Habit and routine form an important part of the play Waiting for Godot, by Samuel Beckett. The play, a famous product of the ‘Theatre of the Absurd’, is characterized by a circular structure which doesn’t lead anywhere, repetitive dialogue and a general absurdity. It witnesses two men, Vladimir and Estragon, who spend the entire two acts waiting for Godot. The routines they develop throughout the play are mainly a result of their attempts to pass the time. Habits such as fiddling with objects and telling stories become part of their routine and seem like a good way to get through the waiting.
However, as Vladimir himself says, “habit is a great deadener” (Beckett 105) and eventually their habits deaden them. The term “deadener” implies that the habits make the characters even more bored and that instead of helping them, they lead to their downfall and make their lives even more meaningless.
This essay will discuss the habits developed by the various characters and explore whether they indeed illustrate the idea of habits being a deadener.
Through this, it will also discuss what Beckett is trying to prove about habit in human life in general.
One habit that is developed in Waiting for Godot by both Estragon and Pozzo is fiddling with objects. This habit is portrayed mainly through the stage directions and is therefore visual action instead of words. Estragon uses objects such as his boot in order to pass time. “Silence. Estragon is fiddling with his boot again” (Beckett 37). In this stage direction, Beckett places Estragon’s fiddling within a silence which shows how he tries to fill the void by playing with his boot. This habit is formed out of boredom and therefore designed to relieve it. Through this, Beckett seems to be commenting on how human beings rely on habits in order to give their lives meaning and security.
However, instead of making life more interesting, the repeated fiddling only reinforces the monotony in the play making the characters even more bored. Pozzo on the other hand fiddles mostly with his watch, “cuddling his watch to his ear […] he puts his watch back in his pocket” (Beckett 37). He repeatedly takes his watch out, consults it, puts it away, and gets it out again in a very routinely manner. He does not only do this to pass the time; it is also a way for him to prove his superiority through the material objects he owns. It is important for him to continuously assert his power and position. However, instead of giving him power, this habit eventually contributes to his downfall. In the second act, Pozzo becomes blind and loses all his power.
A second way for Pozzo to prove his power and seek attention is by performing which also becomes habitual. At several occasions, Pozzo takes on another role and starts performing in order to entertain the others and become the centre of attention. He usually performs dramatic monologues, “tirelessly torrents of red and white light it begins to lose its effulgence” (Beckett 38). This sentence clearly shows his eloquent diction chosen to impress his audience and again prove his superiority.
The varied syntax of this particular speech, ranging from complicated poetic sentences to short crude phrases, makes it interesting to his audience and shows how he is indeed acting. Every time he takes on a role, he ensures that everyone is paying attention to him because that is his ultimate goal. Routines are a way for people to define themselves by what they habitually do. But again, this habit turns out to be a deadener which is illustrated by Pozzo’s sudden change of status in the second act. Suddenly he is blind and no one pays attention to him anymore. He repeatedly asks for help but no one responds and this proves how his habits deadened him.
A similar habit to that of performing is telling stories. It is one of the first habits to be introduced in the play and is again a way for them to fill the time. In the beginning of the play, Vladimir attempts to tell his first story, but Estragon repeatedly interrupts him: “two thieves, crucified at the same time as Our Saviour. One – / our what?” (Beckett 6). This habit is almost an immediate deadener as it fails to achieve its goal of passing time and giving them something to do. Estragon’s interruptions undermine Vladimir’s capabilities as a story teller and turn the stories into meaningless, circular debates. Instead of storytelling becoming a routine to give their lives meaning, it becomes a reinforcement of the meaninglessness of their existence proving that they aren’t going anywhere. None of the routines or habits they develop is helping. They are in fact doing the opposite and making their situation worse. They are still stuck waiting for Godot and always will be.
Waiting in itself could be considered as a deadening habit. It is definitely the dominating habit in the play as they are continuously waiting. The phrase “we’re waiting for Godot” (Beckett 51), which also inspires the title, is the most repeated sentence in the entire play. The fact that it is repeated so many times shows how desperate and meaningless their situation has become. The repetition of the phrase emphasises its importance to the overall play because even though it is very simple, it sums up the entirety of the play. This habit is arguably the most deadening of all as it prevents them from leaving and going on with their lives. It forces them to stay put and thereby takes all the meaning out of their existence, diminishing them to mere spectators rather than participators in life.
A final habit that Estragon and Vladimir develop is that of staying together. In staying together, they attempt to avoid the insecurity of being lonely and try to use each other to confirm that their lives do have meaning. “I felt lonely”, says Vladimir when Estragon falls asleep (Beckett 10). This simple sentence is the very essence of why they develop the habit of staying together. Even though Estragon is physically there, Vladimir has no one to talk to anymore and this agitates him.
They need each other even if they don’t always get along in order to confirm each other’s existence. At the slightest threat of being left alone, they panic and therefore stay together as a matter of necessity. The above quotation invokes pathos in the audience as they realise how strong their reliance is upon one another and therefore how low they have sunk as individuals. They are trying to avoid insecurity through their habits, but Beckett is implying that this is impossible and that habits will lead to monotony and insignificance in your life. Instead of profiting from each other, staying together prevents them from moving forward and thereby deadens them.
Habit is indeed a deadener and Waiting for Godot illustrates this in numerous ways. All four characters in the play have been deadened by their habits and instead of their routine saving them, they caused their downfall. It seems as if Beckett is trying to illustrate how habit affects people in reality. It is unavoidable as human beings to develop habits. It is almost like a natural mechanism in order for us to avoid absurdity in life. However, Beckett implies, one has to accept absurdity as it is part of life. Habits won’t give us the security we need, they will only bring monotony and eventual deadening to our lives as happened in Waiting for Godot. This play is obviously part of absurdist theatre and therefore an exaggeration, however Beckett seems to be relating it to real life to a certain extent. He seems to be advising to prevent from developing habits and instead accept the randomness that unavoidably accompanies life.
Beckett, Samuel. Waiting for Godot. Grove Press: New York, 1982.