Many of us understand the importance of friendship. Let's face it: good friends contribute to our well-being in many ways. They help us cope with tragedy, loss, and trauma. They are conscious of our deepest struggles and are usually the first to help when the stakes are high.
Being part of a group of friends gives us a feeling of belonging and contentment. In short, a good social support system can give us much needed comfort during the worst of life's challenges.
In Waiting for Godot, Beckett turns the prevailing idea of friendship as a social advantage on its head. Both Vladimir and Estragon find little comfort in each other. In their case, friendship isn't a strength; it's an impediment to trust, knowledge, and hope.
As the play progresses, the interactions between Vladimir and Estragon become more confused, ambivalent, and tortured. Here's an example:
Vladimir. Do you want a carrot? (Vladimir rummages in his pockets, takes out a turnip and gives it to Estragon who takes a bite out of it. Angrily.)
Estragon. It’s a turnip!
Vladimir. Oh pardon! I could have sworn it was a carrot. (He brings out a carrot and gives it to Estragon.) There, dear fellow. (Estragon wipes the carrot on his sleeve and begins to eat it.) Make it last, that’s the end of them.
Estragon (chewing). I asked you a question.
Estragon. Did you reply?
Vladimir. How’s the carrot?
Estragon. It’s a carrot.
Vladimir. So much the better, so much the better. (Pause.) What was it you wanted to know?
Estragon. I’ve forgotten.
Neither Vladimir nor Estragon answer each other's questions. In the conversation above, Vladimir first hands Estragon a carrot, or what he thinks is one. For his part, Estragon accuses his companion of giving him a turnip. Vladimir then reaches into his bag and pulls out a carrot. This discrepancy between perception and reality is played out many times throughout the play.
Furthermore, neither Vladimir nor Estragon can remember what questions have been asked and what answers have been given in response. Beckett uses the absurd conversations to highlight some important considerations:
1) Can friends ever really know each other? Are deep connections possible between two flawed human beings?
2) What happens to the integrity of a friendship when the individual parties have distinctly divergent memories of discrete events?
Estragon. How long have we been together all the time now?
Vladimir. I don’t know. Fifty years maybe.
Estragon. Wait! (He moves away from Vladimir.) I sometimes wonder if we wouldn’t have been better off alone, each one for himself. (He crosses the stage and sits down on the mound.) We weren’t made for the same road.
Vladimir (without anger). It’s not certain.
Estragon. No, nothing is certain.
Vladimir slowly crosses the stage and sits down beside Estragon.
Vladimir. We can still part, if you think it would be better.
Estragon. It’s not worthwhile now. Silence.
Vladimir. No, it’s not worthwhile now. Silence.
Here, Beckett introduces the idea of aloneness as a preferable option for both Estragon and Vladimir. Estragon's words are prescient: "We weren't made for the same road." Both indulge in conversations that convey uncertainty; their latent suspicions about each other's motives, however, speak to a larger problem.
Estragon and Vladimir have fallen into a typical friendship trap: the illusion of sameness. In the field of psychology, the illusion of sameness refers to the tendency of people to assume that their friendly counterparts possess similar emotional outlooks on a variety of matters.
Discovering that this is not the case is often a shock to them. Many friendships do not survive this distinct revelation.
In the above interaction, both Vladimir and Estragon assume that their tension-fraught conversations indicate a shared view about friendship. Neither entertains the possibility that the other is desperate to save the friendship.
Throughout the play, Beckett uses Vladimir and Estragon's ambivalent interactions to question the nature of friendship and memory (knowledge). The fact that Godot never shows up is also a pivotal element of the play. Beckett appears to question the prevailing social expectations about shared memory and knowledge.
Each day is filled with anticipation, but Vladimir and Estragon's hopes are always disappointed. So it is with the men's friendship: they indulge in many conversations but never quite get to the point of achieving a rational consensus between them.