Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
Country road. Unnamed road, alongside which Vladimir and Estragon await the arrival of Godot. No clues are given to identify the location, whose terrain is a flat and unbroken plain to the distant horizon. In a ditch nearby, Estragon has spent the night, despite beatings by an unknown “they.” In effect, the road stretches to and from nowhere in particular, although Pozzo says he is leading his servant, Lucky, down the road to a fair. Pozzo’s claim that he owns the land is not necessarily true. Although Vladimir refers to past experiences together atop the Eiffel Tower in Paris and grape-picking “in the Macon country,” Estragon claims that he has never been in Macon country and has “puked [his] puke of a life away here . . . in the Cackon country.” None of these claims is verifiable.
Despite Beckett’s insistence that productions of his plays should always adhere to his specifications, the austere set he intended for this play has occasionally been radically altered by stage designers. For example, the set of the 1988 Broadway production of Waiting for Godot designed by Tony Walton was a stretch of Nevada highway, cluttered with debris and abandoned car parts.
Tree. Sole landmark by the road that helps direct Vladimir and Estragon to where they are to meet Godot. The scraggly tree is bare in the play’s first act. Although no other trees can be seen, Vladimir and...
(The entire section is 391 words.)
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The French Resistance Movement during World War II
Beckett wrote Waiting for Godot in the late months of 1948, three years after Allied forces had liberated France from German occupation, and some scholars suggest that his war experience might have served as an inspiration for the play. After German military forces had successfully invaded and occupied Northern France in the spring of 1940, a nominally free French government had been established in the South at Vichy and an underground French Resistance movement arose that attempted to frustrate and undermine German control of France. Beckett joined the Resistance movement in Paris in September of 1941 and helped pass secret information to England about German military movements. When an infiltrator began uncovering the names of Resistance members in Beckett's group, Beckett and his companion (later his wife) Suzanne had to flee Paris and travel into the South, where they eventually found refuge in the small village of Roussillon, near Avignon. In the French version of the play, this village is named as the place where Vladimir and Estragon picked grapes, an activity that Beckett and Suzanne actually engaged in. This has led some scholars to suggest that Vladimir and Estragon can, at least in part, represent Beckett and Suzanne in flight from Paris to Roussillon or the two of them waiting in an extremely dangerous form of exile for the war to end. In Roussillon, Beckett earned food and shelter by...
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Act I, Section A-1: Questions and Answers
1. When and where does this play take place?
2. Describe Estragon.
3. Describe Vladimir.
4. How are the men alike? How are they different?
5. Where did Estragon spend the night? What happened to him there?
6. What method of suicide does Vladimir suggest? Why wouldn’t it work?
7. Why does Vladimir stop himself from laughing?
8. Vladimir and Estragon remember two different parts of the Gospels. Describe each one.
9. What is the matter with Estragon’s foot?
10. “Nothing to be done” is repeated two times in this section. In each case, who says it and why?
1. The play takes place in the evening, on a country road by a tree.
2. Estragon was once a poet, and is dressed in rags and boots. He has sore feet and he limps. He is lighter than Vladimir.
3. Vladimir walks stiffly, with his legs apart. He has trouble with his bladder, and is in pain. He is wearing a hat.
4. The men are about the same age and from similar backgrounds. They seem to be in the same financial straits. Estragon seems more vulnerable and less practical than Vladimir.
5. Estragon spent the night in a ditch, where he was beaten by strangers.
6. Vladimir contemplates jumping down from the Eiffel Tower, hand-in-hand with Estragon. While it might have worked years ago, now they...
(The entire section is 299 words.)
Act I, Section A-2: Questions and Answers
1. Who are Vladimir and Estragon waiting for? Why?
2. Where does Estragon think the men were yesterday?
3. What are the nicknames of the characters?
4. Why does Estragon pull away from Vladimir when they embrace?
5. Why does Estragon want to hang himself “immediately?”
6. Why won’t Estragon and Vladimir hang themselves?
7. What will Godot have to do before he promises them anything?
8. What food does Vladimir have in his pocket?
9. What is the difference in the way Estragon and Vladimir approach food?
10. Estragon repeats “Nothing to be done.” Why?
1. They are waiting for someone named Godot, because he told them to wait for him. They hope he will help them in some way.
2. Estragon thinks they were exactly in the same place yesterday.
3. Estragon is called Gogo; Vladimir is called Didi.
4. Estragon pulls away because Vladimir has bad breath from the garlic he eats.
5. Estragon wants to hang himself because Vladimir suggests it would give him an erection.
6. There isn’t any way they could hang themselves without one of the men remaining alive.
7. Godot will have to consult with his family, friends, agents, correspondents, books, and bank account.
8. Vladimir has turnips and a carrot in his pocket....
(The entire section is 233 words.)
Act I, Section A-3: Questions and Answers
1. How are Vladimir and Estragon feeling when Lucky and Pozzo enter?
2. What are Vladimir and Estragon holding when they enter?
3. How does Pozzo describe Lucky when they arrive?
4. Who does Estragon think Pozzo is?
5. What other names do the men associate with the name “Pozzo?”
6. Why does Pozzo burst into “an enormous laugh?”
7. Why does Pozzo conclude that Estragon and Vladimir have the right to be on his property?
8. Why is Pozzo happy to see the two men?
9. Why can’t Lucky hold the whip in his hand?
10. What possessions does Pozzo seem to be travelling with?
1. They are frightened, “huddled together, shoulders hunched, cringing away.”
2. Pozzo is holding the end of a rope that is around Lucky’s neck. Lucky is carrying a heavy load of baggage.
3. Pozzo says that Lucky is wicked with strangers.
4. Estragon thinks Pozzo is Godot.
5. Estragon thinks he is saying his name is “Booz.” Vladimir remembers a family named “Gozzo.”
6. Pozzo thinks it is funny that he Estragon and Vladimir can be classified as humans, like himself, “Made in God’s image.”
7. Pozzo says that while he owns the property, the road is public property.
8. He is happy to see them because he has been travelling for a long...
(The entire section is 235 words.)
Act I, Section A-4: Questions and Answers
1. Once seated, what does Pozzo do?
2. What are Lucky’s physical characteristics?
3. What does Pozzo do after he eats?
4. What does Estragon want from Pozzo?
5. What does Vladimir think about Pozzo’s treatment of Lucky?
6. Why does Pozzo want to meet Godot?
7. Why doesn’t Lucky put down his bags?
8. Why does Pozzo want to get rid of Lucky?
9. Who cries in this section and why?
10. Why does Pozzo think the sky is so extraordinary?
1. Once seated, Pozzo drinks his wine and eats his chicken.
2. Lucky has a running sore on his neck. He is good looking, but effeminate. He drools, and his eyes bulge.
3. After he eats, Pozzo smokes his pipe.
4. Estragon wants the bones from Pozzo’s chicken.
5. Vladimir thinks that the way Pozzo treats Lucky is scandalous.
6. Pozzo wants to meet Godot, because he feels the more people he meets, the happier he becomes.
7. Lucky doesn’t put down his bags because he wants to impress Pozzo with the amount of work he can do. He doesn’t want Pozzo to get rid of him.
8. Pozzo wants to sell Lucky at the fair for money. He is no longer worth anything to him. Instead of kicking Lucky out, he wants to offer Lucky up for sale.
9. Lucky cries because he does not want to be sold....
(The entire section is 272 words.)
Act I, Section A-5: Questions and Answers
1. How does Estragon want Pozzo to repay him for being “civil” to him?
2. What does Pozzo suggest as repayment?
3. What does Estragon want Lucky to do? What does Vladimir want Lucky to do?
4. What is Estragon’s reaction to Lucky’s dance?
5. What is the name of Lucky’s dance? Why does he call it that?
6. Why did Lucky finally put down his bags?
7. Before Lucky thinks, what does he need?
8. How do Estragon, Vladimir, and Pozzo react to Lucky’s speech?
9. How do they get him to stop?
10. At the end of this section, what has Pozzo misplaced? Where does he think it may be?
1. Estragon wants Pozzo to repay him with money; first ten francs, then five.
2. Pozzo suggests that he have Lucky perform for them, either dance, or sing, or think, or recite.
3. Estragon wants Lucky to dance; Vladimir wants Lucky to think.
4. Estragon is disappointed in the dance; he thinks he can do as well. He tries, but fails.
5. Lucky calls the dance, “The Net,” because he thinks of himself entangled in a net.
6. He put down his bags in order to dance.
7. Before he can think, he needs to have his hat on his head.
8. All three men get more and more agitated during Lucky’s speech. They all try to get him to stop.
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Act I, Section A-6: Questions and Answers
1. How does Vladimir sum up Lucky and Pozzo’s visit?
2. Why does Vladimir think he knows the visitors?
3. Why does Estragon “hobble?”
4. Who enters next?
5. What does he want?
6. Why did he hesitate before speaking up?
7. How is Estragon feeling at this point in the play?
8. What does the boy say about himself?
9. What does Estragon do with his boots? Why?
10. Why does Estragon compare himself to Christ?
1. Vladimir says it helped pass the time.
2. Vladimir thinks that he has seen Pozzo and Lucky before. He thinks they have changed from the last time he saw them.
3. Estragon is having trouble with both of his feet now.
4. A boy enters.
5. The boy wants to give them a message from Godot. Godot will not be there today. He will arrive tomorrow.
6. He hesitated because he was afraid of Lucky and Pozzo. He was afraid of the whip and the roars.
7. Estragon says he is unhappy.
8. The boy says he works for Godot, as a goatherd, and has a brother, who works as a shepherd. His brother gets beaten by Godot, but he doesn’t.
9. Estragon takes off his boots, and leaves them on the ground. He hopes someone with smaller feet will find them and wear them.
10. Estragon thinks he is like Christ because he...
(The entire section is 228 words.)
Act II, Section B-1: Questions and Answers
1. Where and when does Act II begin?
2. What does Vladimir do when he enters?
3. What is Vladimir’s reaction to seeing Estragon?
4. What is Estragon’s reaction to seeing Vladimir?
5. What happened to Estragon in the night?
6. What does Vladimir remember about the tree?
7. What does Estragon say about his memory?
8. What country does Estragon think they are in now? What country does Vladimir remember?
9. Why does Estragon think they need to keep talking?
10. Why are the two men there again?
1. Act II begins in the same place on the next day.
2. When Vladimir enters, he comes and goes on stage, examines the boots, and sings a song.
3. Vladimir seems happy to see Estragon and wants to hug him.
4. Estragon is angry at Vladimir. He is horrified that Vladimir seems so happy when the two of them are apart. He is upset that Vladimir left him alone.
5. Estragon was beaten again in the night by ten strangers.
6. He remembers that they wanted to hang themselves from it.
7. Either he forgets things immediately or he never forgets them.
8. Estragon thinks they have always been in the Cackon country. Vladimir remembers being with Estragon in the Macon country.
9. Estragon thinks they need to talk in order to keep...
(The entire section is 224 words.)
Act II , Section B-2: Questions and Answers
1. What does Vladimir notice about the tree?
2. What does Vladimir remember?
3. What does Estragon remember?
4. What does Estragon say about the boots?
5. What is different about the food Vladimir has in his pocket now compared with the food he had in A-2?
6. What is different about the boots?
7. How does Vladimir try to help Estragon get sleep?
8. What has Lucky left behind? What do they do with it?
9. Who plays Lucky? Who plays Pozzo?
10. What insults do they hurl at each other?
1. Vladimir notices that the tree, which seemed dead before, has grown leaves.
2. Vladimir remembers everything. He remembers the scenery and the exchange with Lucky and Pozzo.
3. Estragon remembers that he was kicked.
4. Estragon says that the boots are not his. He says his were black or a kind of gray, and these are brownish green.
5. Vladimir had edible food in his pocket in A-2; now all he has are turnips and one black radish.
6. The boots seem to fit Estragon now.
7. Vladimir sings Estragon a lullaby.
8. Lucky left his hat behind. Vladimir picks it up and puts it on his head. Then he and Estragon play a game of exchanging hats that ends with Vladimir wearing Lucky’s hat.
9. Vladimir plays Lucky; Estragon plays Pozzo....
(The entire section is 222 words.)
Act II, Section B-3: Questions and Answers
1. What physical changes are apparent in Lucky and Pozzo?
2. What happens when they first enter?
3. What does Pozzo keep asking for?
4. Who does Estragon think it is?
5. What does Estragon want from Pozzo?
6. What two things does Vladimir suggest may occur?
7. How does Estragon summarize Vladimir’s rhetoric?
8. How does Pozzo try to get the men to help him?
9. What happens when Vladimir tries to help Pozzo get up? What happens to Estragon when he tries to help Vladimir?
10. How are all four characters alike at the end of this section?
1. The rope that connects them is shorter. Lucky is wearing a different hat.
2. Lucky stops short upon seeing Vladimir and Estragon. Pozzo bumps into him, and they both fall.
3. Pozzo keeps asking for help.
4. Estragon again thinks he is Godot.
5. Estragon wants more food from Pozzo.
6. Vladimir suggests that either Godot will come or night will fall.
7. Estragon summarizes it as, “We are all born mad. Some remain so.”
8. He offers them money.
9. Vladimir falls, then Estragon falls.
10. All four characters are men; all four characters are down on the ground.
(The entire section is 185 words.)
Act II, Section B-4: Questions and Answers
1. Where are the men at the beginning of this section?
2. What does Estragon want to do now?
3. What does Vladimir do to Pozzo?
4. What does Pozzo do?
5. What names does Estragon use to call Pozzo?
6. After Estragon and Vladimir get up, what do they decide to do?
7. Why is Pozzo asking about the time?
8. How does Pozzo suggest that Estragon go about rousing Lucky?
9. What does Estragon do?
10. Why can’t Lucky entertain the men as before?
1. The men are all on the ground.
2. Estragon wants to take a nap.
3. Vladimir hits Pozzo.
4. Pozzo cries out in pain and crawls away. He continues to call for help.
5. Estragon calls Pozzo “Abel”, and then “Cain”.
6. They decide to help Pozzo get up. When he falls, they help him up again, and support his body.
7. Pozzo is blind and has no conception of time.
8. Pozzo suggests that Estragon first pull on the rope. If that doesn’t work, he should kick him in his face and in his groin.
9. Estragon starts yelling at Lucky, and kicking him. However, he hurts his own foot in the process.
10. Lucky cannot sing, think, or recite because he cannot speak anymore.
(The entire section is 198 words.)
Act II, Section B-5: Questions and Answers
1. What happens to Pozzo and Lucky after they leave?
2. What was Estragon’s feeling in his dream?
3. What event has Estragon forgotten?
4. What does Vladimir know about Estragon’s character?
5. Who arrives?
6. What is the difference between the way the boy delivers the message this time and the way it was done in A-6?
7. What happened to the boy’s brother?
8. What new facts about Godot does the boy reveal?
9. What does Vladimir say will happen if the men forget about Godot?
10. What will they do when they return tomorrow?
1. After they leave, they fall down.
2. In his dream, he was feeling happy.
3. Estragon has forgotten that Lucky and Pozzo passed by again.
4. He knows that Estragon will awaken and remember nothing about what has happened. Estragon will complain about his injuries, and be hungry.
5. Godot’s messenger arrives.
6. This time, Vladimir knows the message by heart, and says it himself. The boy merely confirms the facts.
7. The boy’s brother is sick.
8. He describes Godot as having a white beard.
9. If the men choose to forget Godot, he may punish them.
10. They will try to hang themselves with a stronger rope, unless Godot arrives to save them.
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Theatre of the Absurd
The seemingly endless waiting that Estragon and Vladimir undertake for the mysterious Godot has made Beckett's play one of the classic examples of what is called Theatre of the Absurd. The term refers both to its content—a bleak vision of the human condition—and to the style that expresses that vision. The idea that human life lacks meaning and purpose, that humans live in an indifferent or hostile universe, is frequently associated with Existentialist writers like the French philosophers Albert Camus (Kam-oo) and Jean-Paul Sartre (Sart). But when these two writers expounded their ideas in novels and plays, they generally used traditional literary techniques—that is, life-like characters; clear, linear plots; and conventional dialogue. But with writers like Beckett or the French dramatist Eugene Ionesco (E-on-es-co), the style is not an arbitrary choice but rather a necessary complement to the vision itself.
Beckett and those who adopted his style insisted that to effectively express the vision of absurdity one had to make the expression itself seem absurd. In other words, the audience had to experience what it felt like to live in an absurd world. Thus, the familiar and comforting qualities of a clear plot, realistic characters, plausible situations, and comprehensible dialogue had to be abandoned. In their place Beckett created a play where bizarre characters speak in what sometimes appears to be illogical,...
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Compare and Contrast
1954: Less than a decade after the U.S. military unleashed the frightening power of the atomic bomb in 1945, Russia and the United States began harnessing nuclear energy for peaceful uses. The first nuclear power station began producing electricity for Soviet industry and agriculture on June 27 at a station 55 miles from Moscow at Obninsk. In August, the U.S. Congress gave the approval for U.S. private industry to participate in the production of nuclear power.
Today: The production of electricity through nuclear power plants has grown tremendously but has failed to become the dominant power source it was envisioned to be, in part because of the perceived dangers of nuclear power plants. Nuclear accidents at Three-Mile Island near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in 1979 and at Chernobyl near Kiev, Russia, in 1986 increased opposition to reliance on nuclear energy production.
1954: Large corporations begin to use computers to facilitate business activities.
Today: The world has been transformed by computers as they power and guide everything from wrist watches to space shuttles. The World Wide Web has virtually interconnected everyone on the globe by creating an "information super-highway."
1954: The first color television sets are introduced into the United States by RCA. Color reception is of unreliable quality but RCA will dominate the new market until 1959, when Zenith and others use the courts to challenge RCA's virtual...
(The entire section is 423 words.)
Topics for Further Study
Research the following three topics: the French Resistance during the German occupation of France in World War II, Beckett's personal role in that Resistance movement, and interpretations of Waiting for Godot that suggest Beckett is using the play to reflect on his war experience.
Research the production of Waiting for Godot at San Quentin penitentiary in November of 1957 and discuss the conditions under which unsophisticated audiences can understand and respond enthusiastically to Beckett's play.
Find places in the text of Waiting for Godot where the play is clearly funny. Then find places where the humor is less obvious but still quite rich. Finally, research the concept of "black humor" and describe the sense of humor that you find in Waiting for Godot.
Research as many different productions of Waiting for Godot as you can and classify what these productions reveal about differences in presentation and interpretation. Then describe the features of a production that you would undertake.
Compare the Existentialist and Christian interpretations of the play and decide which one seems to you more faithful to the text that Beckett wrote.
(The entire section is 181 words.)
A 1990 videotape production of Waiting for Godot is available from The Smithsonian Institution Press Video Division as part of a trilogy that includes productions of Endgame and Krapp's Last Tape. Performed by the San Quentin Drama Workshop, the production of Waiting for Godot includes Rick Cluchey as Pozzo. Act I on the first tape lasts 77 minutes and Act II on the second tape lasts 60 minutes. The whole trilogy is presented under the title Beckett Directs Beckett but only because it is based on Beckett's original staging for theatre.
The 1987 film Weeds, starring Nick Nolte, is based loosely on the experience of Rick Cluchey in San Quentin prison. Sentenced to life imprisonment without parole for kidnapping, robbery, and aggravated assault, Cluchey witnessed the famous San Quentin production of Beckett's play, became an actor, organized a prison drama group, and was eventually released after twelve years to become an accomplished interpreter of Beckett's characters on stage and in film.
A 45-minute black and white version of Act II is available from Films for the Humanities (Princeton, NJ, 1988; orig. 1976) and features Zero Mostel, Burgess Meredith, and Milo O' Shea in a production directed by Alan Schneider, director of the ill-fated American premiere in Miami.
A 50-minute lecture by Bert States entitled "Waiting for Godot: Speculations on Myth and Method," was recorded on...
(The entire section is 421 words.)
What Do I Read Next?
Beckett's Endgame (1957) features a more antagonistic pair of men in an even drearier situation, while Beckett's Happy Days (1961) demonstrates his focus on women and Come and Go (1966) represents how "minimalistic" Beckett would eventually become in his drama.
Joseph Heller's Catch 22 (1961) is a famous dark comedy in novel form that deals with the absurdity of the military in World War II.
Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1966) is often seen as a play that consciously imitates Beckett's Waiting for Godot.
Eugene lonesco's The Bald Soprano (1950), The Lesson (1951), and The Chairs (1952) all epitomize the Theatre of the Absurd and provide interesting similarities and contrasts with Beckett's Waiting for Godot.
Jean-Paul Sartre's No Exit (1944) shows how Existentialist ideas can be presented in a more traditional dramatic form.
Albert Camus's The Myth of Sisyphus (1942; English translation 1955) was an enormously influential philosophical essay that posed the essential question for the Existentialists—what do human beings do if they reject suicide as a response to a meaningless universe. Camus's The Stranger (1942; English translation 1946) is a classic Existentialist novel.
(The entire section is 173 words.)
Bibliography and Further Reading
Alvarez, A. (1973). Samuel Beckett. New York: Viking Press.
Anouilh, Jean Review in Arts Spectacles, February 27-March 5, 1953, p. 1.
Atkinson, B. (1956, April 20). Theatre: Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. The New York Times, p. 21.
Bair, D. (1978). Samuel Beckett: A Biography. United States: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
Beckett, Samuel. (1954). The Collected Works of Samuel Beckett: Waiting for Godot. (3rd printing, 1978). New York: Grove Press.
Beckett, Samuel. (1953). Watt. New York: Grove Press.
Bentley, Eric. Review in New Republic, May 14, 1956, pp. 20-1.
Ben-Zvi, Linda. Samuel Beckett, Twayne, 1986.
Blin, Roger. "Blin on Beckett," Theater, Fall, 1978, pp. 90-2.
Bloom, H. (Ed.). (1987). Modern Critical interpretations: Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. New York: Chelsea House.
Braun, S. (1989, December 27). Samuel Beckett Dies at 83; “Godot” Author, Nobelist. The Los Angeles Times, p.1.
Cohn, R. (1973). Back to Beckett. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Cohn, R. (1980). Just Play: Beckett’s Theater. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Cohn, Ruby, editor. Casebook on "Waiting for Godot," Grove, 1967.
Conner, Steven, editor. "Waiting for Godot" and...
(The entire section is 606 words.)