Although Beckett claimed he was not a Christian, the quest for salvation is the cornerstone of the play and frequent Christian allusions serve as its subtext. However, in Waiting for Godot, these allusions serve not to assert belief, but to dramatize its decadence. Once Christianity provided Western civilization with a construct of meaning and hope, but now, decimated by the horrors of two world wars and the deconstruction of reality and meaning in modern philosophy, it is no longer credible. Because the characters no longer believe in Christianity or in anything, they are helpless and alone in a meaningless universe. Yet because the language and values of Christianity are the only ones they know, it serves them as a point of reference for their urgent need to find meaning and purpose. Thus, Estragon compares himself to Christ as the model for his own suffering. Waiting for the mysterious Godot can be understood as humankind waiting for redemption from an otherwise unbearable life. Although Beckett strenuously denied that Godot was God, in Waiting for Godot, as the object of the characters’ ultimate longings and their hope for salvation, he serves a similar function as God. In act 1, Vladimir and Estragon speak of addressing Godot with a kind of prayer. At the end of act 2, the boy-messenger—a possible allusion to Christ—describes him as an old man with a white beard. This description evokes from Vladimir the plaintive cry, “Christ have mercy on us!” an echo of one made by Estragon in act 1 when he and Vladimir ask God and Christ to have mercy on them.
Other references to the Gospels abound. Early in the play, Vladimir speaks of the Gospel of John in which one of the thieves crucified with Jesus was saved, one damned. Although Vladimir does not say so, this Gospel represents the possibility that he and Estragon might also be saved. The tree is the most prominent Christian symbol. Much of the action centers around the tramps’ desire to hang themselves from it, an allusion to crucifixion. Another Christian reference occurs in act 1, when Vladimir alludes to Proverbs 13:12. He tries to recall the lines that speak of hope as a “tree of life,” an allusion that relates directly to the play’s tree. In another example, Vladimir asks Estragon whether he has ever read the Bible. In act 2, frustrated by the inability to identify Pozzo and Lucky, Estragon calls Pozzo “Abel,” and Lucky “Cain.” Taken together, these and many more similar references tell us that Beckett’s characters struggle to find meaning through the only language they know.