozzo then instructs Estragon on how to approach Lucky, telling him first to pull on the rope, and if this fails to kick him in the face and the privates and not to worry that he will defend himself. Vladimir encourages Estragon and tells him now is his chance to exact revenge on Lucky for kicking him. Estragon begins to kick Lucky but hurts his own foot. He sits down moaning on the mound and gets ready to go to sleep. Vladimir asks Pozzo whether he remembers meeting Estragon and him yesterday. Pozzo is clueless: “I don't remember having met anyone yesterday. But tomorrow I won't remember having met anyone today. So don't count on me to enlighten you” (58). Pozzo grows impatient and orders Lucky to get up. Vladimir attempts once more to help him remember but Pozzo only gets angry and orders his whip and rope and then leaves with Lucky. Offstage, they fall once more.
After Pozzo and Lucky leave, a lonely Vladimir wakes an angry Estragon. Estragon wonders whether Pozzo was in fact Godot and Vladimir vehemently denies this possibility but it becomes clear after a moment that he considers the possibility: “I don't know what to think any more” (59). Estragon’s feet hurt him and he sits to take off his boots as Vladimir continues to voice his doubts when Estragon goes back to sleep. He ponders what’s it all about, if you will, by paralleling death imagery with birth imagery and wonders whether he, like Estragon, is asleep somewhere and whether he will when he awakes forget everything again and if someone else somewhere else is watching him too:
Was I sleeping, while the others suffered? Am I sleeping now? Tomorrow, when I wake, or think I do, what shall I say of today? That with Estragon my friend, at this place, until the fall of night, I waited for Godot? That Pozzo passed, with his carrier, and that he spoke to us? Probably. But in all that what truth will there be? (59).
At this point, a boy walks in. He is not the same boy as last night and Vladimir recites for him the message he came to tell them: Godot cannot come tonight but he will surely come tomorrow night. When Vladimir presses him, the boy says his brother didn’t come because he was sick and that Mr. Godot has a white beard. Vladimir, deeply agitated asks the boy to remember that he saw him and then leaps at the boy forcing him to run off. Immediately after, just as it did in Act I, the sun sets and the moon rises. When Estragon wakes, he says he wants to go far from there but Vladimir insists again they can’t because they have to come back tomorrow and wait for Godot. “He didn’t come,” asks Estragon and they look at the nearby tree, which Vladimir claims to be a willow tree (61). They consider hanging themselves but all they have is a belt that is much too small. They plan yet again on parting and decide to bring a rope tomorrow to hang themselves, that is, of course, unless Godot comes at which point they would be saved. Vladimir orders Estragon to pull up his trousers that have fallen down when he removed his belt. Vladimir asks if they should go, and Estragon acquiesces. However, as in the close of Act I, they remain motionless as the curtain falls.
In Act II of Waiting for Godot Beckett illustrates how the question surrounding the purpose of human life is unanswerable simply because we don’t know where to begin looking for an answer and also because we don’t know whom to ask. Indeed existence, which seems completely chaotic, can be construed as something imposed upon us by an outside force. And, because we suffer, we impose meaning on our existence by forcing answers in an effort to provide order and direction and to act as distractions to keep us from the reality—that the purpose of our existence is entirely unfathomable. The author would have us believe that time is meaningless, that repetition rules all, that inertia is manifest and human life is pointless. This idea that human life lacks meaning and purpose and that humans live in an indifferent universe is often associated with Existentialist writers like Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre who, unlike Beckett, brought to life their dark ideas in traditional linear novels and plays with round rather then flat characters. Critics argue that Beckett’s non-traditional play, a classic example of what has come to be known as the Theatre of the Absurd, more fully clarifies the era’s bleak existentialist vision.
Both Act I and Act II have essentially the same beginning, occur at the same time of day in the same setting, contain the same characters, and end in the same manner, after the boy arrives to inform the men that Godot, yet again, will not arrive but will surely come tomorrow. Clearly, Act I and Act II are threads in a repetitive pattern. Everything has happened over and over before and chances are that the pattern will continue to repeat itself over and over again. The repetition throughout the play demonstrates how unimportant time is for Vladimir and Estragon. One day is just like the one before it and has the same purpose—to wait for an unknown someone who never comes. The characters simply cannot tell one day from another. Vladimir challenges Estragon about the changing scenery: the tree, he points out, is now covered with leaves, whereas yesterday it was all “black and bare.” However, Estragon cannot recall yesterday and declares the tree couldn’t have changed and become full of leaves overnight: “we weren't here yesterday.” When Vladimir asks, “so, what did we do last night?” Estragon replies that they spent the evening “blathering about nothing” which is precisely what they have done every evening for the last fifty years (41). Because of this lack of noteworthy change, time simply has come to have no meaning. Therefore, if the day before was meaningless, and the days before yesterday were also meaningless, it stands to reason then, according to Beckett, that time itself must indeed be pointless. Although Vladimir is clearly the intellectual in this duo, it is Estragon who hits this idea home with his comment, “for me it’s over and done with, no matter what happens” (35).
The meaningless of time for these two men can of course be applied to all of humankind. Although we live long lives which are, for the most part, spent waiting, the passage of time has little or indeed no essential meaning or significance. So, for Vladimir and Estragon, if Godot doesn’t come one day, not to worry, they will return the following evening when he will surely come. It is unknown how long they have been waiting; it’s simply not important. No more important than how long they will continue to wait for Godot in the future.
The play underlines the repetitiveness of life. Vladimir's song at the beginning of Act II, about the dog who steals the bread, repeats itself endlessly. One verse follows the other in succession “for the eyes of dogs to come” so that it can be sung forever in circular fashion. This song is a representative of the repetitive nature of the play as a whole, of Vladimir and Estragon's circular lives in particular, and to go one step further, of all human life. Like the dogs in the song, the happenings in Estragon and Vladimir’s lives follow each other over and over and over again. When the play ends, we know beyond doubt that the following evening Estragon will return to Vladimir, they will embrace even though they admit they are happier on their own, they will bicker about events that either happened or didn’t happen yesterday, they will pass time with Pozzo and Lucky, Estragon will threaten to leave, Vladimir will convince him that they can’t because they are waiting for Godot, a boy will arrive to announce that Godot cannot come and promise that he will come tomorrow, the sun will go down, the moon will rise and they will remain, yet again, motionless, and so on and so forth all the days of their lives. In addition to the dog song, the perpetual hat switching incident at the beginning of Act II, and Estragon and Vladimir’s repetitive dialog about “all the dead voices” that sound “like leaves,” rustling also illustrates the mindless, repetition that characterizes the play (38).
Inertia or immobility is also a factor in Beckett’s vision of the hopeless human condition. Although the men seem to be impervious to the past, there remain indications that they remember occasional happenings but simply do nothing to change. When Vladimir convinces Estragon to help Pozzo to get up he cries out: “let us not waste our time in idle discourse! Let us do something, while we have the chance!” (51). There is no doubt here that Vladimir urgently wants to do something, however he is as slow as molasses in helping the fallen man to get up. Therefore, despite all the best intentions, Beckett suggests that man has become habitually inactive and frozen: “habit is a great deadener” (59).
At the end of Act I the dejected Vladimir and Estragon agree that they must go, yet when the curtain falls they are sitting as motionless as the nearby mound. Despite their absolute best intentions, they cannot take action. When the same thing happens at the end of Act II, it is apparent that nothing will happen and that an Act III, if there was an Act III, would change nothing. Thus, we humans, Beckett would have us believe, are incapable of determining our own fates. As Vladimir states: “all mankind is us, whether we like it or not” (51).