Mr. Neil Tweedie
AP English Literature
11 December 2014
Camus’s Absurdism in Waiting for Godot
Voted “the most significant English language play of the 20th century,” Waiting for Godot implies a strange meaning to all of us. Originally written in French, the two-part play is centered on two characters, Vladimir and Estragon. These two characters are mainly viewed as “absurd” and “without meaning” by most readers but seem to indicate a message which is hard to grasp at first glance. This essay focuses on how Absurdism, the commonly used word to define this play, manifest throughout Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. The search for Absurdism will be made in line with Martin Esslin’s definition of “a well-made play” by analyzing two of the three integral parts of a play which is character and dialogue. It should be also noted that the definition of Absurdism used in this essay will be limited to that of Albert Camus’s. “Life will be lived all the better if it has no meaning.” This simple yet depressing quote from Albert Camus questioned the core of philosophy that existed for hundreds of years. For some, philosophy is the search to find the meaning of life. Diverse methodologies such as Platonism and Kantianism were devised to explain the unanswerable question for us and renowned thinkers seemed to give us the answer, more or less a guidance of understanding this world. However, Camus implies that we are living in a world of contradiction. He believed that life became “meaningful” when humans began to imply useless meanings to meaningless things. He suggests that we are part of a universe, but a universe as a whole that has no meaning. In this sense, he argues that in order to live well, we must embrace the meaninglessness of life and therefore become conscious of the fact that “It is the result of a contradiction between our own sense of life’s meaning, and our knowledge that nevertheless the universe as a whole is meaningless.” So Camus’s eventual goal is that we acknowledge this absurdity and accept the fact that life is meaningless. Perhaps the idea that life is an endless struggle to perform tasks that are essentially meaningless is the absurdity shown in Beckett’s Waiting for Godot.
Following Esslin’s definition of a well-made play in his essay Absurd Drama, Waiting for Godot should fill us with gaiety by presenting characters which are “well observed and convincingly motivated.” But the standard of a well-made play is in question by Becket’s peculiar representation of his characters which is in line with Camus’s Absurdist philosophy. The characters are devoid of logical motivation and unrelated to recognizable human characters, emotions, and objectives. Vladimir and Estragon, the curious protagonists of the play, have an objective: waiting for Godot. This purpose itself demonstrates the very absurdity of the characters because they have no comprehension of their actions; they are simply waiting for something they do not understand. The traditional maturation or so called “development” of the characters is not shown in this play; they are simply there, waiting. The characters, especially Estragon, seem to forget the fact that they are waiting for Godot. This meaningless and forgetful behavior amplifies the simple absurdity, questioning the purpose and cause of the whole play. This is definitely shown through dialogues such as these. Estragon: Let’s go.
Vladimir: We can’t.
Estragon: Why not?
Vladimir: We’re waiting for Godot.
Estragon: Ah! You’re sure it was here?
But then the absurdity increases when we constantly get the impression, as the play goes, that Estragon is actually the “smart” one rather than Vladimir. His comment in existence shown in Act 2 gives and provides us an insight into Camus’s philosophy of absurd existence. Estragon: We don’t manage too badly, eh Didi, between the two of us? Vladimir: Yes yes. Come on, we’ll try the left first.
Estragon: We always find something, eh Didi,...
Cited: 〮 Beckett, Samuel. Waiting for Godot. New York: Grove Press, 1954.
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