Waiting for Godot: Analysis, Meaning & Themes

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  • 0:00 Analysis
  • 0:39 Themes
  • 4:16 Meaning
  • 4:56 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: J.R. Hudspeth

Jackie has taught college English and Critical Thinking and has a Master's degree in English Rhetoric and Composition

Samuel Beckett was an Irish playwright most famously known for the play 'Waiting for Godot.' Who is Godot, why are these men waiting for him, and what makes this an important work in the history of English literature? Complete this lesson to find out!

Analysis

The plot of Waiting for Godot boils down to this: two men pass the time aimlessly, while waiting for someone who never comes. That doesn't sound like much action, but it is a fine example of the Theatre of the Absurd movement, which took place mostly in the 1950s and 1960s. It is defined as drama using the abandonment of conventional dramatic form to portray the futility of human struggle in a senseless world. In other words, these plays are about the meaningless, confusing, and ridiculous plight of the human being. Waiting for Godot demonstrates these themes well.

Themes

1. Existence can seem boring and pointless.

The play happens over two days. The main characters, Estragon and Vladimir, discuss whether or not they are happy and how they can improve their situation. At the end of each act, the characters decide it would be best to leave and do something else; but neither of them does so. Nothing the characters do or say has any effect on what happens, unlike in most stories where the characters drive the action. There is no real plot progression or change in Theatre of the Absurd-style plays.

Each day, the boy tells them that Godot will not come that day, but is sure to meet them the next day. However, Mr. Godot never arrives, and it is implied that he might never arrive at all. There doesn't seem to be any immediate point to the story.

2. People try to make it through life by amusing themselves in any way possible, because otherwise, life would be more dreadful than death.

Estragon and Vladimir struggle to find ways to pass the time. In order to make this wait bearable, they play games, insult one another, pretend to be other people, and have intellectual conversations. Estragon has dreams during his naps that give him some interest. These characters are only able to endure their wait, and their lives, through these diversions.

However, even this is not enough for Estragon and Vladimir; the two protagonists consider hanging themselves from the nearby tree, in order to escape the monotony. When the men fail at this, they decide to try again the next day if Godot still does not come. Having to wait aimlessly is worse than death to them.

3. Even serious parts of life are ridiculous if you look at them from a certain perspective.

After their attempt to hang themselves using Estragon's flimsy belt is foiled, Vladimir tells Estragon to pull up his pants. Estragon misunderstands and believes that Vladmir wants him to pull down his pants, the whole time not realizing that they are already down, and he is rather exposed. The play ends with Estragon, pants down around his ankles, pondering whether or not he should leave or continue to wait for Godot. Estragon's deep thoughts are contrasted with the absurd state of his undress. Is life to be taken seriously, or is it just a brief and silly flash of time? The way Beckett contrasts the two men's thoughts with their actions shows that both of these things can be true.

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