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Existentialism in Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot"

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Michelle Bell

on 8 January 2015

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Transcript of Existentialism in Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot"

Introduction
Existential philosophy, also known as existentialism, can be defined as individual existence, freedom and choice. This form of philosophy focuses on the nature of existence and it's purpose. Existentialism plays a huge role in Samuel Beckett's
Waiting for Godot
, because this play breaks down the general characteristics of mankind, life morals and the essence of God. This performance creates an atmosphere that genuinely represents the evident life of today's society.
The Meaning of Life
Think about it...
Activity :
Therefore, Samuel Beckett's
Waiting for Godot
is greatly influenced by existential philosophy that focuses on the concepts of freedom and existence which are portrayed through the inquiries about the existence of God, the nature of man and the nature of morality.
Analysis
When Vladimir mentions that Godot has the ability to punish and save them, this shows how Godot shares similar characteristic with God. God is known to be both a savior, as well as, vengeful and this play portrays Godot as a God like figure. Also, the only reason Vladimir and Estragon wait around and do not commit suicide is because they still have hope in Godot showing up and saving them. This is a well played out representation of today's society where people trust in God and pray to Him. However, sometimes people's prayers are not answered, that is when the existence of God begins to be questioned. In this case, Estragon and Vladimir decided to remain faithful and wait, but when Godot fails to arrive multiple times, that is when they start to lose hope of ever seeing him. Even though Vladimir and Estragon have the freedom to leave or commit suicide, they refuse to because they still believe in Godot's existence and established that their purpose is to wait until they finally meet him. Therefore, questioning the existence of God helps to enhance the idea of having the freedom of chose to decide what to be faithfully in which is what will inspire people to chase their goals and ambitions.
Secondary Source
"The isolation of man, the absence of a model for human morality, and the burden of obligatory moral choices without the certainty of guiding principles..." (Boswell).
The Existence of God
Existentialism in Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot"
EXISTENCE
FREEDOM AND CHOICE
Some of the most often asked questions about the play are "Who is Godot?" and "Why does he not show up?". Many people actually believe that Godot may be a God. Vladimir and Estragon, the character's in Waiting for Godot, wait around on a country side road near a mound and a tree in hopes that Godot will show up. It is not specified who Godot is or why they are waiting. However, Vladimir and Estragon feel obligated to wait even though they have the freedom to leave.
Quotes
"
Estragon
: And if we dropped him? (Pause.) If we dropped him?
Vladimir
: He'd punish us." (2.59)

"
Vladimir
: We'll hang ourselves to-morrow. (Pause.) Unless Godot comes.
Estragon
: And if he comes?
Vladimir
: We'll be saved." (2.60)
This concept provides a good explanation about how human morality is what helps to guide people down the right path. Within the existence of mankind, people have the desire to obtain a sense of certainty and direction life. Therefore, people believe that sticking to good morals helps make the right decisions. Morality in existentialism is what has a big impact on a human beings judgment about their own existence and effects their freedom of choice.
The Nature of Man
Within the play, Vladimir and Estragon metaphorically represent all of mankind. This is seen throughout the play as they wait for Godot and while Vladimir and Estragon wait, they do different things in order to occupy their time. In the real world, every human being has their own "Godot" which can be a goal or life ambitions. It can be anything such as graduation, landing a dream job or even death.
Quotes
"
Vladimir
: Do you want me to go away? Gogo! Did they beat you? Gogo!

Estragon
: Don't touch me! Don't question me! Don't speak to me! Stay with me!" (2.37)
Analysis
Estragon spends the night apart from Vladimir and gets beat up during the night. Inevitably, Estragon does go through some dark times and has to work through it. This is a representation of the nature of man and how in every human being's life there will be ups and downs that people will experience. This demonstrates how mankind is not perfect and throughout life people will deal with inevitable hardship. From an existential point of view, many humans go through dark periods in their lives where they begin to question their existence and purpose in life. Most importantly, it is up to those people to choose how they wish to deal with these issues and which path they aspire to take. In the end, it is evident that the nature of mankind is not perfect, because of hardship and the constant inquisition about the human existence.
The Nature of Morality
Morality plays a very big role in the play because it relates to the concept of freedom and choice in existentialism. A good example of morality in
Waiting for Godot
is the relationship between Pozzo and Lucky. Lucky is considered to be Pozzo's slave and his soul purpose is to be there for Pozzo and follow his orders. Also, Lucky freely chooses to obey Pozzo and not run away from him because of the nature of morality.
Quotes
"
Pozzo
: Ah! Why couldn't you say so before? Why he doesn't make himself comfortable? Let's try and get this clear. Has he not the right to? Clearly he has. It follows that he doesn't want to. There's reasoning for you." (1.21)
Analysis
Pozzo explain how lucky has the choice and freedom to put the bags down and get comfortable, but he just chooses not to. Technically, Lucky is not confined to slavery, because he has the freedom to leave, however, he stays with Pozzo. Lucky chose to stay with Pozzo because now he is free from responsibilities and the worries of pondering about what he will do with his existence. Lucky simply just follows Pozzo's orders and acts like his slave which is now what he perceives as his life's purpose. Although he has enslaved himself to Pozzo, he set morals for himself by choosing not to leave, because Lucky realizes that if he does, there will be consequences. This representation within the play reflects humans in society, because people choose either a job, path of education or anything else it might be and willingly stay with it due to their own individual morals. For instance, if a person drops out of school, they will most likely suffer consequences such as not receiving the proper education and remaining unemployable in the future. As a result, the nature of morality helps people to discover their life's purpose through using good judgement guided by their morals just as Lucky did when he chose to be with Pozzo.
Conclusion
Thesis
Secondary Source
"In the 20th-century philosophy of existentialism, the French writer Albert Camus employed the term to describe the futility of human existence, which he compared to the story of Sisyphus, the figure in Greek mythology condemned for eternity to push a stone to the top of a mountain only to have it roll back down again." (Quinn.)
Analysis
The theory of pushing a stone up a mountain only to have it come back down is an exceptional metaphor that defines the human existence. This relates to Estragon and Vladimir who contemplate on committing suicide because they see no point in going on with live. Similarly, it is human nature for people to begin analyzing their lives and choosing which direction they wish to head towards. However, some might experience a break down and wonder if all this hard work and effort being put in is actually worth it in the long run. Especially, if life is imminently just going to build people up and tear them down. In the end, it is up to the individual to take control of their own existence.
Overall, existential philosophy in Samuel Beckett's
Waiting for Godot
expresses the themes of existence and freedom of choice through the questions about the existence of God, nature of man-kind and the nature of morality. The existence of God gives people the faith to move forward in life and create a purpose for existing, just like Estragon and Vladimir's faith in Godot. The nature of man, portrayed through Estragon and Vladimir, proves how people question their existence, however, they possess the freedom to decide how they wish to spend their lives. Lastly, the nature of morality shown through Pozzo and Lucky establishes the idea that having morals is like having a guide line that can be used to help to make smart decisions in life. Therefore, existentialism is an immense influence within the play, because it metaphorically illustrates the nature of society and the essence of the human existence through the characters.
Citation
Quinn, Edward. "absurd." A Dictionary of Literary and Thematic Terms, Second Edition. New York:

Facts On File, Inc., 2006. Bloom's Literature. Facts On File, Inc. Web. 5 Jan. 2015 <http://

www.fofweb.com/activelink2.asp?

ItemID=WE54&WID=101973&SID=5&iPin=Gfflithem0004&SingleRecord=True>.


Boswell, Marshall, and Carl Rollyson, eds. "existentialism." Encyclopedia of American Literature:

The Contemporary World, 1946 to the Present, Revised Edition, vol. 4. New York: Facts On File,

Inc., 2008. Bloom's Literature. Facts On File, Inc. Web. 6 Jan. 2015 <http://www.fofweb.com/

activelink2.asp?ItemID=WE54&WID=101973&SID=5&iPin=EAmL1723&SingleRecord=True>.


Beckett, Samuel.
Waiting for Godot
. New York City. Grove Press, Inc., 1954. 1982.


Danisnotonfire. "The Meaning of Life." Online video clip.
YouTube
, Sept. 2012.

Debate
Group 1: You will argue that everyone's purpose of existence is predetermined.

&

Group 2: You will argue that everyone has the freedom and choice to determine and create their own purpose of existence.
Keep in mind the concepts of morality and God to help support your argument.
Full transcript