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This becomes the critical question of the play. Indeed, there is a statement about how waiting for transcendent or totalizing forces can be a form of punishment, or can be similar to a Sisyphusian predicament. I think that this particular play is so complex and so nuanced that one does little in way of favor if they attempt to make broad statements about it. I do believe that there are some points to be made regarding how Beckett himself sees the issue of waiting as one that has to be criticized if it prevents action from emerging. When Vladimir and Estragon wait, they do so with a paralysis of action of any kind. Nothing is done in the name of waiting. This might be where there is a critique being offered. Little can be done if action is not taken, if we rationalize away our abiliity to act and to emerge from paralysis. It is in this light where the play could be making its most sweeping and powerful statement.
The play opens with two tramps, Estragon and Vladimir, by a roadside. We don’t know who or where they are; they talk throughout the play, but nothing happens. There is, in fact, no purpose or reason for their existence; they are in an absurd universe. We look for meaning in the circumstances in which we find ourselves, but there is no meaning to be found. Waiting for Godot is repetitive; the two characters cycle through certain exchanges. They have quarrels, and they become affectionate at places. We may even suspect that there is something sexual between them, but we don’t know because that would represent something happening. As it transpires, the two tramps are doing something—they’re waiting for a mysterious person or entity called Godot. Is this God? Toward the end of the play, a boy tells the characters that Godot isn’t coming today; they will have to keep waiting. Estragon asks Vladimir if they should leave, and Vladimir replies, “Yes, let’s go.” And yet the final stage direction is: They do not move. On one level, Beckett’s play is a witty game with the propositions of existentialism, a philosophical school that held that meaning in life is created by action, not essence. If one does nothing, existentialism proposes, then life is meaningless, absurd. Further, if God does not exist, then the universe is meaningless. Literature must make itself out of that cosmic emptiness. It must extract the meaning of meaningless-ness. Beckett creates a world in which there is no heroism, no society, no superhuman agency—none of the furniture with which we are familiar in literature. We are all stateless tramps, on a road to nowhere. It’s impossible to exaggerate the impact that Waiting for Godot had on English theater and culture in the mid-1950s.
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