Absurdity in Samuel Becketts "Waiting for Godot"

Term Paper (Advanced seminar) 2013 21 Pages

Didactics - English - Literature, Works


List of contents

1 Introduction
1.1 Brief information about the author (Samuel Beckett)
1.2 Title and Subtitle

2 Summary of the play Waiting for Godot

3 The Theatre and the Literature of the Absurd
3.1 The term “absurd”
3.2 Waiting for Godot – an absurdist drama
3.2.1 Characters Vladimir and Estragon Pozzo and Lucky Godot The Boy
3.2.2 Plot, Time and Place
3.2.3 Language
3.2.4 Symbols

4 Conclusion

5 Bibliography
5.1 Web Sources
5.2 Other Sources

6 Statement of authorship

1. Introduction

1.1 Brief information about the author (Samuel Beckett)

Samuel Beckett was born in 1906 in Dublin and died in 1989 in Paris. He was an Anglo-Irish author and wrote in French as well as in English. Furthermore, he wrote poems and novels and worked as a theatre director. Samuel Beckett is considered the master of absurdity. (cf. Schwanitz 323) The central theme in his works is the meaninglessness of the human existence. (cf. Wunderlich)

He was friends with James Joyce and was impressed by Joyce’s “stream of consciousness” – a special literary method that James Joyce used. The idea of the “stream of consciousness” is an on-going process of associating things, i.e. the idea of getting inside into the uncontrolled process of thinking of a person.

Waiting for Godot (1954) is Beckett’s translation of his own original French version that is called En attendant Godot (1952).

In 1969 he received the Nobel Price for Literature, but he did not accept the price because people thought, Waiting for Godot would be a potential religious play. According to Beckett that was wrong and that is why he decided to refuse the price.

Finally, Samuel Beckett was the most unique, singular writer in English/French since 1945.

1.2 Title and Subtitle

According to “Lexikon der Weltliteratur”, the title of the play already includes past history, action and solution, sense and meaninglessness, goal and unsatisfiability. (cf. Von Wilpert 1431)

In general, a title evokes expectations and is foreshadowing the coming scene. When there is a name mentioned in the title, we automatically assume that this name stands for the most important character in the text. But with regard to Waiting for Godot we learn that “waiting“ appears – but Godot never does. Thus, we talk about an unconventional handling of the title through which a disillusion is created. In short, one could say that the title is misleading you.

Vladimir and Estragon, as well as the audience are waiting for Godot to come. Godot exists in the minds of the characters and thus, he is definitely an important character although he never appears on stage.

Furthermore, the name “Godot“ may sound like an ordinary name to French people, but in English the word “God“ is indicated.

The subtitle A Tragicomedy in Two Acts consists of two important words within the word “Tragicomedy“, namely “tragic“ and “comedy“. While the first term stands for the endless process of waiting and for helplessness, the second term might stand for the irony of waiting, i.e. the way they are waiting and what they do while they are waiting etc. could be interpreted as somehow funny. Throughout the play we also learn about the nicknames of Vladimir (Didi) and Estragon (Gogo). These tender names give the impression that Didi and Gogo are a kind of „comic couple“ - a couple that is sometimes in love and sometimes wants to separate. On the one hand they cannot live with each other and on the other hand they cannot live without each other.

Moreover, there is no conventional plot structure and there are only two acts instead of five, which is as well quite unusual. In addition, the tragic and comic effect also refers to the fact that they are kind of “caught“ all the time – from beginning to end:

First sentence, act one:

ESTRAGON (giving up again). Nothing to be done.

Last sentence, act two:

ESTRAGON. Yes, let’s go.

(They do not move.)

(Beckett, Waiting for Godot 5, 112)

2 Summary of the play Waiting for Godot

A play like this is very difficult to summarize as there is hardly any plot or progression of an action. But this is what makes Waiting for Godot so unique.

At the beginning of act one there are two men, Vladimir and Estragon, on a country road. There is a bald tree. Evening. Estragon is sitting on a mound. Both are apparently waiting for a person named “Godot” – but they are not totally sure about that. While they are waiting, two other characters, Pozzo and Lucky, walk by. Lucky, as Pozzo’s servant, is lead on a leash and has to carry all the luggage. Pozzo, Vladimir and Estragon start a conversation and later on Pozzo makes Lucky, to their amusement, think and dance. Afterwards Pozzo and Lucky move on while Estragon and Vladimir stay where they are.

A boy appears and tells them that Godot will not come today, but that he will surely come the next day. Vladimir and Estragon decide to go, as it is already night, but they do not move.

In act two the tree has some leaves. Vladimir and Estragon are still – or again – waiting for this person called “Godot”. Estragon and Pozzo have forgotten what happened the day before. Vladimir remembers what happened yesterday, but he begins to doubt whether he is right or not. To pass the time they think up games. Pozzo and Lucky come by again, but they have changed. Pozzo is blind now and dependent on Lucky, who still “plays” Pozzo’s servant. Lucky and Pozzo move on and again the boy appears to tell them that Godot will not come today but certainly tomorrow.

As the night before, Vladimir and Estragon decide to go but do not move.

3 The Theatre and the Literature of the Absurd

“'The Theatre of the Absurd' is a term coined by the critic Martin Esslin for the work of a number of playwrights, mostly written in the 1950s and 1960s. The term is derived from an essay by the French philosopher Albert Camus. In his 'Myth of Sisyphus', written in 1942, he first defined the human situation as basically meaningless and absurd. The 'absurd' plays by Samuel Beckett, Arthur Adamov, Eugene Ionesco, Jean Genet, Harold Pinter and others all share the view that man is inhabiting a universe with which he is out of key. Its meaning is indecipherable and his place within it is without purpose. [...] The origins of the Theatre of the Absurd are rooted in the avant-garde experiments in art of the 1920s and 1930s.” (Dr Culík)

The Theater of the Absurd wants its viewer to “draw his own conclusions, make his own errors. Though Theaters of the Absurd may be seen as nonsense, they have something to say and can be understood.” (Esslin 21)

3.1 The term “absurd”

The definition of the term “absurd” is very important in order to understand what is meant by the Theatre and the Literature of the Absurd.

Both, the Theatre and the Literature of the Absurd have the idea that the human condition is essentially absurd and can only be presented in literature that is absurd, too. Their roots are in Expressionism, in Dadaism, in Surrealism and in the Stream of Consciousness Fiction.

Dadaism is a streaming in art and literature that appeared between 1910 and 1924 and regarded itself as anarchic and anti-bourgeois and its art should be anti-rationalist. It could also be seen as an anarchic counter attitude as a kind of protest against conventional art. The word “Dada” is actually French and refers to a toy of children. So, the term “Dada” is kind of imitating the childish sound “dadada”. That means, we are talking about an art that is like a newborn child. The centers of Dadaism are in Cologne, New York, Berlin, Vienna and Moscow.

A concrete definition of the term “absurd” is the following:

“Absurd is something that has no aim […] When man is cut off from his religious, metaphysical and transcendental roots, he is lost. All his actions become senseless, absurd, useless, nipped in the bud.” (Killinger 272)

In a definition in Collins English Dictionary it says:

ab·surd [ab-surd, -zurd]


utterly or obviously senseless, illogical, or untrue; contrary to all reasonor common sense; laughably foolish or false: an absurd explanation.


the quality or condition of existing in a meaningless and irrational world.

irrational, silly, ludicrous, nonsensical. Absurd, ridiculous, preposterous all mean inconsistent with reason or common sense. Absurd means utterly opposed to truth or reason: an absurd claim. Ridiculous implies that something is fit only to be laughed at, perhaps contemptuously: a ridiculous suggestion. Preposterous implies an extreme of foolishness: a preposterous proposal.

logical, sensible

As a result, one could say that “absurd“ refers to human beings unable to find meaning in the universe.



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Humboldt-University of Berlin – Anglistik und Amerikanistik
Waitig for Godot Samuel Beckett Theatre of the absurd



Title: Absurdity in Samuel Becketts "Waiting for Godot"