The two most important sets of characters in the play occur in pairs. Does this emphasis on pairs create some significance for the boy, who appears alone? Vladimir and the boy discuss his brother; could this brother be the boy's pair? Perhaps the most important "character" in the play, Godot, is also a single character rather than a pair. Does this distinguish him from Vladimir and Estragon, Pozzo and Lucky? Does Beckett seem to prefer single characters or pairs?
How does the relationship between Vladimir and Estragon compare with the relationship between Pozzo and Lucky? What is the effect created by the contrast between these two pairs of characters? Is it significant that the characters appear in pairs, rather than alone?
Do you think the play warrants a religious reading? Can Godot be considered a Christ figure or simply a religious figure? If so, what is implied by his failure to appear? What about Estragon's attempts to equate himself with Christ? Consider also the many biblical allusions throughout the play, such as the mention of Cain and Abel and the discussion of the story of the two thieves.
Though it seems as if nothing happens in the play, actions actually play a very important role in Waiting for Godot. The stage directions of the play constitute nearly half of the text, suggesting that the actions, expressions, and emotions of the actors are as important as the dialogue. Examine the significance of the stage directions of one particular scene; for example, why is Estragon always struggling with his boot? What is the significance of Pozzo's vaporizer spray? What is the point of the scene in which Vladimir and Estragon exchange hats eight times?
Beckett called his play a "tragicomedy." Do you agree with this classification? If not, how would you classify the play? Do you think the play contains more elements of tragedy or comedy?
What is memory's role in the play? Why do so many of the characters' memories seem to be erased each day? Vladimir seems to be the only character who remembers things from one day to the next. What is the purpose of having one character remember what all of the others forget?
What is the overall tone of the play? Is the reader left with a feeling of resignation that Godot will never come, and Vladimir and Estragon will continue to wait in vain, or is there some hope created? Do the changes in Pozzo and Lucky between the first and second acts contribute to an overall feeling of hopelessness? What about the changes in the tree? The coming of spring often suggests hope for the future; is this the case here?
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1. Discuss the idea of pairing throughout Waiting for Godot.
Throughout Waiting for Godot Beckett utilizes pairing or doubling to emphasize his theme of human dependency. With the exception of Godot, all the characters in the play are paired. Indeed, the main characters Vladimir and Estragon, who are at times difficult to tell apart because of their identical dialog, seem like twins. For instance, in the opening line of the play Estragon announces “nothing to be done,” and a short while later, Vladimir recites the exact same line (1). Although we know at times they do part, they are never seen apart by the reader or audience for more than an instant. Vladimir and Estragon are two men entirely dependent upon each other. Although they argue nonstop, and threaten over and again to part from each other, they nevertheless depend upon each other entirely for shelter, food, company and, most of all, for the reassurance that, indeed, Godot will appear and save them.
In addition, Pozzo and Lucky are so closely paired that they are connected with a rope. Pozzo suggests how Estragon should control Lucky: “well to begin with he should pull on the rope, as hard as he likes so long as he doesn't strangle him. He usually responds to that. If not he should give him a taste of his boot, in the face and the privates as far as possible (57).” Despite Pozzo’s cruelty, Lucky has become so dependent upon Pozzo that he is willing to subjugate himself as a slave, indeed an animal, over fear of the idea of parting from Pozzo. In addition the pair of boys who come at the end of each act to announce that Godot will yet again fail to show up are interchangeable brothers whom Vladimir cannot distinguish between.
2. In Act II, Vladimir sings a song about a dog who “stole a crust of bread” (34). Discuss how Beckett utilizes this song to emphasize his idea of repetitiveness in Waiting for Godot.
Vladimir's song at the beginning of Act II underlines the repetitiveness of life. In the song, a dog comes into the kitchen and steals a crust of bed. The cook beats him with a ladle until he is dead. Subsequently other dogs bury their canine friend, with an epitaph warning “for the eyes of dogs to come,” after which the ditty begins immediately again in circular fashion. The song can be repeated without change forever.
Although it could be argued that the dog in Vladimir’s dog song is analogous to Lucky, who after all “might run amuck any minute,” who eats bones and whom Vladimir and Estragon contemplate giving “a good beating,” Beckett would have us believe that this song is representative, first, of the repetitive nature of the play and, second, of Vladimir and Estragon's circular lives (51).
Like the dogs in the song, the individual events in the men’s lives follow each other endlessly while they wait for Godot who never comes. They are caught in a never ending cycle unable to do anything else or go anywhere else because of this incessant waiting for a man who never appears. The sun will go down, the moon will rise and they will continue, unable to break out of their circular lives.
3. Discuss the idea of the meaningless of time in Waiting for Godot.
In Waiting for Godot, time is elusive and difficult to pin down. Both Act I and Act II, which have the same beginning and the same ending, occur in the same place at the same time of day. At the end of each act a boy arrives to inform the men that Godot will not arrive but will surely come tomorrow. In this repetitive pattern, everything has happened many times and chances are the pattern will repeat itself, perhaps endlessly, unless Godot ever does in fact arrive and save them. For Vladimir and Estragon, this repetition demonstrates the meaningless of time. Just like the day before, each day has the same purpose—to wait for an unknown someone who never comes. The men cannot tell one day from another: “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). When Vladimir questions Estragon, “so, what did we do last night,” Estragon replies “yesterday evening we spent blathering about nothing in particular. That's been going on now for half a century” (41).
Thus, because of this remarkable lack of change, time has no meaning, and if yesterday was meaningless, and the days before yesterday were also meaningless, then time itself must indeed be meaningless. The meaningless of time, Beckett would argue, can be applied to the plight of all of humankind.
4. Beckett denied a religious interpretation of Waiting for Godot and stated instead that the play’s many ambiguities hold the meaning. Discuss the possible religious significance of the play.
Some scholars maintain that the title character Godot stands for God—indeed, the name Godot sounds and looks like God—and that Vladimir and Estragon are waiting for a Messiah to come and grant them salvation. It has also been suggested that Vladimir and Estragon represent hope in a chaotic world in their unwavering faith in Godot, a savior who never comes. Early on Vladimir and Estragon appeal to Godot in "a kind of prayer . . . a vague supplication," which they maintain the invisible Godot is still considering (7). So, despite Beckett’s denial, readers and audience members cannot but help posit Godot as representing, or at least paralleling, God and/or Christ.
In addition, biblical references abound. In Act II, Pozzo is compared to Adam and Eve’s sons Cain and Abel, thus suggesting that the characters are representative of the human race. Vladimir states that "hope deferred make something sick," a reference to the biblical Proverbs 13:12: "hope deferred maketh the heart sick” (2). When Estragon desires to go barefoot Vladimir tells him not to compare himself to Christ, but Estragon tells him that "all my life I've compared myself to him." Beckett also mentions the irregularities in the story of the two thieves who were crucified next to Jesus. So, despite the author’s denial of a religious interpretation of the play, the numerous references to religion remain significant even if they are simply used by the author to illustrate the folly of religious faith and to help him argue his idea of textual uncertainty.
5. In Waiting for Godot, what would Samuel Beckett determine is the meaning of human life?
In Waiting for Godot, Beckett argues that questions regarding the purpose of human life are unanswerable. And, since there is no apparent meaning to life, as humans we are left miserable in an indifferent universe. This dark but absurd existentialist stance forces us then to impose meaning and purpose on our actions and events, not only to soothe our distress and overwhelming sense of helplessness, but also to provide distractions while we await death.
Life, the play insists, is determined by chance. Pozzo responds to Vladimir: "I woke up one fine day as blind as Fortune (56)." Vladimir and Estragon discuss the parable of the two thieves who were crucified next to Jesus: “one of the thieves was saved,” he says, “it's a reasonable percentage" (2). The notion that the thief was saved by chance suggests a random universe where life is arbitrary and just a matter of unpredictable chance.
After all is said and done, there is no meaning to Vladimir and Estragon’s lives. They live without predictable patterns of time and action. The tree in Act I is “black and bare” and then in Act II it is covered with leaves. How much time has elapsed, days, seasons, years, is anyone’s guess (41). Despite Vladimir and Estragon’s prayers, pleadings, threats and supplications for Godot to come and save them, an outcome which would give meaning to all that incessant waiting, day after day, Godot fails to show. Indeed, the plot seems to be, like Beckett’s idea of life, “without form and void,” or if you will, absolutely meaningless.