Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.

The Inherent Meaninglessness of the Universe

One of the hallmarks of Waiting for Godot, and Theatre of the Absurd in general, is the idea that the action of the play is inherently meaningless. Estragon opens Act One by admitting as much, ruminating on the fact that there is “nothing to be done.” Everything that Vladimir and Estragon do to pass the time, including their banter with each other as well as their run-in with Pozzo and Lucky, appears pointless and fails to serve their primary goal of meeting Godot. As the circular nature of the plot suggests, nothing helps them escape the waiting stage that they find themselves stuck in. Beckett invites the audience to wonder if Godot will ever come, and this possibility renders Vladimir and Estragon’s entire lives futile. By depicting this absurd dynamic on stage, Beckett ultimately suggests that finding purpose in a world full of chaos and uncertainty is an impossible act. This perspective is especially poignant given the unprecedented post-World War II era during which Beckett originally wrote the play.

Another key way in which Beckett explores the universe’s lack of meaning is by mocking and challenging typical sources of cultural authority such as religion, academia, and friendship. In Act One, Vladimir pokes holes in the Bible’s authority by questioning the story of the two thieves in the Gospels, and this reevaluation of biblical narratives suggests that religion is not a stable or reliable lens through which to view the world. The credibility of academia falls apart during Lucky’s speech, which attempts and fails to use an academic structure and language, and Estragon and Vladimir’s inability to acknowledge their friendship calls the significance of companionship into question. All of these details point to the inherent meaninglessness of the constructs that shape the ways in which humans attempt to interpret the universe.

The Ineffectiveness of Language

One of the hallmarks of Theatre of the Absurd is a breakdown of communication between the characters, and Waiting for Godot is no exception. The dialogue throughout the play is complex and at times completely nonsensical, and while this choice may prove frustrating for audience members who cannot revisit a passage like a reader can, Beckett ultimately immerses them in the effects of inadequate language. Between the frequent repetition of lines and the characters’ inability to maintain focus on a singular topic of conversation, the logic of the dialogue becomes easily lost. This outcome, however, is precisely what allows Beckett to argue that language fails to capture the reality of the human experience, especially in the context of the suffering brought on by World War II. The contrast between the dialogue and the characters’ actions, such as when Estragon and Vladimir agree to leave at the end of each act but fail to move, highlights the inherent meaninglessness of their words. If the language they use to communicate simple ideas to one another has no intention behind it, then the ability for words to truthfully capture more complex emotions appears impossible.

While the play as a whole is difficult to follow due to the intentionally confusing nature of the dialogue, Lucky’s speech in Act One serves as a prime example of the failures of language. Following Pozzo’s instruction, Lucky begins to “think” and delivers a long monologue which is completely incomprehensible. He alludes to certain themes such as anxiety about religion and the unknown and does so in a quasi-academic tone, but his speech quickly deteriorates into a garbled mess. Not only does this choice allow Beckett to challenge the cultural authority awarded to academia by mocking its conventions, it also illuminates the broader struggle to make meaning out of meaningless words.

Enduring Suffering Through Companionship

Given the significance of paired characters in Theatre of the Absurd, Beckett’s choice to situate two distinct pairs at the center of the play speaks to the importance of companionship in the face of meaninglessness and suffering. The absurd universe that the play’s four primary characters find themselves in offers no relief from their endless boredom except each other, and while the relationships between them change throughout, they continue to cling to each other out of a need for stability. Being in the presence of another person allows each character to endure the unique struggles they each face individually. The downside of this dynamic, however, is that their reliance on one another makes it impossible for them to escape the sources of their suffering.

Estragon and Vladimir’s relationship is what enables them to pursue their ultimate goal in the play, to wait for Godot to arrive. Vladimir admits in Act Two that they are “bored to death,” but because he and Estragon are able to look out for one another and talk together, they find ways to fill the emptiness of their waiting. This dynamic can be positive and supportive, such as when Vladimir helps Estragon remember things or Estragon explains the consequences of hanging themselves to Vladimir, but it also has its more toxic moments, such as when they begin to berate each other. Regardless of these inconsistencies, the pair never commits to separating despite Estragon suggesting it numerous times. Vladimir in particular expresses loneliness whenever Estragon leaves or falls asleep, suggesting that he fears the nothingness that he would face if he waited for Godot alone.

The other major pair of characters in the play, Pozzo and Lucky, have a dramatically different relationship than Estragon and Vladimir, but their connection also offers a degree of stability that the rest of the world fails to offer. In Act One, Pozzo gains satisfaction from bullying Lucky, using him to bolster his sense of self-importance. While he is not necessarily suffering like Lucky is in this scenario, he still finds himself struggling against a universe in which his assumed superiority is meaningless. Pozzo’s sudden blindness in Act Two does bring true suffering upon him, however, and Lucky again serves as a source of support for him. Lucky admittedly gains very little from his companionship with Pozzo given how much pain he inflicts on him, but being literally tied together gives him a sense of certainty which none of the other characters manage to achieve.

Popular pages: Waiting for Godot