Why is Waiting for Godot important?

Waiting for Godot is important because it is perhaps the greatest example of an absurdist play and because it represents concerns and anxieties that dominated the late modernist period.

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Waiting for Godot has been described as a story about nothing. Indeed, very little happens in the play: two men, Estragon and Vladimir, wait by a tree for someone else to come to them (Godot) over the course of two acts, but he never does. It is never entirely clear...

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Waiting for Godot has been described as a story about nothing. Indeed, very little happens in the play: two men, Estragon and Vladimir, wait by a tree for someone else to come to them (Godot) over the course of two acts, but he never does. It is never entirely clear why they are waiting for him. Although they have some interaction with passersby, namely Pozzo and Lucky, the conversations do not seem to have any real point. At many times throughout the play, it seems like the characters are only halfheartedly listening to one another and are instead hypnotized by their own inner monologues.

Sill, this idea of nothing is an important one in the middle of the 1900s, when Godot was written. One of the most prominent existential philosophers and public intellectuals of the time, Jean-Paul Sartre, had just finished writing Being and Nothingness, a book that suggested that humans have no formal guidance in their lives and must decide what is meaningful for themselves. Where they once believed in a god, there is now nothing.

Sartre argues that life's purpose comes from the choices people make rather than what people tell them is meaningful. However, many people waste their lives being told what to do. This is what occurs in Godot and why it is often considered an existential piece of literature. The play may be considered a warning about what happens when people wait for something external to give them guidance, and it should be noted that "God" appears in the name "Godot." If people wait for someone or some entity to give their lives meaning, according to this interpretation of the play, they will ultimately be wasting their lives, as Estragon and Vladimir do.

There is also much despair and doubt in the characters as they wait for Godot to appear. Before the modernist period began, there was a faith in human reason. However, over the course of the modernist movement, bureaucracy, technology, and globalization became more and more powerful, and two world wars shook people's sense of whether humans were, in fact, a source of pure reason. In general, there was some unease about whether people were advancing in a way that was conducive to living, and many artists/writers began to question whether reality was as they once believed it was (leading way to postmodernism, of which Godot stands on the cusp).

The characters in the play reflect these ways of thinking, commenting on how people are "bloody ignorant apes," speculating on whether or not they should kill themselves, and, at the end, wondering if they are dreaming ("Was I sleeping while the others suffered? Am I sleeping now?"). The characters in Godot are sensitive and insecure, even toward their own views of reality, which reflected many people's feelings toward life after the World Wars. Godot distills an attitude, or zeitgeist, into two acts through its characters and their actions.

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