ESTRAGON: Well, shall we go?
VLADIMIR: Yes, let’s go
(They do not move.)
A shabby looking man named Estragon sits by a tree is trying to remove his boots is joined by his friend Vladimir. Along the side of a country road, the two friends are anxiously waiting for Godot.
When will Godot come?
Why are we waiting?
Is this even the right tree?
These questions would outline all dialogues between the two friends in an endless cycle of inconsequential debates that would become ever stranger as the play went on. But perhaps this is why the play is considered to have changed the face of modern drama. Samuel Beckett maintained the cryptic and absurd dialogues with just enough dry humor to keep it going. And in between the lines the Truth would be uttered just as inconsequentially as a carrot.
ESTRAGON: Fancy that. (He raises what remains of the carrot by the stub of leaf, twirls it before his eyes.) Funny, the more you eat the worse it gets.
VLADIMIR: With me it’s just the opposite.
ESTRAGON: In other words?
VLADIMIR: I get used to the muck as I go along.
ESTRAGON: (after prolonged reflection). Is that the opposite?
VLADIMIR: Question of temperament.
ESTRAGON: Of character.
VLADIMIR: Nothing you can do about it.
ESTRAGON: No use struggling.
VLADIMIR: One is what one is.
ESTRAGON: No use wriggling.
VLADIMIR: The essential doesn’t change.
ESTRAGON: Nothing to be done. (He proffers the remains of the carrot to Vladimir.) Like to finish it?
The playwright sought not to delve into the complexities of the human physic through language but rather he sought to challenge directly the bedrock from which it emanates. As a result of that Beckett discovered that the most profound mysteries of life was to be located in simple things. And remarked that the English language appeared to him “like the veil which one has to tear apart in order to get to those things (or the nothingness) lying behind it.” And so Samuel Beckett by means of pursuing original expression, had Estrangon and Vladimir wait for a character that would never come (a perfect caricature of meaning) in a truly novel form of interpreting nothing at all.
In the light of this does it matter what his character says? Should they cease the mindless waiting and doing something meaningful instead? Wouldn’t any such intention-filled actions thwart and confound meaning itself? Given that the construct of meaning does actually exist in the first place. Waiting for Godot is a play that invites us to derive our own original expression, our own truth and meaning.
By combining ingenious syntactic negations with morphemic mischief to deny language the power to be anything other than a contradiction. Samuel Beckett gave us the possibility to graphically project our own interpretation of meaning on the blackboard of nothingness.
The two characters are locked in an existential conundrum, with their only sense of purpose and meaning coming from the act of waiting.
ESTRAGON: We always find something, eh Didi, to give us the impression we exist?
VLADIMIR: Yes, yes, we’re magicians.
And as boredom became more and more exasperating, so would more meaning and truth slip through in jagged dabs of bleak humor and the incessant swapping of hats. Until in the end, both the characters and audience is unsure whether the appropriate response would be to laugh or cry.
The truth, as Beckett understands it, is that there’s no difference between the two,
“The tears of the world are a constant quantity. For each one who begins to weep, somewhere else another stops. The same is true of the laugh. (He laughs.) Let us not then speak ill of our generation, it is not any unhappier than its predecessors. (Pause.) Let us not speak well of it either. (Pause.) Let us not speak of it at all.”
Inevitably language fails to convey the truth, at best it could conceptualize meaning, yet be that as it may, Beckett would advise us to “Fail better.”
VLADIMIR: Let us not waste our time in idle discourse! (Pause. Vehemently.) Let us do something, while we have the chance! “It is not every day that we are needed. Not indeed that we personally are needed. Others would meet the case equally well, if not better. To all mankind they were addressed, those cries for help still ringing in our ears! But at this place, at this moment of time, all mankind is us, whether we like it or not. Let us make the most of it, before it is too late! Let us represent worthily for once the foul brood to which a cruel fate consigned us! What do you say? ( Estragon says nothing.) It is true that when with folded arms we weigh the pros and cons we are no less a credit to our species. 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, that is the question. And we are blessed in this, that we happen to know the answer. Yes, in this immense confusion one thing alone is clear. We are waiting for Godot to come—
By Gray, L.