Themes of “Waiting for Godot” | Thematic Concept of Samuel Beckett

Themes of “Waiting for Godot” | Thematic Concept of Samuel Beckett

Theme is an idea that pervades a novel, play or poem. “Waiting for Godot” contains much complex and interesting themes. Samuel Becket wrote this play with a new style but his thematic concept was not different form other writers. However, there is a kind of diversity in themes of “Waiting for Godot”.

Lots of subjects are covered in this play. Its single theme “nothing to be done” gets good attention. Samuel Becket shows a purposeless life. It does not have any story or plot, therefore, success of “Waiting for Godot” is dependent only on its remarkable themes. Following are some major themes that Samuel Beckett presents in “Waiting for Godot”:

  • Nothing to be done.
  • Importance of hope
  • Sufferings
  • Absurdity
  • Difference in human race
  • Relationship
  • Existentialism

Themes of “Meaninglessness” and “Nothing to be Done” in Waiting for Godot:

“Nothing to be done” is one of the most criticized themes of “Waiting for Godot”. Vivian Mercier once said:

It is a play in which nothing happens twice”.

Vivian Mercie

We can’t deny that nothing happens in this play. Estragon and Vladimir enter on stage talk, perform useless actions and exit. Second act is a copy of first act with minute difference of dialogues. In whole play one asks a question to the other “what to do?” Other replies “nothing to be done”. It also starts with the same dialogue. Play goes on depicting this theme and finally ends with nothingness.

Symbolically, this theme has much importance. It defines the journey of life; a journey from nothingness to nothingness. We come in the world but what is our purpose here? What is our identity? Samuel Becket does not answer these questions instead he asks from the audience. He himself does not know their answers. Every person in this world is like Estragon and Vladimir, who is waiting for something but most of the time he cannot get what he wants and life ends just like the play ends. Both acts of the play end with despair. Nothing happens in them. “Nothing to be done” illustrates a meaningless life.

Meaninglessness of Life:

How is life meaningless? Newton came in the world and presented laws of motion. Was his life meaningless? Most of us would probably answer negatively. His laws are helpful for the whole world then how his life was meaningless? Well, Newton’s laws are meaningless for him now. Not for us but for him. He died and took nothing with him. His laws are no more helpful for him. In this way, life is meaningless for him. As mentioned earlier, life is a journey from nothingness to nothingness. It is much difficult to understand meaninglessness. Let’s try to understand situation of Estragon and Vladimir with an example.

A person has been waiting for train for five minutes on railway station. After five minutes train arrives and he leaves. His five minutes were meaningless because in that time “he had nothing to be done”.

It should be remembered that there is a difference between “nothing done” and “nothing to be done”. “Nothing done” strengthens theory of existentialism.

Importance of hope:

Without hope, there is nothing in life. Optimism comes to an end without it. Thus, hope is necessary if one wants to live. This play also depicts this important theme. It forces us to think twice on the importance of hope. Estragon and Vladimir has nothing to be done yet they are hopeful. It is only hope due to which they are alive and waiting for Godot. “Godot” may be a help or maybe God but one thing is clear that both of them are hopeful about their future. They think that Godot will come and change their lives. The play ends with nothingness but “wait and hope” never ends. Estragon and Vladimir will come again tomorrow at the same place and will wait for Godot until his arrival. In this way, hope is one of the major themes of “Waiting for Godot”. .

Sufferings of Life:

Suffering also falls in category of major themes of “Waiting for Godot”. We witness sufferings of Vladimir and Estragon in this play. They are living a miserable life. Estragon has been beaten by strangers every night but he is helpless. God has created this world and has forgotten it after its creation. It seems that Samuel Becket has given this message to the audience. Apart from Estragon and Vladimir, Lucky is also suffering. His life is more miserable than them. Sufferings of slavery class are evident in this play. We can say that Estragon and Vladimir are responsible for their miserable condition but Lucky is a slave and he cannot help himself. He can just wait for good times i.e. only death. Perhaps, he would find something good in afterlife. But in this life, he can’t get peace. Vladimir’s speech in this context is helpful. He says:-

“Was I sleeping while the others suffered? Am I sleeping now? Tomorrow, when I wake, or think I do, what shall I say of today?….can’t go on. What have I said?”

Waiting for Godot – Existentialism

Themes of Absurdity and Ridiculousness in “Waiting for Godot”:

Becket shows the world a way of escaping from sufferings of life. Life can be spent like Estragon and Vladimir: doing nothing, having irrational behavior, passing the ball and act ridiculously. Perhaps, absurdity is the only way to get through life. This is also a method to avoid criticism as it has been said that the best way to avoid criticism is to do nothing. Personally, I think that it is the most difficult way to get through life. While doing nothing and repeating silly actions, one can pass seconds but not whole life. It seems that Becket has preferred absurdity over existentialism. Anyhow, he has shown a way to go through life i.e. absurdity.

Difference in Human Races:

Difference in human races is also evident in this play. This theme has importance of its own. Lucky is a symbol of slavery class, whereas Pozzo refers feudalism. These characters present two types of human races. One is miserable, whereas second is happy. Samuel Becket has shown the inferiority of lower class and superiority of upper class.

Theme of Relationship:

It is another important theme of “Waiting for Godot”. Samuel Becket portrays different types of human relationships. There are four kinds of individuals in the play. Every character is a separate entity. Individually, they refer something but in a relationship they indicate something else. Vladimir’s problems are mental; Estragon’s physical. Pozzo and Lucky are presented to show the two races of men. But when these individuals are put into relations, they perform an important role. Nevertheless, three types of relationships are there in the play:

  • Relationship between Estragon and Vladimir
  • Association of Pozzo and Lucky
  • Relationship of Estragon and Vladimir with Godot.

Click to read more on this theme.

“Existentialism” is among Major Themes of “Waiting for Godot”:

It is a wider topic and needs explanation. “Existentialism” is the most important theme of “Waiting for Godot”. In order to understand this theme we must have knowledge about theory of Existentialism. However, in simple words it means that every person is responsible for his actions and no second person is pulling his strings or controlling his fate. In other words (from oxford), existentialism emphasizes the existence of the individual person as a free.

Estragon, Vladimir, Pozzo and Lucky: are they all free? Are they himself responsible for their actions. Can’t say “Yes” nor can say “No”. Lucky is not free. A person who is slave from childhood can’t do anything to change his life. People beat Estragon every night and he is helpless.

Samuel Becket has not answered the above said questions. We see every character has freewill yet some limitations are imposed on them. In case of Lucky, someone is pulling his strings whereas in case of Pozzo, Estragon and Vladimir they are free.

See also:

Existentialism in Literature | Movement in Literature and Philosophy

A separate detailed article one theme of existentialism in “Waiting for Godot” will soon be published.

In a nutshell, the “Waiting for Godot” has many remarkable themes. Samuel Becket has closely observed life, therefore, every theme is related to life and reality. There are some other important themes of this play such as:

  • Religion
  • Mortality
  • Waiting
  • Ignorance
  • Impotence

Themes of “Waiting for Godot” directly strike minds of audience and give this play a good success. It seems that Samuel Becket, very minutely and after experiments, has rendered various themes in “Waiting for Godot”. Hence, there is no denying the fact that themes give this play a striking success.