What was the role of the tramps in "Waiting for Godot"?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Vladimir and Estragon, the “tramps” are the central images of waiting in Beckett’s work.    We can then make the assumption that these characters display the best and worst aspect of humanity, discuss elements that define existence and represent triviality, study themselves and one another, and interact with success and failure with each-other and others  They characters live, love, disparage, compliment, converge, and diverge and nothing happens twice.  Their hopes are never quite realized, their words never lead to action, and what is indicated is never quite actualized.  Godot never arrives.

And I think that this is the precise beauty of it.  The theme of paralysis is an overwhelming one in the play.  It seems to me that action is prevented because of the belief that Monsieur Godot is going to arrive.  The characters praise him, hate him, deride him, mock him, and do this to one another.  Yet, he does not arrive and they still wait.   The element of this play is that we all have to endure what the characters do.  We all undergo moments when we are Lucky or Estragon.  We are even sometimes the little boy who says that "Monsieur Godot will not arrive, but will be here tomorrow." The paralysis of these characters is seen in us.  Perhaps, the symbiotic way to examine this is that while the traits of paralysis and inaction are there, both on stage and within us, perhaps, unlike what is happening on stage, there is something we can do about it.  If we listen to the cries of others' suffering and seek to transform what is into what can be and overcome our own sense of paralysis, maybe something will happen... once.  Perhaps, we no longer have to wait for Monsieur Godot to arrive.  The significance of the tramps is that in them, we live.  In us, they live.  We are left with what Beckett himself called, “symbiosis.”

The closing point.  In a recent Bollywood film, Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na, the closing scene takes place at an airport where there is a sign for the passenger, "Godot."  The person holding it is quite old, presuming that he has been waiting for some time.  If Bollywood can grasp the futility in waiting, I suppose I can, as well.

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Waiting for Godot

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