According to both theatre critics and literary scholars, Beckett’s Waiting for Godot is essentially a play in which nothing happens not once, but twice. This often-used phrase describes the way in which the characters find themselves stuck in an endless cycle of waiting throughout the play, unable to make any forward progress toward their goal by the end of either act. The idea that Waiting for Godot’s plot is circular rather than linear plays a key role in illustrating the bleak themes that Beckett explores throughout and emphasizes its identity as Theatre of the Absurd. This artistic movement, which emerged in Europe in the 1950s as a response to the aftermath of World War II, features nonsensical scenarios and irrational characters. Many playwrights of the era looked to this nontraditional form of performance in order to create art reflective of the hopelessness that many felt at the time, and Beckett’s choice to put characters on stage who virtually do nothing allows him to comment on the meaninglessness of human existence. Estragon and Vladimir want so desperately to have a sense of purpose in their lives that they fully commit to waiting for Godot, whom they believe will save them, to arrive. This innate need for purpose serves as the play’s central conflict, although Beckett emphasizes throughout that their goal is impossible to achieve.

Although the plot of the play as a whole is repetitive and circular, each act has an arc that reflects the pointlessness of Estragon and Vladimir’s waiting. Act One works to set up the absurd nature of the characters’ universe and challenge the audience’s understanding of what makes an idea or action important. The inciting incident occurs at the very top of the play when Vladimir enters to find Estragon helplessly pulling at his boot. This moment, which involves a recognition of the fact that they have met like this many times prior, marks the beginning of their mission to wait for Godot to arrive. Beyond the strangeness of the dialogue’s content and delivery, the minimalism of the set design and the futility of Estragon’s physical struggle create the sense that the characters exist in a rather empty world that defies explanation. Establishing these absurd qualities right away allows Beckett to call attention to the illogical reasoning behind Estragon and Vladimir’s inability to leave, especially since they have no clear concept of who Godot is or what he can do for them.

The rising action of the play continues as Estragon and Vladimir attempt to find ways to entertain themselves as they wait, one of the most notable being their interactions with Pozzo and his slave, Lucky. Estragon initially thinks that Pozzo is Godot, a point of view which reinforces the ambiguity of Godot’s identity, and Vladimir struggles to express why they must wait for Godot. Through these details, the meaninglessness of their behavior emerges as nothing they do absolves their suffering or gets them closer to Godot. After Pozzo and Lucky exit, a boy enters on behalf of Mr. Godot and tells Estragon and Vladimir that his master will come to meet them the following day, and this moment serves as the climax of Act One. Godot’s absence thwarts their attempt to find purpose, renders their day of waiting completely pointless, and reinforces the unsettling uncertainty of their world. With Vladimir’s resolve to continue waiting for Godot the following day in the falling action of Act One, the characters find themselves back to exactly where they started.

Act Two essentially repeats the arc of Act One in order to emphasize the extent to which Estragon and Vladimir are trapped in an endless cycle, although this act features even more unexplainable events and sudden epiphanies which elaborate on Beckett’s primary arguments. Much like Act One, the inciting incident of Act Two occurs when Vladimir enters singing a repetitive song with Estragon following closely behind. Estragon does not remember anything from the previous day, and although Vladimir attempts to jog his memory, his forgetfulness suggests that nothing about their experience was noteworthy. The rising action continues as they discuss a myriad of random topics, a choice which calls attention to the ineffectiveness of language to authentically communicate, and struggle to come to terms with unexplainable changes such as the new leaves on the tree and Pozzo’s blindness. These differences from Act One suggest that humankind can never truly understand the world around them due to the influence of chance, or randomness.

As Act Two goes on, however, Vladimir does get closer to grasping the reality of their hopeless situation. When Godot’s boy returns in the climax to deliver the news that his master will come the following day, Vladimir lunges at him in frustration as he realizes that Godot may never come. The bleak tone of the falling action, which features Estragon and Vladimir committing to wait the following day, finalizes Beckett’s ultimate argument that human experience is meaningless and suffering is inescapable.

Popular pages: Waiting for Godot