Camus and the Absurdity of Existence in Waiting for Godot
Angela Hotaling SUNY Oneonta (Oneonta, NY)
Abstract: Albert Camus’ argues in The Myth of Sisyphus that human life is absurd and purposeless. Humans grapple with becoming conscious of the absurdity of existence, and this realization causes one to suffer. Basically, with the Death of God, men are deserted from God, and all of the meaning that God gives. One has to unhinge oneself from the desire for life with a meaning, and live amidst the absurdity. In this paper, I compare Camus’ views in The Myth of Sisyphus to Samuel Beckett’s play, Waiting for Godot. I also mention Nietzsche’s contribution to the existential tradition and how it sets up the dilemma of human existence that Camus is attempting to discuss. Man’s desire for a meaningful life is present in Waiting for Godot, and I explore the many forms in which this desire for meaning can consume one’s existence.
“Waiting for Godot” is a play written by Samuel Beckett. The play is classified by Grove Press as a tragic comedy, and additionally is seen by critics such as Martin Esslin, in his book The Theatre of the Absurd, to be part of the “theatre of the absurd.” To me it seems to parallel existential thought and themes throughout the existential tradition. The scenery of the play is simple, consisting of only a tree. The exact location is unknown and it appears that the characters are placed in some “distant region” that could be anywhere. The simplicity of the scene in which both acts of the play take place seems to symbolize a much more complicated and absurd existence located in space and time. The play has two acts, the first which spans a day and the second which is the next day. The characters in “Waiting for Godot” and their location represent man suffering from Albert Camus’ concept of nostalgia. (The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus in Basic Writings of Existentialism edited by Gordon Marino) The setting that Beckett creates for the characters is simple and desolate, and could be seen as man’s struggle to find a distinct place or existence full of meaning and sense. The characters are far from this discovery of meaning and sense, therefore, they are stuck waiting amidst nothing. “It’s
indescribable. It’s like nothing. There’s nothing. There’s a tree.” (Vladamir, “Waiting for Godot” P. 56) The play is focused on the characters Vladamir and Estragon. The dialogue between the two is the crux of the play. Vladamir and Estragon argue and question one and another for two acts without ever finding solutions or clarity. Estragon finds it difficult to wear his boots and remember days passed. Vladamir struggles with inaction and what seems to be overall discontent. The two are waiting, “Waiting for Godot.” This appointment with a “man” who apparently does nothing but fails to show up seems to mean a lot to Vladamir and Estragon. It doesn’t seem like the two men even know why they are scheduled to meet with Godot, and find the waiting boring, and the boredom frustrating. The focus of the play is the struggle of the characters to fill up the time they wait with meaningful discussions and acts. The waiting is all these two ever do, and they constantly contemplate leaving and suicide. The contemplation of suicide is important in a number of ways including; the severity of their boredom, and lack of meaning without Godot. Thoughts of leaving always end in hope of Godot’s arrival and complete fear of what there will be without this waiting. It seems as though the characters are stuck. In the first act, a little messenger boy arrives to tell the men that Godot will not arrive that night but tomorrow night he will surely arrive. Two other characters join Vladamir and Estragon. Pozzo and his dog Lucky disrupt the format of how Vladamir and Estragon get on during their desperation. Pozzo, a high-energy and overly opinionated man confuses the two men about time, naming, and subordination. Pozzo keeps his dog,...
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