Symbols are objects, characters, figures, and colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.

The Tree

The lone tree that sits onstage throughout the entirety of Waiting for Godot functions symbolically on two levels, allowing Beckett to establish a particular mood for the play as well as emphasize the non-traditional universe in which the action occurs. When the curtain rises, the bare tree is the only piece of scenery that the audience sees behind Estragon and Vladimir. Not only does this minimalist choice add to the play’s ambiguity by making it impossible for the audience to identify the setting as a specific location, it also works to create a bleak mood before the actors even begin their dialogue. The fact that the tree is barren speaks to a world largely devoid of life and symbolizes the emptiness that Estragon and Vladimir feel as they pointlessly wait for Godot to arrive. By highlighting this pitiable image in the set design, Beckett invites the audience to sympathize with the events on stage.

Beyond introducing a rather dark and hopeless tone to the play, the tree takes on additional symbolic value in Act Two as it gains a handful of leaves seemingly overnight. Vladimir even mentions the surprising change that occurs to the tree, although Estragon dismisses his insight by suggesting that they were at a different location the day before. The distorted timeline of the tree’s growth serves as an example of the absurdity of the play’s universe. Taking a distinctly natural process and transforming it into an illogical turn of events allows Beckett to hint at the fallibility of the constructs which shape traditional views of the world.

Lucky’s Bags

During Act One, Estragon makes a point to ask Pozzo why Lucky never puts down the bulky bags that he carries with him. Pozzo argues that this behavior stems from a desire to impress him, although Lucky himself remains silent on the subject. These bags, which would likely appear on stage as large and cumbersome, serve as a visual representation of the burdens that individuals must endure throughout their lives. Lucky is essentially Pozzo’s prisoner, literally tied to him by the rope around his neck, and this trapped position reinforces the idea that these burdens are inescapable. He has no logical reason to carry the bags given that they are for Pozzo’s benefit rather than his own, yet the fact that he does so points to the unfairness and senselessness of human suffering.

The impact of this symbolism becomes especially poignant when considered in a post-World War II context. Many artists struggled to find meaningful ways to accurately express the horrors of the war, so they instead sought to emphasize the sense of loss and hopelessness that many felt in that era. Waiting for Godot as a whole features this approach as its nonsensical universe reflects the inherent chaos of a post-war environment, but the detail of Lucky’s bags functions as a symbol on a more individual level. He alone bears the weight of his punishing master’s belongings, a weight that all of the other characters acknowledge is unnecessary. Lucky’s inability to rid himself of the burdensome bags, however, reflects the impossibility of moving on from the traumas of World War II.


Each of the primary characters wears a bowler hat at some point throughout the course of the play, and this costuming detail serves as a symbol of identity as well as the ability to think or articulate. Much like boots are a key signifier of Estragon’s simple, grounded personality, Vladimir’s frequent interest in his hat emphasizes his identity as the most intellectual figure in the play. He initiates almost any dialogue or blocking related to the hats, and he makes an effort to find one that fits him comfortably. In Act Two, Vladimir finds Lucky’s hat on the ground and begins swapping between his own hat, Lucky’s hat, and Estragon’s hat. Beyond the comedic impact that this ridiculous-looking action has, it calls attention to the lack of depth behind their individual identities. The fact that this symbol of Vladimir’s identity can easily transfer from one character to another suggests that they each present a meaningless, superficial version of themselves to the audience.

The capability of thought that these hats represent also emerges as something empty and pointless, especially in the context of Lucky’s speech and Vladimir’s tendency to shake out his hat. According to Pozzo, Lucky cannot think without his hat, and this detail reinforces the connection between hats and intelligence. When they finally put a hat on Lucky’s head, however, he bursts into a rambling, nonsensical speech. This scene, and the hat that appears within it, emphasizes language’s inability to authentically express thoughts and feelings. Similarly, Vladimir’s repeated action of shaking out his hat and knocking on the brim reveals that the hat is, both literally and metaphorically, empty. The ability to think may be present in the world of the play, but Beckett seems to argue that attempting to do so in a meaningful way is futile.

Popular pages: Waiting for Godot