Existentialism in “Waiting for Godot” | Philosophy in Existential Plays

Existentialism in Waiting for Godot Philosophy in Existential Plays

“Waiting for Godot” is a play in which Samuel Beckett adopted the doctrine of existentialism. Critics call it one of the prominent existentialist plays that demonstrate theme of existentialism as main story of the play. However, certain elements are there in it that reveal theme of nihilism too. Nihilism and existentialism are two distinct things still it seems that Samuel Beckett combined them in order show superiority of Existentialism. Some of the critics are of the opinion that “Waiting for Godot” is neither entirely on existentialism nor entirely on nihilism but somewhere in between.

Existentialism in “Waiting for Godot” | Philosophy in Existential Plays

Whats is Existentialism?

Jean Paul Sartre and Martin Heidegger presented theory of existentialism in which they stated that humans had been thrown in a meaningless universe in which they had no purpose at all. They were put in absurd situation by an unknown force and were living in mental pains and sufferings. Life is terrible or not, it is not the topic relevant to theory of existentialism. Hence, main reason behind sufferings of humans is not the terrible world but that they are freely living in it. They are free to choose but irony is that no choice is given to them but existentialism believes that even not making a choice is a choice. In concise words, existentialism is theory that believes “man is what he does”.

Read More on Existentialism:

Existentialism in Literature | Movement in Literature and Philosophy

Existentialism in “Waiting for Godot:

“Waiting for Godot” is indeed a play that demonstrates theme of existentialism. Two main characters of the play named as Vladimir and Estragon are put into an absurd situation just like humans have been put in the world without any purpose. In whole play they do nothing to change their miserable condition. Existentialism emphasizes on the practice of doing something and creating a purpose while accepting existence in this world. Hence, they have freewill to make their life better. They can come out of this situation and can give their lives a meaning but they do nothing. Estragon’s dialogue is notable in this regard. He says:

“Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes, it’s awful.”

Estragon- Waiting for Godot

He knows that his situation is awful yet he does nothing to make it better.

Nihilism in “Waiting for Godot”:

Nihilism means nothing. It determines that humans exist in this world is enough. They should not do anything because everything they do is meaningless. “Waiting for Godot” portrays theme of despair as well as concept of nihilism. Estragon and Vladimir do nothing. Play starts with nothingness and ends with nothingness.

Still this play does not promote theory of nihilism. Two tramps do nothing even then they are doing something. They are waiting for Godot. They have set a purpose for them through which they accept their existence. Furthermore, they are finding their identities. They are unable to find answers of their questions and the only reason due to which they are not successful is that they are confused.

In addition, they are christian by religion and believe on existence of god which is opposite to the concept of nihilism. Theory of existentialism also does not believe on existence of God. However, there is a type of existentialism that do so. It is called “Christian Existentialism”. “Waiting for Godot”, in this way, demonstrates this type of existentialism.

Christian Existentialism “Waiting for Godot”:

Believing on existence of God does not change meaning of existentialism. Characters are finding their purpose in this world. They want answers of their questions like who they are and why they are here? It is, therefore, Estragon says:

“We always find something, eh Didi, to let us think we exist?”

Estragon- Waiting for Godot

“Waiting for Godot” is a situation that has no begging and no end. Tramps don’t know about their past nor are they sure about their future. It is a situation which every person in the world facing. Samuel Beckett also said the same. In his eyes, we are all like Estragon and Vladimir. Furthermore, he is of the view that the play is more about waiting. Thus, it is true that they are living in an absurd world that is one of the major characteristics of existentialism.

Pointlessness of Existence:

They go on living. They know pointlessness of their existence still they don’t give up on life. It is main problem that no one is here to answer the question of human existence in this world. Same is the case with protagonists of the play; they are waiting for Godot. It is the only way through which they would know purpose of their lives.

Besides, we see that Estragon and Vladimir are living a miserable life not because life is the name of pains instead because they are free. It is also a problem that humans have been given freewill. Lucky is satisfied with his life as compared to Estragon and Vladimir. Though his life is tough yet he does not consider it tough. A purpose has been set for him by his master. On the other hand, Estragon and Vladimir have no purpose. Freewill is their problem.

They portray a universal problem. Humans are living in this world but why are they living? No one has exact answer of this question. It would have been easier for us if our goals were set. Freewill is our main problem because it has become our duty to find purpose of life. It is primary meaning of existentialism. Samuel Becket clearly shows it in “Waiting for Godot” through Estragon and Vladimir.

Meanings of Existentialism in “Waiting for Godot”:

Simplest definition of existentialism is that “humans define their own meaning in life, and try to make rational decisions despite existing in an irrational universe” [source:philosophybasics.com].

Above said definition can be divided into three parts.

  • Universe is irrational
  • Humans existence in it and
  • Humans define meanings of life with rational decisions.

If so, then “Waiting for Godot” frankly promotes theory of existentialism. Estragon and Vladimir are existing in irrational world, and they have defined meanings of their lives i.e. “waiting for Godot”. He would come and answer them. They are loyal to their purpose.

Even otherwise, if that is not their purpose then Samuel Beckett intimates us that instead of waiting for godot one should set purpose of his life and existentialism also suggests the same.

Existentialism deals with individual existence, freedom and choice. “Waiting for Godot” presents the same notion due to which it is called “a play that advocates theory of existentialism”.

Suffice is to say that there are two aspects of the play through which it can be seen. Firstly, it shows theme of despair and nihilism. Secondly, “Waiting for Godot” promotes philosophy of existentialism. However, majority of the dialogues, settings, actions [useless actions] reveal that existentialism is the main theme of “Waiting for Godot”.

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