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Waiting for Godot

by Samuel Beckett
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What is the significance of Lucky's speech in Waiting for Godot?

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In the (almost) seventy years since Waiting for Godot debuted, scholars studying Samuel Beckett have expended a lot of energy trying to decipher what’s going on in Lucky’s infamous outburst. Everyone seems to have a theory: that the monologue is just gibberish; that it’s an elaborately coded puzzle which will yield great insights to the person who’s able to decipher it; that it’s full of allusions and wordplay which echo themes from within the play itself; that it’s a vicious parody of academia and self-described experts. It’s probably most accurate to say that all of those theories are more or less true. Lucky’s speech doesn’t make a lot of sense (at least on the surface), but neither is it completely void of significance.

It helps to know several things about Samuel Beckett. One, for most of Beckett’s career, he attempted to keep his writing style completely unadorned and as minimal as he could reasonably get it. Two, he was painfully precise; some actors who worked with him told stories of Beckett agonizing over the number of dots he’d use in his scripts to indicate a pause in the actor’s delivery. And three, early on, Beckett worked as James Joyce’s secretary. If you’ve ever read even a little bit of Joyce, especially Ulysses or Finnegan’s Wake, you can see some of his style in Lucky’s speech. Knowing those things gives us a clue about the significance of what Lucky shouts out: the excess of empty words and phrases functions as a parody or satire, nothing Beckett put on the page is accidental, and what is in those lines sometimes reveals itself in an associative, allusive way.

Look at the first few lines:

Given the existence as uttered forth in the public works of Puncher and Wattmann of a personal God quaquaquaqua with white beard quaquaquaqua outside time without extension who from the heights of divine apathia divine athambia divine aphasia loves us dearly with some exceptions for reasons unknown but time will tell and suffers like the divine Miranda with those who for reasons unknown but time will tell are plunged in torment ...

On first glance, it seems like a stream of gibberish, and it’s meant to be that way. But part of what makes it nonsensical are the empty phrases which speech-givers and academic writers might use to sound weightier and more intelligent. We might start to see some meaning if we remove a few of those empty strings of words from the text. In the first phrase, since existence and of a personal God seem to logically go together, we can remove all the empty bits—as uttered forth, in the public works, of Puncher and Wattmann. We can get an idea that they’re empty if they aren’t essential, if they don’t add any crucial information to the declarative sentence they’re cluttering up. We’re left with: “Given the existence of a personal God outside time without extension who loves us dearly with some exceptions and suffers like the divine Miranda with those who are plunged in torment ...”

If you understand that philosophers of religion talk about God as existing outside of time and without extension (i.e., doesn’t take up any space), and that Miranda is a reference to an incredibly empathic character in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, then the phrase is clear and straightforward. All those word strings like for reasons unknown, time will tell, and as uttered forth start to sound faintly funny, and tying Miranda into things not only adds some illustration of what God is like, but brings in Shakespeare to show that Beckett is wrestling with timeless issues.

Part of the fun of “editing” Beckett here is deciding what does or doesn’t matter. You’ll have to decide whether words like apathia (lacking emotion), athambia (being unflappable), and aphasia (an inability to speak or communicate) are crucial, add interesting nuance to the ideas of God that Beckett is referencing, or do little more than litter the speech. These are questions to address throughout all of Lucky’s speech. You’ll also have to decide whether Beckett is alluding to anything at all when he drops names into the flow of words. (Here’s a hint: Miranda and Berkeley are both references to actual entities; Fartov and Belcher aren’t, and it probably won’t take long to figure out what jokes Beckett is making with those made-up names.)

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The character called Lucky in Waiting for Godot shows he is a servant of capitalism and will say anything or do anything for money. He is “lucky” because he is one of those educated and intelligent men who has a good job. The fact that he has a rope around his neck and is treated like a dog by his master Pozzo illustrates the author's opinion of the legions of men who have sold out for the sake of financial security. These men are lucky because they have all the necessities of life. Lucky's apparent condition as an abused and despised slave is not his real status. He may in fact be well-dressed, live in a comfortable home, drive a good car, etc., but Beckett is portraying him metaphorically. He is as good as dead. He could be a lawyer, a politician, a writer, a professor, a clergyman, a consulting psychologist, a salesman, an advertising copywriter, or something else--but he is really, as Beckett sees him, a wretched slave who has sold his soul to this greedy, ignorant, ruthless businessman. He is "lucky" because a lot of other men would like to be in his position. They fight each other to get jobs like his. His long speech is gibberish. It seems to contain a mixture of legalese, philosophy, literature, history, and many other things. The actor who plays the part of Lucky must have a devil's own time trying to memorize it. The speech consists of one run-on sentence without a single comma or other punctuation mark. It is obviously intended to be nothing but what it seems, which is utter gibberish. It is not designed to inform but to confuse. The name "Lucky" is intentionally ironic.

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Lucky's diatribe is an assertion of the paradox of man's existence and his relationship with God. The speech is rich in metaphor and references to the works of scholars on the subject. Throughout his soliloquy, Lucky attempts to provide insight into the human condition – that man has been abandoned by God but that God still has empathy for him. Furthermore, the descriptors used by Lucky make it clear that he does not really know or understand entirely what he is talking about. It is as if what he says has come to him in a moment of enlightenment and inspiration – he therefore babbles away without really knowing what he is saying.

The speech is Beckett's critique of man's desire to convince and impress those less knowledgeable about our deep understanding and insight into the human condition and human affairs. Our so-called intellectuals couch their language in obscure references and embellish it with jargon and bombastic vocabulary to seem intellectually advanced and to indicate that they have a profound understanding of what they are talking about. However, this is all a sham. In the end, we end up more confused and uncertain.

Lucky refers to the fact that man is diminishing in stature in spite of all his achievements – man "wastes and pines," but finds meaning in grandiose exploits and achievements. All this is meaningless. Man seeks purpose, but what that purpose is is not known. Man exists in a world in which he is not truly nurtured for growth and advancement and therefore man seeks purpose but does not really know what that purpose is.

Lucky's speech is the essence of what the play is about. Our two protagonists are "waiting for Godot." Why, no one knows, but it provides their lives with purpose. It gives their existence meaning and, therefore, instead of committing suicide, they will wait for Godot. 

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Demonstrating the disintegration of the human condition, Lucky's speech is a summary of the two main characters' life journies and, therefore, the life-journey of all humanity.  Once the reader gets past the seemingly random collection of words in Lucky's speech, it is important to note a few different things commented upon.  First, Lucky comments upon God in all of His "divine apathia" who Lucky feels is no longer present. This commentary about God leads nicely into Lucky's next subject which is the human condition.  Humanity, according to Lucky, "wastes and pines wastes and pines."  Finally, Lucky speaks of the earth which, he says, is "much more grave" leading the reader to believe that Lucky is speaking about eventual death.  Also, throughout the speech, Lucky also does his own fair share of mocking everything from higher learning to the most grotesque of bodily functions.  These interludes are, of course, dispersed throughout the speech.  In a nutshell, I believe that Lucky isn't spouting nonsense words.  No.  Lucky is revealing our path through life to death with a few laughs along the way.

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