Abstract illustration of two hats under a leafless tree in black and white

Waiting for Godot

by Samuel Beckett

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Waiting for Godot Characters

The main characters in Waiting for Godot are Vladimir, Estragon, Pozzo, Lucky, and the boy.

  • Vladimir is an elderly tramp who joins Estragon near a country road to wait for Godot.
  • Estragon is another tramp, who considers hanging himself with Vladimir if Godot never arrives.
  • Pozzo is a materialist who treats his slave, Lucky, like a pack mule.
  • Lucky is Pozzo’s slave, who delivers a wild, brilliant monologue about God.
  • The boy delivers messages from Godot.

Characters

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Last Updated on December 5, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1012

Estragon

Of the pair, it is Estragon who opens the play, described in the English version of the text to be sitting on a low mound and struggling to take off his boot. In performance, Beckett is said to have preferred a stone to the mound, which better foregrounds Estragon’s calloused orientation toward mortal afflictions such as physical pain, hunger, and sleepiness. Estragon’s sore feet, which he complains about both at the beginning and the end of the play, direct us to the core of his character, affixing him to the ground and branding him a creature often beset by earthly pains.

Estragon is far more engaged with the bodily and the material than Vladimir, and sleep, appetite, and comfort are his main concerns. He shamelessly asks for Pozzo’s leftover chicken bones, which mortifies his companion. It is also Estragon who is more willing of the two to extort money from Pozzo. Vladimir, meanwhile, insists that they are not beggars.

As he is, for the most part, configured as a series of needs and sensations, Estragon also seems to be incapable of sustaining memories short-term. Even so, he declares to Vladimir that he will “never forget” the carrot Vladimir gives him. Estragon’s highly selective memory and his repeated insistence on getting sleep designate him as the dreamer, while Vladimir is the thinker.

Vladimir

As opposed to Estragon, who is conventionally portrayed as short and stocky, Vladimir’s onstage counterparts are tall and thin. While Estragon is oriented toward the earth, Vladimir is oriented upward—toward the tree and the sky. Likewise, whereas the crux of Estragon’s character is his boot, Vladimir’s is his bowler hat, which he peers into on multiple occasions, a materialization of his aphorisms and navel-gazing tendencies. The pair are two sides of the same coin, mirroring the duality of the body and mind—Estragon signifying material concerns and Vladimir the realm of the metaphysical and philosophical.

While Estragon struggles to take off his boot, Vladimir, instead of helping, reflects on various matters out loud. He then broaches the tale of Jesus and the two thieves, revealing a brooding fixation on the uncertain prospect of salvation—something that proves to be prescient in retrospect, as the two wait and hope in vain for an undetermined amount of time. It is also worth noting that Vladimir is the one who continually reminds the forgetful Estragon that they are waiting for Godot.

Even though he is sharper and more self-aware than Estragon, Vladimir veers away from confrontation, preferring to approach matters from the periphery. While he attempts to disentangle the scholarship on Jesus’s crucifixion, Estragon more directly compares himself to Christ (even though he previously professed little knowledge of the Bible). It is only at the end of act 2 that Vladimir comes close to exhibiting true pathos, as he likens the recurring tedium of his days to a dreamful ignorance.

Pozzo

Pozzo arrives onstage in act 1, accompanied by his slave, Lucky, who is bound by the neck and carries his baggage. Initially misidentified by Estragon to be Godot, Pozzo is offended that the two do not recognize his name and, indeed, is so self-serious that he addresses himself in the third person. Whereas Estragon has his boots and Vladimir his hat, Pozzo’s spirit is captured in his whip, which he uses to direct and terrorize Lucky.

Monied, conceited, and a member of the landed gentry, Pozzo demands Estragon’s and Vladimir’s full attention to his self-important posturing and speechifying. While he wishes to project depth and sophistication, however, Pozzo fumbles at his attempts at wisdom. He also betrays deep insecurity, as he courts approval from Estragon and Vladimir, oblivious to the fact that the two are mocking him.

In contrast to the other characters, Pozzo is the only one who demonstrates a marked sense of linearity and advancement:

. . . six hours on end, and never a soul in sight.

However, he loses this power over time when he loses his sight. He explodes at Vladimir’s persistent questioning in act 2, as he refuses to, or can no longer, discern between the days.

Lucky

While he is named Lucky, Pozzo also addresses his slave as “pig” and “hog” and mocks him as “Atlas, son of Jupiter,” as Lucky does not put down his master’s baggage even when they are at a stopover. When he is not taking commands from Pozzo, Lucky is motionless and stooped over for most of his time onstage. Because of his downtrodden condition, Lucky commonly invites outside interpretation as the oppressed and silenced proletariat to Pozzo’s capitalist.

Pozzo claims to have attained all his refinement and intellect from Lucky, whom he maintains is now a mere shell of his former self. When he orders Lucky to think in order to entertain Estragon and Vladimir, the slave spouts forth a panic-driven and almost incoherent speech on God, time, space, and man and his labors. This broken torrent simulates theological proof, vulgarizing learned jargon and descending into despair in its final notes.

Lucky’s speech points to the ironic contrast between his name and his fate as a slave. Although he is physically burdened, Lucky remains unfettered by the burdens of language and conventions of human dignity, unlike the rest of the main cast.

The Boy

The boy, who appears at the end of both acts, delivers to Vladimir and Estragon a message from Godot—that he will not be coming today, but tomorrow. Twice he makes his presence known, and both times Estragon and Vladimir remark “Off we go again,” as if they are all too accustomed with the messenger and the news he brings. Twice, however, does the boy deny that he has met the pair before.

The messenger is cross-examined by Vladimir, who asks him questions about Godot and the treatment he receives under his employ. A striking question Vladimir asks both times, however, is if the boy did indeed see them—as if the news of Godot’s delay leads him to doubt his own existence.

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