The purpose of human life is an unanswerable question. It seems impossible to find an answer because we don't know where to begin looking or whom to ask. Existence, to us, seems to be something imposed upon us by an unknown force. There is no apparent meaning to it, and yet we suffer as a result of it. The world seems utterly chaotic. We therefore try to impose meaning on it through pattern and fabricated purposes to distract ourselves from the fact that our situation is hopelessly unfathomable. "Waiting for Godot" is a play that captures this feeling and view of the world, and characterizes it with archetypes that symbolize humanity and its behaviour when faced with this knowledge. According to the play, a human being's life is totally dependent on chance, and, by extension, time is meaningless; therefore, a human's life is also meaningless, and the realization of this drives humans to rely on nebulous, outside forces, which may be real or not, for order and direction.
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 very early on, when Vladimir mentions the parable of the two thieves from the Bible. "One of the thieves was saved. It's a reasonable percentage" (Beckett, 8). 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. Vladimir continues by citing the disconcordance of the Gospels on the story of the two thieves. "And yet...how is it - this is not boring you I hope - how is it that of the four Evangelists only one speaks of a thief being saved. The four of them were there - or thereabouts - and only one speaks of a thief being saved" (Beckett, 9). Beckett makes an important point with this example of how chance is woven into even the most sacred of texts that is supposed to hold ultimate truth for humanity. All four disciples of Chirst are supposed to have been present during his crucifixion and witnessed the two thieves, crucified with Jesus, being saved or damned depending on their treatment of him in these final hours. Of the four, only two report anything peculiar happening with the thieves. Of the two that report it, only one says that a thief was saved while the other says that both were damned. Thus, the percentages go from 100%, to 50%, to a 25% chance for salvation. This whole matter of percentages symbolizes how chance is the determining factor of existence, and Beckett used the Bible to prove this because that is the text that humanity has looked to for meaning for millenia. Even the Bible reduces human life to a matter of chance. On any given day there is a certain percent chance that one will be saved as opposed to damned, and that person is powerless to affect the decision. "The fate of the thieves, one of whom was saved and the other damned according to the one of the four accounts that everybody believes, becomes as the play progresses a symbol of the condition of man in an unpredictable and arbitrary universe" (Webb, 32).
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. The French philosopher Pascal noted the arbitrariness of life and that the universe worked on the basis of percentages. He advocated using such arbitrariness to one's advantage, including believing in God because, if he doesn't exist, nobody would care in the end, but if he does, one was on the safe side all along, so one can't lose. It is the same reasoning that Vladimir uses in his remark quoted above, "It's a reasonable percentage." But it is God's silence throughout all this that causes the real hopelessness, and this is what makes "Waiting for Godot" a tragedy amidst all the comical actions of its characters: the silent plea to God for meaning, for answers, which symbolizes the plea...
Bibliography: Works Cited
Andres, Gunther. Being without Time: On Beckett 's Play Waiting for Godot. Ed. Martin Esslin. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1965. 140-152.
Astro, Alan. Understanding Samuel Beckett. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1990.
Bair, Deirdre. Samuel Beckett. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978.
Beckett, Samuel. Waiting for Godot. New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1954.
Mercier, Vivian. Beckett / Beckett. New York: Oxford University Press, 1977.
States, Bernard. The Shape of Paradox: An Essay on Waiting for Godot. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978.
Webb, Eugene. The Plays of Samuel Beckett. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1972.
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