Waiting for Godot Critical Evaluation
- In terms of the plot, very little happens in Waiting for Godot. Vladimir and Estragon wait for the title character, presumably in hopes of receiving some guidance from Godot. For the two tramps, Godot comes to represent God and offers the hope of salvation from their miserable lives. Without this salvation, Vladimir and Estragon fail to find meaning in life and plan to commit suicide.
- Beckett alludes to Cain and Abel in Act II of the play. In the Bible, Cain and Abel were brothers who both made offerings to God. When God preferred Abel's offering, Cain went mad with jealousy and killed his own brother. Together, Cain and Abel come to represent the two sides of humanity: the sinners and the innocent. In calling Pozzo both Cain and Abel, Vladmir and Estragon suggest that he stands in for all of humanity.
- Beckett uses the bleak setting to reflect the meaninglessness of life. In most productions of the play, the staging is spare, and the central set piece is a tree from which Vladmir and Estragon decide to hang themselves at the end of the play. This emptiness reflects the poverty and misery in which Vladimir and Estragon live.
Waiting for Godot is a landmark in modern drama. When it premiered in Paris, its originality stunned audiences. No one had seen or heard anything like it before. Initially, some were disgusted, some were puzzled, and some were wildly enthusiastic. Within a short time, however, audiences came to the theater prepared for a wholly new dramatic experience and went away with praises for Samuel Beckett. The play ran for more than three hundred performances in Paris, and other productions were mounted in London and major cities on the Continent. The play was soon widely translated and performed around the world. After a disastrous U.S. premiere in Miami, Florida, Waiting for Godot went on to a successful New York run, suggesting that the play was best received by audiences made up of sophisticated intellectuals.
Nevertheless, audience enthusiasm for Waiting for Godot has not been matched by unalloyed critical acclaim. To be sure, many critics as well as eminent playwrights have paid high tribute to the play, but several other critics have been repelled or baffled by it, their reactions most often stemming from misunderstanding of the play. In order to avert such misunderstanding, it is necessary to examine two crucial aspects of the play: its language and its philosophical orientation.
First of all, the language of the play is intimately connected to Beckett’s own background in language studies and literary influences. Beckett was born in Dublin, Ireland, and took his bachelor’s degree in French and Italian at Trinity College. After teaching English in Paris for two years, he returned to Trinity to teach and complete his master’s degree in French. Next, he traveled in England and on the Continent, and he wrote poems, short stories, and novels in English. He at last settled permanently in Paris, except for a brief hiatus during World War II, and began writing in French in the late 1940’s. Waiting for Godot was originally written in French and then translated into English by Beckett himself. The play is full of verbal and linguistic play; it is the work of a master of words and wordplay.
Second, during Beckett’s first sojourn in Paris, from 1928 to 1930, he met James Joyce, a meeting that launched a long and mutually satisfying friendship between the two Irish expatriates and language experts. The philosophical influence of Joyce on Beckett’s work is evident in the language play in Waiting for Godot. Puns, allusions, and linguistic tricks abound. Joyce and Beckett had little respect for literary convention, including, to an extent, the convention that everything in a book should make perfect sense or be perfectly clear.
Critics have expended great effort, for example, in trying to decipher the word “Godot.” Beckett himself declined to explain, but critics, undeterred, continue to...
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