Posted in Analysis of Writing

Taking the Existential View

Waiting for Godot

Taking the Existential View

  • Absurdism
    1. “Theatre of the Absurd” was coined by Martin Esslin in the 1960’s
    2. Offers its audience an existential point of view of the outside world and forces the audience to consider the meaning of existence in a world where there appears to be no true order or meaning.
    3. The rules are simple:
      1. No story line, simple images
      2. Focus on the incomprehensibility of the world
  • Language is a barrier to communication
  1. The individual is isolated
  1. Martin Esslin: “the recognition that there is no simple explanation for all the mysteries of the world, that all previous systems have been oversimplified and therefore bound to fail, will appear to be a source of despair only to those who still feel that such a simplified system can provide an answer.”
  2. The goal of absurdist drama is not to depress, but to bring one closer to reality and help in understanding one’s own meaning in life, whatever that may be.
  • Existentialist Philosophy
    1. A 20th century philosophical movement; assumes that people are entirely free and thus responsible for what they make of themselves
    2. Attempts to describe our desire to make rational decisions despite existing in an irrational universe. The human desires for logic and immortality are futile. We are forced to define our own meanings, knowing they might be temporary. In this existence, the individual defines everything.
    3. Notes From Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky translated by Michael R. Katz published 2001 by W. W. Norton and Company
      1. Pg 14: “Question: who am I? Answer: sluggard. Why, it would be very pleasant to hear that said about oneself. It would mean that I’d been positively defined…”
      2. Pg 20: “Don’t you see: reason is a fine thing, gentlemen, there’s no doubt about it, but its only reason, and it satisfies only man’s rational faculty, whereas desire is a manifestation of all life… And although in this manifestation life often turns out to be fairly worthless, it’s life all the same”
  • Pg 23: “…You want to cure man of his old habits and improve his will according to the demands of science and common sense. But how do you know not only whether it can be done, but even if it’s necessary to remake him in this way? Why do you conclude that human desire must undoubtedly be improved?”
  1. Soren Kierkengaard
    1. Consider the following paradox from his notes: Adam probably never thought about eating the fruit of knowledge until he was prohibited from doing so. At the moment Adam was commanded not to eat the fruit, he realized he could eat the fruit and might even be worth eating. The creator, knowing human nature so well, must have known temptation was a strong force. Why then did the creator give man a test that he was almost certain to fail? Was Adam meant to fail in order to allow human development?
    2. Existentialism is, in large part, the idea that life is a series of usually poor alternatives. Even a “good” decision has negative aspects. Adam realized not eating the fruit of knowledge would keep him from being more like the Creator, who possessed knowledge. Eating the fruit was certain to anger the Creator. Adam made a choice — regardless of any external force, the choice was really his and his alone. Adam could have refused Eve and the serpent had he wanted. We always have choices, no matter what we might use as an excuse.
  • The individual, the self, was everything to Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard hoped to elevate the individual to a new philosophical level. The self is a series of possibilities; every decision made redefines the individual. This concept was further developed by Sartre. The knowledge that “I” define the “self” results in “the dizziness of freedom” and “fear and trembling.” It is a great responsibility to create a person, yet that is exactly what each human does — creates a self. This self is independent from all other knowledge and “truths” defined by other individuals.
  1. Kierkegaard embraced logical gaps and “leaps of faith.” When a truth was apparent to an individual, according to Kierkegaard, that was the truth regardless of evidence to the contrary. Truth is an internalized concept, influenced by outside factors but not dictated by them. Kierkegaard bristled at the notion that a man could define or even find the logic of a system forming reality.
    • A Kierkegaard Anthology edited by Robert Bretall, published by Princeton University Press
      • Pg 255: “Faith is the objective uncertainty along with the repulsion of the absurd held fast in the passion of inwardness, which precisely is inwardness potentiated to the highest degree…The psychologist generally regards it as sure sign that a man is beginning to give up a passion when he wishes to treat the object of it objectively. Passion and reflection are generally exclusive of one another…it is retrogression to become objective; and even he who is lost through passion has not lost so much as he who lost passion, for the former had the possibility.”
    • How does all of this relate to Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett?
      1. Pg 2: “Nothing to be done… I’m beginning to come around to that opinion. All my life I’ve tried to put it from me, saying Vladimir, be reasonable, you haven’t yet tried everything. And I resume the struggle.”
        1. Despite the futile nature of their existence, Vladimir feels a strong desire to continue, to survive, and to simply exist. He also chooses to push the truth of his existence from his consciousness.
      2. Pg 3: “It hurts?… Hurts! He wants to know if it hurts!… No one ever suffers but you. I don’t count. I’d like to hear what you’d say if you had what I have… It hurts?… Hurts! He wants to know if it hurts!”
        1. Life is about suffering, and the small things in everyday life. Additionally, this scene shows us the extreme egocentric nature of the characters, suggesting that humans are limited to their own perceptions of reality.
      3. Pg 4: “Never neglect the little things in life.”
      4. Also on Pg 4: “There’s man all over for you, blaming on his boots the faults of his feet.”
        1. Estragon chose to sleep with his boots on, but refuses to believe that his feet hurt by any fault of his own; instead he is convinced that there must be something wrong with his boots.
      5. Pg 17: “One is what one is”
      6. Pg 32: “Let us not speak ill of our generation, it is not any unhappier than its predecessors… Let us not speak well of it either.”
      7. The fact that none of the characters retain a clear mental history means they are constantly struggling to prove their existence. Thus the boy who consistently fails to remember either two of the protagonists casts doubt on their very existence. This is why Vladimir demands to know that the boy will in fact remember them the next day.
      8. The basic premise of the play is that chance is the underlying factor behind existence. Therefore human life is determined by chance. This is established early on, when Vladimir mentions the parable of the two thieves from the Bible.
        1. Pg 8: “One of the Thieves was saved. It’s a reasonable percentage.”
        2. The idea of percentage is important because this represents how the fate of humanity is determined; it is random and there is a percentage chance that a person will be saved or damned.
  • Continuing from the quote on pg 8, Beckett calls into question the Bible itself when remarking how the 4 Disciples of Christ gave varying stories regarding the fate of the thieves.
  1. God, if he exists, contributes to the chaos by his silence. The very fact that God allows such an arbitrary system to continue makes him an accomplice.
  2. Pascal noted how faith was based on percentage and always in your favor
    • 50/50 chance of being saved
    • If you have faith and there is no God, so what? You lived a good life.
    • If you have faith and there is a God: you’re going to Heaven.
  3. Time is meaningless as a direct result of chance being the underlying factor of existence. Hence there is a cyclic, albeit indefinite pattern to events. Vladimir and Estragon return to the same place each day to wait for Godot and experience the same general events with variations each time. It is not known for how long in the past they have been doing this, or for how long they will continue to do it, but since time is meaningless in this play, it is assumed that past, present and future mean nothing. Time is a mess.
    1. Pg 55: Pozzo “Don’t question me! The blind have no notion of time. The things of time are hidden from them too.”
  4. Humans try to remain oblivious of their condition. Throughout the play, Vladimir and Estragon remain stupidly cheerful, and seek distraction in pointless activities. This is an attempt to remain oblivious of the fact that they are waiting for a vague figure, partly of their own invention, that will never come. They do not want to realize that their lives are meaningless.
    1. Consider the implications if we look at Godot as a representation of Christ…
  5. By imposing pattern on chaos, Vladimir and Estragon achieve some degree of meaning. In this case, the pattern is waiting.
    1. Pg 51: Vladimir “What are we doing here, that is the question. And we are blessed in this, that we happen to know the answer. Yes, in this immense confusion one thing alone is clear. We are waiting for Godot.”
  6. Waiting for Godot is all about how the world is based on chance. A world based on chance can have no orderly time sequence, and thus time has no meaning. The extension, then, is that human life has no meaning. Realizing this, humans will create distractions and diversions, in the form of patterns and reliance on nebulous forces, to provide the purpose and meaning that is inherently lacking in their lives. Waiting for Godot is the classical, archetypical presentation of this facet of human existence and thus is existentialist in its very nature.


I am Myself I am a Wife Blessed with love I am a Mother Endowed with divinity Through the power of creation I am a Daughter Brought into this world With unending hope And the promise of the future I am a Sister Made fierce and strong While forged with kindness Protector and protected Spiraling together forever I am a Nurse Holding out the hands of healing And offering the sick comfort And the dying love Knowing that through this All things are healed and made whole I am a Writer Creating myself and world Sharing the inner depths of humanity Bringing together the divine And the humble mortal I tell the story of the Goddess And am remembered forever

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