What are the themes in Waiting for Godot?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

One of the play's most important themes is the need for man to create his own meaning in an inherently absurd and meaningless universe. Much of the action that happens on stage doesn't appear to make a great deal of sense. That's because Vladimir and Estragon are creating their own meaning, a complex, puzzling process from which the audience is necessarily excluded.

What Beckett is suggesting here is that this is the universal condition of humankind in the wake of World War II, which upended all the old cultural, moral, and intellectual certainties. In turn, the most cataclysmic conflict in human history forced us to create our own meaning to help us deal with living in a world evacuated of meaning. This is what Vladimir and Estragon, in their own little way, are trying to do. So if you've ever been bemused by their antics on stage—and let's face it, who hasn't?—then you'll know why. This is what creating meaning from scratch looks like.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Waiting for Godot, a play written by Samuel Beckett in 1953, finds two characters, Vladimir and Estragon, endlessly waiting for the appearance of Godot, an unseen character who never actually makes an appearance. The English-language version of the play is a translation by Beckett of his French-language play En attendant Godot, which he wrote in 1948.

There are many themes explored throughout Beckett's Waiting for Godot. Here are a few:

Choices: Waiting for Godot portrays two men who find themselves indecisive and unable to make any real choices. Rather than giving up on their wait for Godot, they simply do nothing, unable to decide if they should stop or leave or wait or stay. Consequently, they end up staying and waiting, though it is more a consequence of not choosing than choosing.

The Absurd: Waiting for Godot portrays two men unable to communicate effectively with each other as they attempt to utilize the same language. In many instances, neither one seems able to fully understand the other though they both are speaking English. Many of their actions are also confusing and limited.

Time: For the characters of Waiting for Godot time is irrelevant; it’s not linear. They have difficulties remembering what day it is, what hour it is, how long they’ve been waiting, and how much longer they must continue to wait. They cannot remember events from the previous day, or even days, and continue to pass the time exactly, or nearly exactly, as they did before. For Didi and Gogo, time is inconsequential.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial