'Waiting for Godot' as 'The Theatre of the Absurd'

The term ‘Theatre of Absurd’ was coined by Martin Esslin in his essay ‘The Theatre of Absurd’. The main exponents of this school were – Samuel Beckett, Arthur Adamov, Jean Genet. Although these writers oppose the idea of belonging to a particular school, yet their writings do have certain common characteristics on the basis of which they can be clubbed together in one category.
The term ‘absurd’ has also been linked to the mathematical term ‘surd’, which means a value that cannot be expressed in finite terms. In terms of literature, therefore, we can say that it refers to something that is irrational.
The concept of ‘absurd’ seems to have begun with Sartre’s philosophy. “The absurd is not a mere idea”, says Sartre, “it is revealed to us in a doleful illumination – getting up, tram, four hours of work, meal, sleep; Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday.” The idea is similar to what Camus expressed in his essay ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’. The point stressed here is, beginning all over again as if it were a new life. The actions of the absurd hero are meaningless and illogical.
In his play ‘Waiting for Godot’ Samuel Beckett presents before us a highly absurd situation of two tramps – Vladimir and Estragon – waiting for someone called Godot, who doesn’t come. Both the tramps follow the same routine everyday – come and stand under a tree, wait for Godot, indulge in some senseless activities, keep on waiting the whole day, decide to begin afresh the next day. Moreover, Act II of the play is a mere photocopy of the first act with only one or two changes. Lucky accompanied by his master Pozzo comes in the first act but in the second the situation is reversed – Lucky is the master, Pozzo is his slave, who is blind now. A boy comes to inform Vladimir and Estragon that Godot won’t come that day but he’ll definitely come the next day. In the second act too, a boy comes to deliver the same message. When asked by Vladimir and Estragon, he says that he’s the brother of boy, who came on the previous day. Through the repetitive pattern of the play, Beckett probably wants to drive home the point to the audience (now, readers) that the absurdity in man’s life makes him incapable of performing something new.
As far as the actions of the two tramps are concerned, they too are absurd. Estragon’s removal of his shoes, for instance, is an absurd as well as a funny scene. Their conversation also is on the absurdian lines of the ‘Theatre of the Absurd’. For example,

Valdimir: Let’s go
Estragon: Let’s go
(They both don’t move.)

Sartre was of the view that man is born in a void. The same idea manifests itself in the fact that Beckett’s characters stand outside the society. Here Beckett differs from the other ‘absurd’ writers, especially Adamov. Beckett’s characters stand outside the society as if rejected. But they converse with each other. On the other hand, Adamov’s characters stand within the society as outcasts and don’t converse with anyone.
It may however, be safely concluded that although the actions, event and dialogues are absurd, they are not completely meaningless. They do have a symbolic value. The theatre of absurd by presenting before us these ‘absurd’s situations wants to convey to us the essential absurdity of man’s life. Yet there is hope that ‘Godot might come tomorrow’.


skjayanthi said...

The term absurd means no action no dialogue and nothing. It seems full of meaningless life. Here in this play Beckett describes the twentieth century which is full of meaningless.


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gloria said...

it's pozzo who is the master in the first act and his slave is lucky.
nice story, by the way

Amritbir Kaur said...

Thanks Gloria for pointing out the error.That was a inadvertent error actually that had crept in - slave instead of master was typed erroneously.
Thanks once again.

Amritbir Kaur said...

Thanks Jayanthi for sharing your viewpoints.

Elaine said...

It is Pozzo who becomes blind in Act II. Lucky becomes dumb.
You should check your text; it's good but there are many little problems in its form, like:
"In the second act too, the boy comes to deliver the same message from Godot but when asked the Vladimir and Estragon he says he’s the brother of boy who came the previous day."
Also, I'd like to call your attention that we cannot be sure that it is a different boy in Act II. When Vladimir asks if his brother could have come the day before, the boy says he doesn't know. Keep in mind that we know that Pozzo met them the other day but he cannot remember it; the same could have happened to this boy.

HEYMU said...

This is one of the best Dramas i ever read......
everything says nothing at at all yet explains everything.....................

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Anonymous said...

Thank you for giving these good, healthy, explanatory and even fun tips on that topic.

Anonymous said...


NileshwarChandra said...

Thanks a lot freinds. your ideas helped me lot to prepare for my exam tomorrow.

Actually I feel that the fact that Godot never came is well related to the maths term surd. surd is a value that has no infinite or definite figure. In this story Godot never appeared.

Saurav Chakravarty said...

The original french title of Beckett's is 'En attendant Godot' which emphasises the events that take place while main characters are waiting for Godot. But the english title seems to put the focus on Godot, a character who never even appears. Also it seems to me that there are some similarities between Beckett's play and Chekhov's 'Three sisters'.