How do the characters Vladimir and Estragon in Waiting for Godot represent Everyman ? 

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The following is a direct quote from the great German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, who has probably influenced more writers than any other philosopher in human history:

Of course, as Schiller says, we are all born in Arcadia; in other words, we come into the world full of claims to happiness and pleasure and cherish the foolish hope of making them good.  As a rule, however, fate soon comes along, seizes us harshly and roughly, and teaches us that nothing belongs to us but everything to it, since it has the undisputed right not only to all our possessions and acquisitions, to wife and family, but even to our arms and legs, our eyes and ears, and to the very nose in the middle of our face.  In any case, experience after a time teaches us that happiness and pleasure are a fata Morgana which is visible only from a distance and vanishes when we approach it. On the other hand, we are taught that suffering and pain are real which immediately make themselves felt and need no illusion or expectation.  Now if this teaching bears fruit, we cease to run after happiness and pleasure, but rather are we more concerned to bar as much as possible the way to pain and suffering.  We then recognize that the best the world has to offer is a painless, quiet, and tolerable existence to which we restrict our claims in order to be the more certain of making them good.  For the surest way not to become very unhappy is for us not to expect to be very happy.  Merck, the friend of Goethe's youth, recognized this truth for he wrote: 'Everything in this world is ruined by the excessive pretension to happiness and indeed in a measure that corresponds to our dreams.  Whoever is able to get rid of this and desires nothing but what he has in hand can get along in the world.'  Accordingly, it is advisable to reduce to very moderate proportions our claims to pleasures, possessions, rank, honour, and so on, just because it is this striving and struggling for happiness, brilliance, and pleasure that entail great misfortunes.  Therefore, reducing our claims is prudent and advisable simply because it is quite easy to be very unhappy, whereas to be very happy is not exactly difficult but absolutely impossible. 

Whoever has fully accepted the teaching of my philosophy and thus knows that our whole existence is something which had better not have been, and to deny and reject which is the highest wisdom, will not cherish great expectations of anything or any condition; he will not ardently aspire to anything in the world, nor will he complain very much if he fails in any undertaking.  On the contrary, he will be imbued with Plato's words: 'No human affair is worth our troubling ourselves very much about it.'

What makes it specially difficult for us to arrive at these wholesome views is the hypocrisy of the world which I have already mentioned and which should be made known to one at an early age.  Most of the pomp and splendours are, like theatre decorations, mere show, and the very essence of the thing is missing.  Ships festooned and dressed with pennants, salutes with cannon, illuminations, beating of drums and blowing of trumpets, shouting, applauding, and so on, all are the outward sign, the hint, the suggestion, the hieroglyphic of gaiety or joy.  But this is just where joy is rarely found; it alone has declined to be present at the festival.  Where it actually makes its appearance, it as a rule comes uninvited, by itself and sans facon.  Indeed, it quietly slips in often on the most unimportant and trivial occasions, in the most ordinary everyday circumstances; in fact, anywhere but where the company is brilliant or distinguished.  It is scattered here and there, like the gold in Australia, by the whim of pure chance according to no rule or law, often only in tiny grains, and exceedingly rarely in large quantities.  But the object of all the things just mentioned is to make others believe that joy had here put in an appearance; to produce this illusion in the minds of others is the intention.  It is the same with mourning as with joy. How sad and melancholy is that long and slowly moving funeral procession!  There is no end to the number of carriages.  But look inside them; they are all empty and the deceased is escorted to the grave merely by the coachmen of the whole town.  An eloquent picture of the friendship and esteem of this world!  This, then, is the falsehood, hollowness, and hypocrisy of human affairs.  Again, many guests in ceremonial dress and welcomed with much pomp and festivity afford another example; they are the signs of noble and exalted fellowship.  But instead, the real guests, as a rule, are only compulsion, pain, and boredom; for where there are so many guests, it is already a rabble, even though they wear on their breasts all the stars.  Thus genuinely good society is everywhere of necessity very small.  Generally speaking, however, brilliant parties and noisy entertainments at bottom always have emptiness and even a jarring note because they flagrantly contradict the misery and barrenness of our existence and the contrast enhances the truth.  Looked at from without, however, all this has its effect and this is precisely its purpose. Therefore Chamfort makes the excellent remark: la societe, les cercles, les salons, ce qu'on appelle le monde, est une piece miserable, un mauvais opera, sans interet, qui se soutient un peu par les machines, les costumes et les decorations.  [Society, circles, salons, what is called high society, is a miserable play, a bad opera, without interest, which is kept going for a while by the stage effects, the costumes, and the decorations.]  Now it is the same as regards academies and chairs of philosophy; these are the signs, the outward show, of wisdom; but she too has often declined to come and is to be found in quite a different place.  The continual ringing of bells, the costumes of priests, pious attitudes, and grotesque antics are the outward sign, the false appearance, of devotional feeling, and so on.  Thus almost everything in the world can be called a hollow nut; the kernel is in itself rare and even more rarely is it to be found in the shell.  It must be sought in quite a different place; and frequently it is found only by accident.

                                            Schopenhauer, Counsels and Maxims

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In many regards, Vladimir and Estragon represent "everyman" because each completes the other. In doing so, Beckett depicts a portrait of what it means to be human.  For example, while Vladimir is theoretical, Estragon is more practical. Vladimir is more cerebral in his approaches, while Estragon is more base.  Vladimir remembers time, while Estragon struggles with it.  Estragon's bad feet are matched with Vladimir's bad kidneys. Pain for one is external, while internal for the other. Estragon is more skeptical, while Vladimir is more optimistic.  Vladimir is the "thinking one" of the two, but most of the time his thinking is off. They represent "everyman" because both of them fulfill a whole person, the entire range of what it means to be human.   

As both characters complement the other in a full composite of what it means to human, they also come to represent "everyman" as a part of the play's universality.  Beckett understood that the drama could be applied into nearly any context: "What such a reaction showed, however, was that, although the play can in no way be taken as a political allegory, there are elements that are relevant to any local situation in which one man is being exploited or oppressed by another."  Both Vladimir and Estragon can be seen as "everyman" characters because of their involvement in a setting where there is the presence of exploitation and oppression.  Both characters are "everyman" because of their reaction to such a condition.  They recognize clearly that there are external factors weighing against them, elements in which they are not in control.  The human predicament encompasses both of them.  Both are "tramps," everyday people who struggle with their being in the world.  

While Vladimir and Estragon are both "tramps," their struggle to simply live is what makes them "everyman."  The universal quality that Beckett emphasizes is that consciousness is the world is rooted in struggle.  "everyman" must experience such struggle.  This struggle defines being in the world.  The energy that defines human consciousness is the energetic force against struggle.  When Vladmir argues that  "Boots must be taken off every day," as "I resumed the struggle," it becomes clear that one of the only few constants in the human condition is the need to struggle. When Vladimir and Estragon struggle with boots and other elements in the world, they are "everyman."  They represent what human beings do on a daily and hourly basis.  In seeing their condition, we see our own: Waiting, struggling, hurting, as simply parts of being in the world.  They are "everyman" because their struggles take place internally and externally and form the crux of their identities.  

In Worstword Ho, Beckett wrote:  "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better."  This helps to capture the essential element of the construction of being that Valdimir and Estragon experience.  In equating freedom and struggle, they represent "everyman" because of its presence in all we do and all we are.  The ending in which both characters acknowledge that "nothing is certain" is partially true. As evidenced in how they both remain together, even though the pledge to go, the struggle of being in the world is what binds us and defines us. This is what makes both of them "everyman" figures.  In seeing them, we see ourselves and the elements that rage against us.  Struggle is all they can do and, in a way, all we can do, as well.

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Waiting for Godot

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