Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett

Waiting for Godot book cover
Start Your Free Trial

Is Waiting for Godot more nihilistic or existentialist, and why?

Expert Answers info

Colin Cavendish-Jones, Ph.D. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

briefcaseCollege Professor, Lawyer

bookM.A. from Oxford University

bookPh.D. from St. Andrews University

calendarEducator since 2019

write796 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Law and Politics

VLADIMIR: Well? Shall we go?

ESTRAGON: Yes, let's go.

They do not move.

The celebrated last lines of Waiting for Godot, the play in which nothing happens (twice), come after many alternations of hope and despair. Godot said they were to wait by the tree. He said Saturday. The child said Godot was sure to come tomorrow. Or perhaps nobody said any of these things. Perhaps Godot is never coming. Perhaps there is no such person. Beckett never solves any of these mysteries for us.

The difference between nihilism and existentialism lies in an individual decision. The nihilist says that life is inherently meaningless and absurd. The existentialist agrees but decides to find or create his own meaning, which could be something as inherently futile as standing and waiting for someone who does not exist. If this is the meaning Vladimir and Estragon have chosen, we might see this as an existentialist play. Or we might see it as existentialist by the criteria of Camus's "Myth of Sisyphus": they have chosen existence, and we must imagine them happy.

Conversely, we might see the play as nihilist because it has demonstrated the absurdity of life and at the end, the two tramps will give up, since they lack even the will to move. The point is that they meaning of the play or its lack of meaning, whether it is nihilist or existentialist, depends on the audience's interpretation. Do the tramps give up? Do they kill themselves? Do they continue waiting forever? Does the wait itself have meaning? It is your answers to these questions that will determine whether you think this a nihilist play or an existentialist one.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial