Books

Mediations on a Play Where Nothing Happens: Waiting for Godot Review

Important Note: This play talks about suicide and death and includes representations of slavery.

What makes it good?

  • Wit and dialogue
  • Friendship between two people who are reluctant to say they care about each other
  • Questions about the nature of truth

Reasons I struggled to get into this play

  • It is long
  • The two acts are basically the same
  • No key drama moves the plot forward
  • I’m not sure I got it the first time I read it

I’m going to talk about a play where almost nothing happens. Waiting for Godot consists of two acts and the two protagonists do almost nothing in the first act and do the same thing in the second. This long story of stasis includes theological questionings about Jesus’ crucifixion, a speech from a quiet character given for reasons unknown, slow witticisms, questions about epistemology, and reluctant friendship.

In the midst of a desert-dry plot, our attention reading or watching falls on any molecule of meaning that the dialogue offers. But going into full analysis mode misses much of the point. The action, the dialogue, the set and props also tell the story.

Remember that this is a play, and it is a long play. I remember looking over it for hours in my British Literature class and then for a second time when I wrote this review. It still baffles me to this day, so I’ll go into some parts the best I can, but there is certainly more that can be talked about.

We all go to plays because we are bored. You could also say we go to plays to be entertained or because we like to see something that makes meaning out of experience.

So, whether you are bored, want to be entertained, or are looking for a way to understand the meaning of your life, you should read and watch Waiting for Godot. You get to see people on stage who are in the same boat as you. They are waiting for something, for anything to happen.

Waiting for Godot is primarily a dialogue between the two major characters Estragon and Vladimir. I would say that the story is one of uncertain friendship. They don’t always love each other, in fact, they aren’t quite certain if they even want to spend time together. Perhaps they would do better off alone.

Vladimir and Esgragon don’t really fight, because they have the same goal. They’re waiting for Godot, they’re searching for purpose, for a task to fulfill. They are asking questions and waiting for an answer. These are universal questions and based on my reading, Waiting for Godot doesn’t answer any of them.

That doesn’t mean, that the characters are utterly inactive, though. The characters do do some fascinating things. They pick up a carrot and want a turnip. They chat about life, they walk around, and they quarrel.

Inactivity

Estragon and Vladimir spend the play waiting for Godot to arrive and tell them what to do. Godot is their purpose, the one that they should be waiting for, and the one they respect. They won’t leave until he arrives. They don’t appear ambitious or excited for Godot’s arrival. They mostly want him to come because they are bored and feel like they cannot leave without him.

But, oddly enough, they don’t question Godot himself. They don’t question this meeting that they’re having with this man. They don’t question Godot’s character or reasons for meeting. They’re just blindly obedient and trust him because he is the only available authority. Neither character decides to take the matter into their own hands.

I want to note that Godot is not to represent God. Some have interpreted Godot as God and thought that they are waiting for a God that will not come. But this isn’t a correct interpretation by the author’s own words. Beckett said, “If I meant to write God, I would write God.”

Beckett himself is agnostic, but his questions are ones that everyone asks at least a few times in their life. What do we do with our lives? What are we supposed to be doing here? How do we live in a world that seems so repetitive?

These are valid questions, but these characters aren’t great at answering them or even grappling with them well. They just expect someone else, who they barely know anything about to give them purpose in life. When I look at this play, I wonder if taking Godot out of the equation would make their lives better. Why not make a decision and take a risk to find a purpose outside of a vague authority. He hasn’t shown up in days, what is Godot going to do if they leave?

If you’re still not convinced that Godot is not God or a metaphor for God, I’d like to offer a few other points. First, Godot isn’t treated like a God, no one prays to or worships him. Godot doesn’t provide Estragon and Vladimir a way to live or even show that he cares for them or anyone else at all. Godot never reveals anything about himself to them either, he just remains a complete mystery. We don’t even know if he really exists and ultimately, Estragon and Vladimir don’t really care about him.

When a messenger boy comes and tells them Godot isn’t coming, they don’t ask much about Godot. Instead, they are concerned about the boy’s well being. They ask if the boy if Godot feeds him enough, if he’s good to the boy, if Godot beats him, and if he’s happy. Godot sounds pretty bad. He beats the boy’s brother but isn’t exactly kind to the boy.

When Vladimir asks if the boy is happy, the boy responds:

"You're not unhappy." The boy hesitates. "Do you hear me?

Yes Sir.

Well? 

I don't know, Sir

You don't know if you're unhappy or not?

No sir.

"You're as bad as myself (Silence). Where do you sleep?"

This scene is pretty bad, but it shows that above all, Vladimir cares more about another person’s well being over a vague authority figure. The play doesn’t ever hit you over the head with how great it is to love other people and be nice and everything. This scene is sweet, if rare, moment. That leads us to the question of friendship.

Friendship

Estragon and Vladimir are somewhat reluctant friends. They are joined in this goal of waiting for Godot and they seem to like each other enough to stay together. They also wonder if they should part a few times. They contrast with Pozzo and Lucky, who are in an abusive power dynamic. It is one of servant/master or slave/master, because it is unclear whether or not Lucky is able to leave the abusive Pozzo. The contrast between the respectful friendship of people figuring out life and the abusive relationship between Pozzo and Lucky is a big part of the story.

I liked how Beckett portrayed Vladimir and Estragon’s relationship. They both have different perspectives on the world. Vladimir thinks more about philosophical and theological issues, while Estragon is more concerned with the physical world. Estragon also forgets things pretty often. They balance each other out well, even if they don’t understand each other fully. I like how they both seem to like each other, but they don’t completely get why they keep coming back to each other.

Lucky’s Speech

I’m still not sure I understand this speech because it is nonsense. Lucky gives a speech that doesn’t make much sense. It says “for reasons unknown” several times and despite the rest of the words, it suggests that we don’t know why anything happens the way it does. According to Lucky, any attempt at meaning becomes nonsensical in the world we live in.

Theological Questioning

If you are looking for the part in the play where Beckett questions religion, this is it. Vladimir reflects on the story of Jesus the three thieves on the cross. He remembers how one story says that both thieves taunted Jesus, and another says there is a good thief who is saved and a mean one. The question is a bit theological. It is questioning the truth of the Bible, but it is also asking us about truth as a whole. How do we know what truth is? How can we tell the truth if two different stories are different? How can we tell what the truth is when we have different interpretations of the truth.

Sometimes we only hear one version of the truth, like some people only hear one story of the thieves on the cross and assume there is one good thief and one bad thief. I think a lot of us prefer this story to the one where both thieves are mean, so we remember it that way. In this play though, I’m not sure if people remember things according to preference or choice. It seems to be random for these guys.

Vladimir and Estragon often remember things differently and quarrel about which rendition of events is true. They cannot even remember how many days they have been waiting for Godot. They can’t tell which boy is which, even, and they remember differently than Pozzo.

Life seems more like a series of events over a long, endless span. It is our actions that confirm our existence, and that even while we wait, we cannot live without acting. I think of writing that way. I think I’d like to do something to give the impression that I exist and that I’m engaging with these stories and the world. I think that’s something we’re all looking for.

“We always find something, eh Didi, to give the impression that we exist.”

Estragon

Passing Time vs. Living

If you are a person, I’m not sure if you’ll relate completely to this story. The people in this story appear to live in an anarchic society or one run by Godot. They do not live under a capitalist society, and if they do, they at least are committing tax evasion. The life Estragon and Vladimir live is only possible because they somehow manage to drink and feed themselves in the wilderness without a job. Godot is their employer of sorts, but he doesn’t make them do anything else. They only have to wait and not work, and we don’t even know if they are being paid. He does appear to employ the boys who work for him, but that is all we know.

Therefore, the world the characters inhabit is quite unlike our own. They are able to sit and wander and do essentially nothing. There are few worries about how they will be able to afford to stay alive. They also seem decently content living in the wilderness, at least, they do not worry greatly about their ability to stay alive.

Therefore, they are allowed to be idle, and can spend much of their time just passing time, rather than trying to make a living.

The Purposeless of Waiting

Estragon and Vladimir are waiting for meaning, instruction, to be told what to do. Pozzo is not waiting for Godot, and he is a terrible, tyrannical, abusive person. He is the only one that we don’t see living under someone else’s orders.

I asked before if Estragon and Vladimir would be happier if they ignored Godot and did what they wanted. They are missing out and don’t accept all the freedom that they have. Time is being wasted as they wait for him to come. He dictates what space they stay in, how long they stay together, and their patience. The world they live in is also unjust, there are unhealthy dynamics between boss and employee, and between Pozzo and Lucky, but these relationships continue in a cycle. Life is all a cycle in this story.

Pozzo: I don’t seem to be able to . . . (long hesitation). . . to depart

Estragon: Such is life.

Estragon has a point here. This is also maybe the only point where I can empathize with Pozzo.

Vladimir: That passed the time.

Estragon: It would have passed anyway. 

Vladimir: Yes, but not so rapidly.

Pause

Estragon: What do we do now?
That's the odd message of this story, that we fill our lives with random events that we might forget. In Waiting for Godot, there is no exciting moment. I'm not sure I still understand this play after all these years. Is the problem that they are waiting for a purpose instead of seeking it ourselves or looking for a better purpose, or does life is has little meaning or direction whether or not Godot was there? 

I’d like to think that perhaps they could do better if they just left Godot behind, but they don’t do that. So, we’ll never know. It frustrated me, especially while reading a play where almost nothing happens. In an odd way, I liked how this play ended without answers, because it feels like real life. Although Vladimir and Estragon have few responsibilities, I could relate to them.

Even without things to do, life without a goal or plan can feel like we’re Waiting for Godot. Sometimes life isn’t as romantic as other plays seem. Our connections with others aren’t always perfect and as humans we know that other people don’t understand and remember events the same way that we do. Our consciousness are different. This is captured through the characters of Estragon and Vladimir.

On one hand, this play makes me pessimistic. Taking action seems to be an answer to their problems. I wonder why Estragon and Vladimir keep coming back to each other. Listening to another person and hearing their perspective helps us, even if we don’t find the truth. I like Waiting For Godot for that reason.

When it comes to questions, rather than ignoring or trying to solve everything, it gives us space to ask questions and lets us question the answers and sit in uncertainty for a bit.

Have you ever read Waiting for Godot? What did you think? Did you like reading it or get annoyed with the characters? Let me know in the comments below.

Important Note: This play talks about suicide and death and includes representations of slavery.

What makes it good?

  • Wit and dialogue
  • Friendship between two people who are reluctant to say they care about each other
  • Questions about the nature of truth

Reasons I struggled to get into this play

  • It is long
  • The two acts are basically the same
  • No key drama moves the plot forward
  • I’m not sure I got it the first time I read it

I’m going to talk about a play where almost nothing happens. Waiting for Godot consists of two acts and the two protagonists do almost nothing in the first act and do the same thing in the second. This long story of stasis includes theological questionings about Jesus’ crucifixion, a speech from a quiet character given for reasons unknown, slow witticisms, questions about epistemology, and reluctant friendship.

In the midst of a desert-dry plot, our attention reading or watching falls on any molecule of meaning that the dialogue offers. But going into full analysis mode misses much of the point. The action, the dialogue, the set and props also tell the story.

Remember that this is a play, and it is a long play. I remember looking over it for hours in my British Literature class and then for a second time when I wrote this review. It still baffles me to this day, so I’ll go into some parts the best I can, but there is certainly more that can be talked about.

We all go to plays because we are bored. You could also say we go to plays to be entertained or because we like to see something that makes meaning out of experience.

So, whether you are bored, want to be entertained, or are looking for a way to understand the meaning of your life, you should read and watch Waiting for Godot. You get to see people on stage who are in the same boat as you. They are waiting for something, for anything to happen.

Waiting for Godot is primarily a dialogue between the two major characters Estragon and Vladimir. I would say that the story is one of uncertain friendship. They don’t always love each other, in fact, they aren’t quite certain if they even want to spend time together. Perhaps they would do better off alone.

Vladimir and Esgragon don’t really fight, because they have the same goal. They’re waiting for Godot, they’re searching for purpose, for a task to fulfill. They are asking questions and waiting for an answer. These are universal questions and based on my reading, Waiting for Godot doesn’t answer any of them.

That doesn’t mean, that the characters are utterly inactive, though. The characters do do some fascinating things. They pick up a carrot and want a turnip. They chat about life, they walk around, and they quarrel.

Inactivity

Estragon and Vladimir spend the play waiting for Godot to arrive and tell them what to do. Godot is their purpose, the one that they should be waiting for, and the one they respect. They won’t leave until he arrives. They don’t appear ambitious or excited for Godot’s arrival. They mostly want him to come because they are bored and feel like they cannot leave without him.

But, oddly enough, they don’t question Godot himself. They don’t question this meeting that they’re having with this man. They don’t question Godot’s character or reasons for meeting. They’re just blindly obedient and trust him because he is the only available authority. Neither character decides to take the matter into their own hands.

I want to note that Godot is not to represent God. Some have interpreted Godot as God and thought that they are waiting for a God that will not come. But this isn’t a correct interpretation by the author’s own words. Beckett said, “If I meant to write God, I would write God.”

Beckett himself is agnostic, but his questions are ones that everyone asks at least a few times in their life. What do we do with our lives? What are we supposed to be doing here? How do we live in a world that seems so repetitive?

These are valid questions, but these characters aren’t great at answering them or even grappling with them well. They just expect someone else, who they barely know anything about to give them purpose in life. When I look at this play, I wonder if taking Godot out of the equation would make their lives better. Why not make a decision and take a risk to find a purpose outside of a vague authority. He hasn’t shown up in days, what is Godot going to do if they leave?

If you’re still not convinced that Godot is not God or a metaphor for God, I’d like to offer a few other points. First, Godot isn’t treated like a God, no one prays to or worships him. Godot doesn’t provide Estragon and Vladimir a way to live or even show that he cares for them or anyone else at all. Godot never reveals anything about himself to them either, he just remains a complete mystery. We don’t even know if he really exists and ultimately, Estragon and Vladimir don’t really care about him.

When a messenger boy comes and tells them Godot isn’t coming, they don’t ask much about Godot. Instead, they are concerned about the boy’s well being. They ask if the boy if Godot feeds him enough, if he’s good to the boy, if Godot beats him, and if he’s happy. Godot sounds pretty bad. He beats the boy’s brother but isn’t exactly kind to the boy.

When Vladimir asks if the boy is happy, the boy responds:

"You're not unhappy." The boy hesitates. "Do you hear me?

Yes Sir.

Well? 

I don't know, Sir

You don't know if you're unhappy or not?

No sir.

"You're as bad as myself (Silence). Where do you sleep?"

This scene is pretty bad, but it shows that above all, Vladimir cares more about another person’s well being over a vague authority figure. The play doesn’t ever hit you over the head with how great it is to love other people and be nice and everything. This scene is sweet, if rare, moment. That leads us to the question of friendship.

Friendship

Estragon and Vladimir are somewhat reluctant friends. They are joined in this goal of waiting for Godot and they seem to like each other enough to stay together. They also wonder if they should part a few times. They contrast with Pozzo and Lucky, who are in an abusive power dynamic. It is one of servant/master or slave/master, because it is unclear whether or not Lucky is able to leave the abusive Pozzo. The contrast between the respectful friendship of people figuring out life and the abusive relationship between Pozzo and Lucky is a big part of the story.

I liked how Beckett portrayed Vladimir and Estragon’s relationship. They both have different perspectives on the world. Vladimir thinks more about philosophical and theological issues, while Estragon is more concerned with the physical world. Estragon also forgets things pretty often. They balance each other out well, even if they don’t understand each other fully. I like how they both seem to like each other, but they don’t completely get why they keep coming back to each other.

Lucky’s Speech

I’m still not sure I understand this speech because it is nonsense. Lucky gives a speech that doesn’t make much sense. It says “for reasons unknown” several times and despite the rest of the words, it suggests that we don’t know why anything happens the way it does. According to Lucky, any attempt at meaning becomes nonsensical in the world we live in.

Theological Questioning

If you are looking for the part in the play where Beckett questions religion, this is it. Vladimir reflects on the story of Jesus the three thieves on the cross. He remembers how one story says that both thieves taunted Jesus, and another says there is a good thief who is saved and a mean one. The question is a bit theological. It is questioning the truth of the Bible, but it is also asking us about truth as a whole. How do we know what truth is? How can we tell the truth if two different stories are different? How can we tell what the truth is when we have different interpretations of the truth.

Sometimes we only hear one version of the truth, like some people only hear one story of the thieves on the cross and assume there is one good thief and one bad thief. I think a lot of us prefer this story to the one where both thieves are mean, so we remember it that way. In this play though, I’m not sure if people remember things according to preference or choice. It seems to be random for these guys.

Vladimir and Estragon often remember things differently and quarrel about which rendition of events is true. They cannot even remember how many days they have been waiting for Godot. They can’t tell which boy is which, even, and they remember differently than Pozzo.

Life seems more like a series of events over a long, endless span. It is our actions that confirm our existence, and that even while we wait, we cannot live without acting. I think of writing that way. I think I’d like to do something to give the impression that I exist and that I’m engaging with these stories and the world. I think that’s something we’re all looking for.

“We always find something, eh Didi, to give the impression that we exist.”

Estragon

Passing Time vs. Living

If you are a person, I’m not sure if you’ll relate completely to this story. The people in this story appear to live in an anarchic society or one run by Godot. They do not live under a capitalist society, and if they do, they at least are committing tax evasion. The life Estragon and Vladimir live is only possible because they somehow manage to drink and feed themselves in the wilderness without a job. Godot is their employer of sorts, but he doesn’t make them do anything else. They only have to wait and not work, and we don’t even know if they are being paid. He does appear to employ the boys who work for him, but that is all we know.

Therefore, the world the characters inhabit is quite unlike our own. They are able to sit and wander and do essentially nothing. There are few worries about how they will be able to afford to stay alive. They also seem decently content living in the wilderness, at least, they do not worry greatly about their ability to stay alive.

Therefore, they are allowed to be idle, and can spend much of their time just passing time, rather than trying to make a living.

The Purposeless of Waiting

Estragon and Vladimir are waiting for meaning, instruction, to be told what to do. Pozzo is not waiting for Godot, and he is a terrible, tyrannical, abusive person. He is the only one that we don’t see living under someone else’s orders.

I asked before if Estragon and Vladimir would be happier if they ignored Godot and did what they wanted. They are missing out and don’t accept all the freedom that they have. Time is being wasted as they wait for him to come. He dictates what space they stay in, how long they stay together, and their patience. The world they live in is also unjust, there are unhealthy dynamics between boss and employee, and between Pozzo and Lucky, but these relationships continue in a cycle. Life is all a cycle in this story.

Pozzo: I don’t seem to be able to . . . (long hesitation). . . to depart

Estragon: Such is life.

Estragon has a point here. This is also maybe the only point where I can empathize with Pozzo.

Vladimir: That passed the time.

Estragon: It would have passed anyway. 

Vladimir: Yes, but not so rapidly.

Pause

Estragon: What do we do now?

That’s the odd message of this story, that we fill our lives with random events that we might forget. In Waiting for Godot, there is no exciting moment. I’m not sure I still understand this play after all these years. Is the problem that they are waiting for a purpose instead of seeking it ourselves or looking for a better purpose, or does life is has little meaning or direction whether or not Godot was there?

I’d like to think that perhaps they could do better if they just left Godot behind, but they don’t do that. So, we’ll never know. It frustrated me, especially while reading a play where almost nothing happens. In an odd way, I liked how this play ended without answers, because it feels like real life. Although Vladimir and Estragon have few responsibilities, I could relate to them.

Even without things to do, life without a goal or plan can feel like we’re Waiting for Godot. Sometimes life isn’t as romantic as other plays seem. Our connections with others aren’t always perfect and as humans we know that other people don’t understand and remember events the same way that we do. Our consciousness are different. This is captured through the characters of Estragon and Vladimir.

On one hand, this play makes me pessimistic. Taking action seems to be an answer to their problems. I wonder why Estragon and Vladimir keep coming back to each other. Listening to another person and hearing their perspective helps us, even if we don’t find the truth. I like Waiting For Godot for that reason.

When it comes to questions, rather than ignoring or trying to solve everything, it gives us space to ask questions and lets us question the answers and sit in uncertainty for a bit.

Have you ever read Waiting for Godot? What did you think? Did you like reading it or get annoyed with the characters? Let me know in the comments below.