The Meaning of Nothingness In Waiting for Godot

In Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett condemns the nature of men as futilely waiting for that which he has no control over and not having the free will to move on. The recurring references to Estragon’s predicament with boots, the comparison of Godot to God, and the main characters’ discussion on the tree always come to the same conclusion, to continue waiting for Godot, demonstrating the passivity of humans.

The boots highlight both our innate nature to resist change and reject self-growth, and our tendencies to let our decisions be ruled by habit eliminating the need for us to think. Throughout the play, the boots were seen as an object that restricts growth. In Act 1, Estragon struggles to take off his boots, and blames it on the quality of the boot rather than addressing his mistake. Becket’s portrayal of Estragon suggests that, maturity and growth can only be achieved from acknowledging one’s failure and learning from it, and by his standards, Estragon would forever be trapped in an eternal prison of child-like mentality. Similarly, in Act 2 whenever Estragon is faces a decision, he defaults to his habit of fiddling with his shoe. Estragon is never able to grow due to his resignation of free-will and thought, as he is always clinging on to his habits. Moreover, the boots symbolize the loss of self-control in the world around him. In Act 1, Estragon thoroughly checks every nook and corner of his shoe as a force of habit, despite his actions achieving nothing.

Estragon is a slave to his own futile habit, in which his lack of self-control demonstrates that his existence can provide nothing valuable to the world around him. In Act 2 when Estragon repeats the action, Vladimir questions his motivations. Estragon replies that there is no use in resisting his habit, and he is simply doing it to pass the time. Estragon talks as if he is not the person controlling his own body, but rather that an outside force was forcing him to do certain actions. Furthermore, by accepting the commands of these outside forces without resistance depicts that Estragon’s mindset is in despair, as he feels that there is nothing he can do to improve his situation.

Throughout the play, the tree serves as both a physical and mental reference point for Vladimir and Estragon to remind themselves of the location and question their course of action so drastically as to ponder suicide. Because the leafless tree is the only notable landmark in the setting, it is how Vladimir validates they are waiting at the correct location for Godot. The next day Estragon points out how five leaves sprouted on their tree and declares it must be spring. Beckett depicts this growth in foliage as the only proof of the passage of time, since nothing else in the background changes and neither do the characters’ actions or discussions.

In fact, in both acts Estragon suggests they hang themselves from the tree out of boredom, which Vladimir strikes down with the excuses of the branch breaking and the belt not holding. In Act 1, Estragon resignedly agrees it’s safer to do nothing, but in Act 2, Estragon insists that he can’t take it anymore, only being pacified until Vladimir convinces him again to wait until tomorrow. Inaction drives Estragon to such desperation that when he’s bored he contemplates suicide. It’s easier for him to end his life than escape the unknown consequences of leaving Godot and moving on. The characters would rather kill themselves than change their habit of waiting, and even Vladimir’s reason for disagreeing is because they might miss Godot. In both cases, discussion on the tree is the closest the characters come to regaining control of their lives, by wanting to choose when it ends, but they give up even this huge choice to whether Godot decides on coming. The characters’ arguments and reasonings jab at the irony of the human condition of abandoning free will to not be responsible for the uncontrollable.

Observable throughout the play, the character Godot is portrayed as an allusion to God. Estragon and Vladimir continuously wait for Godot in the play, irrespective of their personal urges directing them to other actions such as leaving the scene. Godot represents their savior and, they look to him for answers. In Act 1, Vladimir and Estragon are seen discussing the arrival of Godot and the important message he has for them. Vladimir is faced with a long list of excuses when he asks the boy about Godot’s arrival. Vladimir and Estragon can also be observed conversing about biblical issues as a way of passing their time.

This, along with the referential name suggesting that Godot refers to God, in addition with the conclusion that the important message is a prayer request, goes to show the significance of Godot’s character even though he never visits the characters of the play. Godot’s abstinence with visiting the main characters’ shows how life may always be filled with questions lacking answers. In the end of act 2, it can still be seen that Estragon and Vladimir are waiting for Godot, irrespective of their personal wishes to move on. Ultimately, Beckett is trying to convey that one should not always rely on a person or idea, in this case Godot, for life’s answers. Life itself can be disappointing and barren, but God serves as a hope that abstaining dreadful action and suicide from his followers.

The thematic ideas emphasize the recursive nature of events throughout the play through the differentiated use of the boot, the tree and Godot’s connection to god, depicting men’s loss of control as a byproduct of natural life. By utilizing representations of meaninglessness and the futility of human existence, it allows the audience to realize the emptiness of their own lives and gives them hope to live on even if there is nothing to help them stay afloat.

Works Cited

  1. Beckett, Samuel. Waiting for Godot: a Tragicomedy in Two Acts. Faber & Faber, 2015.