Samuel Beckett explores the purposelessness of life, lack of meaning and memory in Waiting for Godot. Aspects such as repetition, change, recognition, blind faith, silences and pauses illustrated the forgetfulness and purposelessness of the lives of Vladimir and Estragon.
‘Waiting’ is doing both something and nothing simultaneously; Vladimir and Estragon recognize this which is why they are in search for something to ‘do’.
VLADIMIR: We are happy.
ESTRAGON: We are happy. (Silence.) What do we do now, now that we are happy? VLADIMIR: Wait for Godot. (Estragon groans. Silence.) Things have changed here since yesterday. ESTRAGON: And if he doesn’t come?
VLADIMIR: (after a moment of bewilderment). We’ll see when the time comes. (Pause.)…
Their words are as empty and futile as their actions. There is a silence after they say that they’re “happy” which makes it apparent that they are just forcing the emotion on to themselves. The silence allows the audience to inquire if they really are happy and if their happiness is of value. Being happy doesn’t provide a function in life; Estragon wants to ‘do’ something now that they were supposedly happy.
To ‘do’ something constructive is important to pass the time; the closest they can get to a functional action is to talk to each other. Having a purpose in life is probable to come with the emotion of happiness, since Estragon and Vladimir have convinced themselves to believe they encompass a purpose in life, they require the emotion of happiness to validate it. Rather than just telling Vladimir to ‘do’ something as they were “happy”, he asks him which is a technique to create conversation.
The characters have blind faith in Godot, they don’t know what would happen if he didn’t come. Vladimir is bewildered when he comes to the moment of reality of contemplating that this being true would make their wait purposeless. He doesn’t want to admit that if Godot didn’t come then their long wait would have been for nothing, instead he says “We’ll see when the time comes”. This is a meaningless statement because if Godot never does come then the time will never come. However, Vladimir shows indication of acknowledging this when he starts talking about ‘change’ which is not only changing the subject but also implying that change in something proves that time is passing and that time will soon come. Moreover, towards the end of the extract when Estragon asks “What do we do now?” and Vladimir replies “Wait for Godot”. He ends the sentence there because he doesn’t know what would happen after he did come and where their lives would lead. They show no reason to wait for Godot which highlights again the purposelessness of their lives.
As Vladimir and Estragon are waiting, it is vital for time to pass and the thing to establish this is for things to change.
VLADIMIR:…I was saying that things have changed here since yesterday.
ESTRAGON; Everything oozes.
VLADIMIR: Look at the tree
ESTRAGON: it’s never the same pus from one second to the next
VLADIMIR: The tree, look at the tree.
The characters do not really have a conversation which follows in a logical pattern; they often misinterpret each other. Although the two pass their time, they pass it in ‘useless banter’ which is meaningless and gives their life no purpose. Estragon occasionally drifts off with his own thoughts but Vladimir brings him back to his. They both have their own ideas on change, Vladimir refers to the tree to prove that things have “changed” while Estragon notices ‘pus’ changing, even though they’re in their own individual worlds they both perceive a significance in ‘change’.
Change is essential to them because they want assurance they have passed the time, and the only way to do so is to see change in their surroundings; change would also initiate some form of purpose. However, their dialogue in general dwells on their past and present which suggests that they are trapped in their current situation. The tree in the landscape helps illustrate a purpose because it is changing, it has to be changing for a purpose; Vladimir sees it as a sign of hope. There is only one tree rather than lots, this makes the landscape seem dull and gives a boring imagery. It is a symbol of life and contrasts with the bleak lifeless environment it’s in.
Recognition comes conjointly with memory which Estragon doesn’t have. Estragon doesn’t find that there is any point in recognizing things. He says “what is there to recognize?”. Estragon lacks memory which is why he gets frustrated. He distinguishes physical things which he receives like Lucky kicking him and Pozzo giving him a bone. These things make a difference to Estragon which is why he remembers it. He realizes that he had just “crawled about in the mud” all his life which entails that he only recognizes the purposelessness of his life and the meaning it lacks.
It is a commonly established idea that one’s experiences define a person. Vladimir says “He’s forgotten everything!” with regards to Estragon. Memory is important to them because what they went through yesterday was an accomplishment for them, if they can’t remember it then it is worthless. If Estragon can’t remember then Vladimir has no one to reminisce their achievement with, however reminding Estragon and describing it to him gives them something to talk about and passes the time. Since they both lack memory of most of their experiences, their individuality is unclear. Vladimir tries to compare the difference of their current landscape to the “Macon country” but Estragon fails to remember it, and derides at the word and states that he spent all his life in their current location, the “Cackon country”. The sound of the word is harsh and he says it as if it is meaningless to him even though that is where he is ‘Waiting for Godot’, the place where they are establishing their decided purpose of life.
Silences and pauses are uses to transport the meaning to the audience or reader; during the short intervals they realize the meaningless conversation Vladimir and Estragon indulge in. The two begin describing “All the dead voices” which “murmur”, “rustle”, “whisper” and “make a noise like feathers”. The silences are disseminated and their dialogues after each of the silences are repetitive which is parallel to their nearly reiterated everyday routine and dialogues. The silent and empty stage is filled with the sound of the ‘dead voices’; viewers are made to imagine the voices as Vladimir and Estragon describe them using similes. The dead voices contribute to the tedious mood of their lives; they argue over trivial things which is parallel to their depressed condition because they are too weak to make it better. The voices reflect the situation of the two characters, they murmur, rustle, whisper in their actions while they wait for Godot.
Repetition of the dialogues conveys the forgetfulness of Vladimir and Estragon and their pointless lives. The extract begins with the characters speaking in ‘useless banter’ but as it nears towards the end of the extract, Vladimir and Estragon’s speech lessens and becomes quieter as they run out of things to say. This illustrates their life cycle, the beginning is a bustle of activity as they were younger and searching for a purpose and meaning for life, they did things like “pick grapes for a man” and go to “the Macon country”; but as they grow older, energy and enthusiasm decreases as they discover no purpose.
Vladimir panics after the “Long silence”, because he doesn’t want to think of the reality of their situation; talking and actions distract their attention from reflection. Vladimir tells Estragon to “Say anything at all!” in “anguish”, he suffers a mental despair or distress if nothing is said or done because then he will apprehend the reality of their meaningless wait. It is as if their terrible actuality is in his subconscious mind which he keeps on pushing away. Estragon further confirms that the reason for their ‘useless banter’ is so they won’t “think”; language is utilized to neglect silence. To further emphasise their reiterated life, when they run out of things to say, they remind themselves of their purpose of their existence and the reason behind their endless wait which is to “Wait for Godot”.