World Literature Paper 2


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World Literature Paper 2

  1. 1. The purpose of human existence and life is a question without any single comprehensible answer, yet humans continuously search for one, which poses the question of where to begin looking or whom to ask. This unfathomable existence leads to attempts to impose meaning on life. Human beings constantly question their existence and the purpose of life; this question is never far away especially as they face the steady march of time. Considering the vast reaches of time and space, the knowledge that time is infinite and that humankind is inconsequential, one could conclude that a human life in the greater scheme of things is meaningless. Waiting for Godot, a play by Samuel Beckett, follows the main characters Vladimir and Estragon through arguably two days as they wait for the illusive Godot. In this play, Beckett demonstrates the idea of life being insignificant by illustrating the meaninglessness of time. The theme of time is evidenced in the very title of the play as it reveals its central action or inaction, waiting. Furthermore, time becomes a barrier the two men must endure as they whittle away the days waiting for the arrival of Godot. Beckett thus manages to convey the meaningless of time and consequently the human existence through the events in the play, the faulty memories of the characters and the repetitions within the play itself. <br />The insignificance of time can be seen in the world of Waiting for Godot in the situations the characters endure and the overall events of the play. Vladimir and Estragon return to the same location each day and cannot leave as they are “waiting for Godot” (Beckett 8). The audience do not know for how long in the past this has gone on, merely that they will continue to wait until Godot comes, who’s very existence is uncertain. Estragon and Vladimir allow themselves to be tied to this series of statements; Godot said to wait “by the tree”, he will come during the day, when he comes they will be saved and if they leave they will be punished (Beckett 8). At one point Estragon asks Vladimir if they are “tied to Godot” and Vladimir replies by saying “for the moment” (Beckett 17). Thus, the amount of time they have or will wait is meaningless; they have resigned themselves to just wait. Vladimir and Estragon experience the same general events each day with slight variations as can be seen with the tree. For during the first Act or the first day the tree is dead and barren but during the second Act, the second day “the tree has four leaves” (Beckett 62). This points to the passing of time but again how much time is uncertain, which further points to the insignificance of time. Another event that points to the meaninglessness of time is when Vladimir and Estragon meet Lucky and Pozzo. When they first meet in Act I a healthy Pozzo is travelling to the market to sell his slave Lucky but the next day in Act II everything has changed. Pozzo is now blind and Lucky mute, when approached by Vladimir and Estragon, Pozzo has no recollection of meeting them the previous day and claims that Lucky has always been mute, which was not the case in the first Act. Pozzo also claims that he one day just woke up blind, when Vladimir continues asking him for details about how and when this occurred Pozzo responds by saying “the blind have no notion of time […] the things of time are hidden from them too” (Beckett 99). This shows that time does effect and change the human life, yet the passing of time is of no consequence. Throughout the play there is no orderly sequence of events, a tree which is one day barren has leaves the next; one day a man can see, the next he is blind; the day turns into night in an instant; the two men return to the same place everyday to wait for Godot without knowing why. This uncertainty about what has happened or will happen is used to present the idea that the passing time means nothing. <br />Through the dialogue between the main characters Vladimir and Estragon the insignificance of time can also be seen. The dialogue between the two is included not only to contribute to the comedy of the play but also to enhance the play’s theme. The insignificance of time can clearly be seen in their dialogue, as both seem to have somewhat faulty memories. Throughout the play they seem to constantly forget what they are doing and must remember that they are waiting for Godot. At these times they also argue about what to do if “he doesn’t come” coming to the conclusion that they “came here yesterday” and will “come back to-morrow” (Beckett 9). However, they express doubts about the location for while Estragon insists that they waited in the same place the day before, he says he does not recognize it. This situation presents a logical problem for if they had been at the same place the day before they should have recognized it. Therefore, the explanation must be more than just their faulty memory, it must not matter to Vladimir and Estragon what they did in the past for it would not effect the present for they would still be doing the same thing, thus, time is insignificant. Another example of this faulty memory is seen when Vladimir and Estragon are talking about having been to the Macon country. Vladimir is sure that they have both been there but Estragon vehemently disagrees saying that he “was never in the Macon country” and that he has “puked his puke of a life away here” (Beckett 68). However, even Vladimir has troubles remembering the details of this period, he only remembers that they were there “picking grapes” (Beckett 68). This gap in their memories seems strange for they must have spent a significant amount of time there as it was their place of employment but again it seems like their lives would have changed little if this period did not happen. Illustrating once more that the passing of time is insignificant and now all that is significant in Vladimir and Estragon’s lives is the wait for the promise of Godot’s arrival. <br />Repetition in the play provides further evidence of the insignificance of time for both Acts are almost identical except for a few deviations. Vladimir and Estragon are still waiting in the same location for Godot; they still meet Pozzo and Lucky and have eerily similar conversations. This illustrates that for Vladimir and Estragon the days during their wait are almost the same so it is no wonder they cannot distinguish between the past and present. The unimportance of time to the characters can be seen as there is a lack of change, so if the day before was meaningless as were most of the periods before the waiting, it can be concluded that time itself is meaningless. Estragon even states at the beginning of the second Act that for him “it’s over and done with, no matter what happens”, suggesting that he realizes the meaninglessness of the day and time itself (Beckett 64). Beckett also attempts to draw attention to the illusion of time for while it may seem that time is progressing it is towards destruction, as seen with Vladimir and Estragon. For at the end of the play, Vladimir and Estragon are where they began having made no progress, they have only grown older and weary, as they have waited. Even Pozzo asks time “one day he went dumb, one day I went blind, one day we’ll go deaf, one day we were born, one day we shall die, the same day, the same second, is that not enough for you?” illustrating that because of time life means nothing (Beckett 103). <br />Throughout the play, Beckett uses the idea of the absurdity of time as a tool to illustrate the insignificance of time and consequently the meaninglessness of life itself. Beckett accomplishes this through the events of the play, the dialogue between characters and the similarities between the first and second Act. This theme of the meaninglessness of time presented by Beckett in Waiting for Godot can by extension be made to apply to all humankind. For life is a period of waiting during which the passage of time has little importance, just like each day Vladimir and Estragon waited for Godot and would come back the next day if he did not show. The amount of time they have been waiting or will continue to wait is unknown but also unimportant because to them time means naught. As to what or who Godot was in the play is never revealed, this unknown being can metaphorically represent what the audience is waiting for in their own lives. This makes the protagonist relatable to the audience for although the event for which a person is waiting may change; the audience is all waiting for something. The play emphasizes the common nature of waiting among all people and therefore suggests that the meaninglessness of time is universal. For if one is always waiting then the periods during that wait end up being insignificant. Beckett also presents the idea that time changes people drastically yet the period between these changes is insignificant. When we are born we start to die and in a way time must die so that we may live, so it is best not to spend life waiting for something as Vladimir and Estragon did but to use the time granted to live a full life, as English poet Edward Young said “time wasted is existence; used is life”. <br />Works Cited<br />Beckett, Samuel. Waiting for Godot. New York: Grove Press Inc., 1982. Print. <br />