Beckett vs Satre

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Compare and contrast Sartre’s No Exit with Beckett’s Waiting for Godot.

Samuel Beckett’s vision of two lowly tramps in the middle of a derelict environment can be placed in direct contrast to the claustrophobic and eternal nightmare presented by Jean-Paul Sartre , but each playwright possessed objectives for their respective audiences and each shared a valued opinion on the theories of existentialism which can be established in the plays Waiting for Godot and No Exit. Beckett introduces the audience into a world of questioning and surrealist virtues and encourages the spectator to actually discuss the play and find the answer within. Sartre, however, presents his play as a placard for the virtues of existentialism and attempts to prove that “hell is other people”. When being asked about the sources for his ideas or advocating him as a pioneer for the Theatre of the Absurd, Beckett’s replies were often curt or dismissive. The Theatre of the Absurd was a term conceived by the critic Martin Esslin to describe the various playwrights who gave their artistic interpretations believing that human existence is futile and without meaning. According to Beckett himself the Theatre of the Absurd was too ‘judgemental’, too self-assuredly pessimistic:

I have never accepted the notion of a theatre of the absurd, a concept that implies a judgement of value. It’s not even possible to talk about truth. That’s the part of the anguish. Sartre, however made his existentialist philosophies quite apparent. With his own theories he collaborated with the Dadaists and Surrealists after the Second World War and achieved to create his own ‘humanist’ way of thinking but with a prominent atheistic outlook. Sartre quoted rather proudly “L’homme est condamne a etre libre…l’homme est liberte.” Loosely translated he proclaims that “Man is condemned to be free…man is freedom.” Sartre firmly believed that man is nothing except his life and that consequently he is fully responsible for his actions. In Sartre’s existentialist world, man is committed to choose his own destiny without the help of any religion whether he wants to or not and he made this philosophy apparent in all of his works, unlike Beckett who used a more cryptic or absurd stance in his plays.

With or without the use of absurdist ideals and other forms of the genre Beckett certainly portrayed the human values in his characters and considered the ideas of social conditioning and the existentialist notion of absolute freedom. Of all the ideologies written or philosophised over , existentialism seems to lend a lot of its virtues to Waiting for Godot. Ronan McDonald argues that absurdity and existence are fundamental to Beckett‘s work:

There may be more affinity with another association of existentialism and Beckett’s beliefs, namely the idea of ‘absurdity’, though here (too) caution is advised. Without any grounding, without any reason for our being in the world, a certain strand of existentialist thought concludes that life is absurd, disordered and meaningless. The ‘absurd, disordered and meaningless’ which McDonald mentions is evident in the dialogue used in Waiting for Godot. Conversations between the two main characters of Estragon and Vladimir are often erratic and pointless and never seem to resolve at a natural climax. They bounce off each other instigating a retort which is unexpected and prompts an audience to laugh at the scenario with confusing intrigue. The dialogue in No Exit, on the other hand is logical and justified as it relates to the actual settings and situations of the characters. Beckett’s erratic streams of consciousness that materializes from his characters sometimes make no sense and compared to the confronting and direct speech in Sartre’s work, can sometimes be slightly confusing. Sartre’s characters all have a back story which can be deduced and discovered by the dialogue as opposed to the lack of any character history in Waiting for Godot. The...
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