World literature 2


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World literature 2

  1. 1. Chris Kim<br />English HL P.5<br />February 24, 2011<br />The Significance of a Passive Existence<br />Vladimir’s Growth as an Existentialist Character in Waiting for Godot<br />When considering the many themes of literature, existentialism is a prevalent topic which investigates the authenticity of our lives through an in depth study of human nature.  Waiting for Godot, written by Samuel Beckett, is an insightful play which explores several themes that correlate with existentialism.  Existentialism specifically deals with the need for man to discover one’s own meaning in an ambiguous universe that provides no absolute truth about how we should live our lives.  Some main topics that are present in the play are the distortion of time, the effect of cyclical structure, the fallacy of memory and the profound impact of habit.  By observing the core characters that appear in Waiting for Godot, we are able learn more about human nature through a close analysis of their aspirations, fears and motivations.  Vladimir and Estragon share a near symbiotic connection which is important for the readers to analyze.  In retrospect, examining the relationship between Vladimir and Estragon reflect several aspects of existentialism.  Vladimir is a tragic hero whose characteristics as a thinker, his confrontations with Pozzo and Lucky, and his suffering eventually causes him to question the monotony of his existence; however, in the end, he is unable to free himself of his shackles due to his dependence on meaningless routine.<br />First of all, Beckett establishes Vladimir as an innate thinker who is the leader and the mind of the duo, Vladimir and Estragon.  Vladimir and Estragon persistently await the arrival of a person or entity named Godot, although they claim to have never met him before.  They desire to leave and abandon their mission, but they cannot, since they are “waiting for Godot” (14).  This reason alone forces the duo to remain by the tree, and return to it everyday in hopes that Godot will finally grace them with his presence.  They are firm believers in the fact that Godot will present them with the meaning to their lives.  The act of waiting is significant because it symbolizes the human condition as a period of uncertainty.  Furthermore, Estragon is obsessed with the physical aspects of his life such as food and sleep, while Vladimir has a habit of casting his gaze towards the distance.  This emotes Vladimir’s concern for the future, and this action mirrors his personality as a thinker.  Additionally, Vladimir is the smarter of the two; he is more aware of his surroundings and he contemplates his predicament of continually waiting for what seems like nothing.  This waiting has prevented Vladimir from pursuing his own interests, causing him to lose his “gleam [of] light” (103) and to fall into the darkness of “night once more” (103).  This portrays the belief that life is full of opportunities, but Vladimir is missing out on these chances because he is enslaved by his routines.  However, the tendency to consider his current predicament causes Vladimir to search for meaning in his life.  This marks the beginning of Vladimir’s search for the truth of his existence as he comes to realize that there is more to his life opposed to just waiting.    <br />Secondly, Beckett employs Pozzo and Lucky to further spur Vladimir towards the meaning in his life.  Vladimir is shocked by how the imperial Pozzo treats Lucky.  While Estragon ignores the cruel abuse of Pozzo and merely concentrates on the chicken leg he is consuming, Vladimir is outraged by how a human being can treat another person in such a demeaning manner.  Vladimir exclaims his disgust when Pozzo “chucks [Lucky] away like a banana skin” (33).  This statement further accentuates Vladimir’s astonishment, and causes him to feel sympathy towards Lucky.  Vladimir’s encounter with these two characters awakens in him a fire of reform.  Vladimir exhibits a heroic quality when he defends Lucky by calling Pozzo’s abusive actions “a scandal” (27).  Since Pozzo is an externally validated character, Vladimir’s retort reduces Pozzo’s arrogant attitude and causes Pozzo to humble himself in front of Estragon and Vladimir.  Furthermore, Pozzo shares several prolific quotes with Vladimir.  Pozzo’s statement that existence is full of pointless repetition is proven when he says that “one day we’ll go deaf, one day we were born, [and] one day we shall die” (103).  His indifference to the passing of time conveys the empty void of reality.  Pozzo’s words cause Vladimir to ponder about his fear of making internally validated choices.  Also, this makes Vladimir realize how little time he has left, and that he should do something with his life before he dies.  This thought spurs on Vladimir’s quest for the meaning of his existence.   <br />Thirdly, Beckett depicts the human condition as a time of pain by having Vladimir and Estragon go through much suffering in the course of the play.  Suffering is universal; “for each [person] who begins to weep, somewhere else another stops” (32).  This emotes how misery is an inevitable part of existence, and portrays life as a period of trials and pain.  However, we are able to attain a higher level of understanding by overcoming these obstacles.  Vladimir and Estragon are barraged by a plethora of dilemmas, but they are unable to rise above them because of their foolish and unwavering conviction of Godot’s arrival.  The ability to endure suffering comes from one’s courage and dignity, but they do not possess either trait.  In addition, Vladimir and Estragon’s extensive waiting has caused their bodies to slowly decay.  Vladimir has a prostate issue, while Estragon’s boots do not fit his ragged feet.  This depicts their loss of youth and wellbeing, providing the readers with a picture of old age.  Additionally, this portrays time as a decayer, furthering the pain that Estragon and Vladimir have to endure.  In total, suffering becomes an essential tool which drives Vladimir to discover the truth of his being.          <br />However, Vladimir’s close relationship with his routines prevents him from fully embracing the importance of his life.  Finally, in the penultimate stages of the play, Vladimir grasps the meaning of his existence and decides to embrace this truth by forsaking the fruitless endeavor of waiting for Godot.  His resolution is apparent when he decides that he “can not go on” (105) any further in this matter.  But, as soon as he utters these words, the arrival of the boy throws him back into the cycle of habit as he fails to appreciate his spontaneous bravado.  This is because Vladimir is so accustomed to his habits, that he is shackled by the chains of routine, and to Estragon as well.  Also, Vladimir is afraid to take responsibility for his choices.  In order to fully be sure of whether they truly exist or not, they need each other to ensure the truth of their existence.  Vladimir’s statement that “habit is a great deadener” (105) conveys his belief in the fact that we endure the monotony of repetition in order to alleviate ourselves from the unpredictable and random facets of life.  This evokes the hopelessness that has resulted from many years of constant waiting, an endless habit which has imprisoned Vladimir.  The fear of paving his own path impedes Vladimir from escaping the comfort of his usual pattern of life.  Additionally, Vladimir’s routines lack meaning.  Without anticipating a result or reward for the time invested towards these practices, these actions rob the meaning from his livelihood.  This cyclical repetition of his actions conveys the uncertainty of his derelict existence.  All in all, Vladimir finally comprehends the truth of his existence; yet he cannot pursue this new way of life due to his heavy reliance upon routine.      <br />In conclusion, Waiting for Godot is a prolific piece of literature which probes the depths of existentialism through Vladimir’s search for his identity.  Vladimir slowly but surely starts to develop his own philosophy on his existence, yet in the end, he is unable to act upon his conjectures.  Instead of releasing himself from the pointless repetition, Vladimir chooses to remain with Estragon to wait for Godot.  This relates to the human condition because we are imprisoned by routine as well.  Beckett employs Vladimir and Estragon to urge us, the readers, to abandon habitual actions and to pursue what we actually enjoy instead of being driven by external sources such as greed, addiction and the need for material sanctions.<br />