WAITING FOR WHAT? WHAT TO DO WHILE “WAITING FOR GODOT.”

By Paul

This past weekend, my partner and I went to see a wonderful production of Samuel Beckett’s iconic so-called Theater of the Absurd play “Waiting For Godot” at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles.  Anyone who has ever seen or read this magnum opus of Beckett’s knows that, in one sense, it’s not an easy play to sit through.  By that I mean that it does not have any immediately recognizable through line that tells a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end; there’s no build up and dénouement, no catharsis, and you don’t walk away whistling any tunes when it’s over either.  If you’re  whistling anything, in fact, it’s maybe the old “dies irae,” from the black funeral mass of my Catholic youth. 

But that doesn’t mean it’s a depressing play either.  In fact, in an odd sort of way, I found it rather uplifting.  One of the things that kept running through my mind during the play was: what does it exactly mean “to wait”?   This is not the first time I’ve pondered that question, but Beckett certainly drives the point home over and over.  The character Gogo (Estragon) says repeatedly to his friend and helper Didi (Vladimir) “What are we waiting for?” And the reply comes back each time: “We’re waiting for Godot!”  Gogo then always answers with the same world-weary sigh, “Ohhhh!”  Exactly who or what Godot might be is of course never revealed in the play, just as more often than not the things that we wait for and anticipate so keenly in life either never come to us, or when they do come, it’s in a form that we don’t quite recognize. 

Over dinner later on, my partner asked me what I would say if someone asked me what the play was about.  I was frankly a little surprised at my reply, because I hadn’t actually thought it through.  What I said was that the whole thing seemed like a dream to me.  And I know at least a little bit about analyzing dreams, since I’ve been doing it for myself (and for a few close friends) for years.  Before getting in to that, however, it might be helpful if I say a few quick words about the play itself, in case you’re unfamiliar with it.  There are only five characters total.  Aside from the above mentioned Gogo and Didi, the two sad clown protagonists, there is Pozzo and Lucky, with a tiny part played by someone referred to only as Boy.  Pozzo and Lucky are two mad men with a sadomasochistic relationship.  Lucky is Pozzo’s personal servant/slave, who crawls about almost on all fours with a rope tied around his neck carrying Pozzo’s luggage, while Pozzo is a high-handed bit of a dandy, who clearly thinks very well of himself and of his role in life.  Boy is a sort of innocent angel in white who appears exactly twice, very briefly, in order to bring news to our two protagonists that Godot sends his regrets that he is unable to come this evening, but will not fail to do so tomorrow.  Of course by that time, we in the audience already know that neither tomorrow, nor Godot, will surely ever arrive.

In one sense, I suppose, I hesitate – or maybe I ought to – before giving any “dream interpretation” of the play, inasmuch as Beckett himself always resisted what he thought of as reducing his great work to a mere symbol or metaphor.  And there is no doubt that it is much more than that, just as dreams are, by the way.  Still, I don’t think people can help but try to assign some meaning to things, and surely Beckett himself must have meant something in writing this sometimes inscrutable, but also marvelously entertaining and funny piece of theater.  So, here goes. 

One axiomatic approach to dream interpretation is to assume that all of the characters, in fact all the things, that appear in a dream (animals, objects, scenery etc.) are you.  That is to say, they are all various parts of who you are, of what makes you you.  If we apply this methodology to “Waiting For Godot,” we might then say that Gogo and Didi, in a sense, stand for the parts of each of us that bumble through life.  And, really, who does not do so?  No matter how well we may present ourselves to the world in the bright light of day, secretly and silently in the darkness of the fear-filled night each person knows that he or she struggles mightily with awful apprehensions and terrible doubts.  This is the human condition, and therefore it is inescapable.  Each of us awaits.  What are we waiting for?  What are we hoping for, what are we expecting, what are we fearing?  Who knows?  It is the sum total of all of those fears and hopes and desires and dreads and premonitions and insecurities that sit there just beyond our reach.  This is the unconscious mind, that huge mystical, mythical creature that lurks below, the unnamed fear of children the world over lying hidden beneath the bed, ready to pounce and do who knows what.  Later in life, we chide ourselves for fearing monsters, and yet great, unfathomable beasts continue to lie in wait all the same, though we now call them by different names.

These two, in fact, the conscious mind of work-a-day reality and adult presentation to the world, and the enormously powerful and wonderful, but too often anxiety-filled world of the unconscious mind are Pozzo and Lucky to a tee.  In the first act Pozzo prances about lording it over this person, this thing, that he believes he has full control over, this slave of his that is “lucky” to be taken charge of and ordered about to do his bidding and to carry his luggage.  Even so, Pozzo is never as fully in control as he thinks, and this other part of him erupts from time to time and spews out a torrent, a phantasmagoric jumble of rage-filled words that stun and mesmerize everyone within earshot.  In the second act, Pozzo appears again, still leading his slave by a rope, but this time Pozzo is now blind.  The intellect, and what I sometimes call the “presentation-self,” thinks with great pride that it is fully in charge, but in fact it bumbles about blindly, as badly as Gogo and Didi, those other parts of ourselves that while away the time engaged in the chores of everyday life. 

What are we waiting for?  We are waiting for Godot.  Ohhh!  We are awaiting some better, some higher, some Supreme part of ourselves that will come and finally rescue us from all those things that we mean when we say “everyday life.”  Everyday life is sometimes hard, sometimes funny, sometimes it’s violent, sometimes terribly painful, sometimes alluring and amusing, sometimes pleasurable, sometimes filled with horror, and sometimes just plain boring.  Didi and Gogo live through it all, just as each of us does, the two occasionally separating, though not for long, only to come back together again after maybe getting beaten up a bit, the yin and yang of optimism and pessimism. 

And yet, in the end, they continue to hope.  What else is there after all, in spite of all of our lapses?  Yes, to be sure, it occasionally dawns on each of us that what we are waiting for is perhaps not going to come.  Still, there is an innocence in us that still clings to a faith, to a trust, a belief that, just maybe tomorrow, it will all happen as we wish.  Surely, tomorrow Godot will not fail to arrive!   

Becket was apparently adamant that Godot was not God.  But who is he to say?  He has set his wondrous dream afloat on the sea of our consciousness, and as such he has lost all control.  So, let us hope on, in spite of anything and everything.  Let us continue to await what we know is our highest destiny.  How each of us defines and interprets that is the personal choice of every individual.  Isn’t that what it means to be human?  Isn’t that what it means to be self-fulfilled?  Isn’t that what it means to wait?

6 thoughts on “WAITING FOR WHAT? WHAT TO DO WHILE “WAITING FOR GODOT.”

  1. I’ve seen this play at least three times, read it twice, and I’m left with a million questions every time…. if anyone cares to attempt an answer to a couple, I’d be glad to read…..
    First…. I’ve noticed that many of the main characters appear in pairs. Vladimir and Estragon … and… Pozzo and Lucky. But Godot does not really have a pairing…. Godot is singular… I wonder about that. Is there a significance to Godot being single??
    And even though “nothing” really happens in the play…. a lot does happen in hoping and expectation and projection…. the actions speak… in a way. Don’t they? Is this about thoughts which are expected to manifest… but the play stops still at the thought level? That probably does not even make sense to you as a reader…. I apologize!
    And isn’t it Vladimir who is the ONLY one who remembers anything? What is the point of remembering when everyone else seems to forget? Are they all just starting from “base one” everyday when he has the sum of remembered experience to guide him….? A lonely place to be.
    It seems tragic to be waiting when they could be doing…..starting from scratch when they could be building on knowledge…. sitting there with each other but waiting for something more than is right there in front of them….. but I guess the question might be… What are we waiting for? Didn’t Dr Seuss write something about this…. “Are you waiting for the sun to shine or the wind to blow?…. etc….. It might be part of the text of, Oh, The Places You Will Go. …… or won’t go….. Maybe the real question isn’t What are you waiting for… but Why are you waiting?

    • Yes, Beckett’s play certainly raises more questions than it answers. That’s maybe part of the allure of it over the years. Another question that occurred to me was: why are there no women either actually in the play, or even alluded to in the play? Does it have something to do with the procreative ability of women, the chance for “new life,” which is also, in a sense, absent in the play? Is Beckett saying that men are pretty much relegated only to the roles he’s assigned them in the play? More questions. By the way, though, Godot is not alone. He’s not only paired with one other person, but two: Boy and Boy’s brother (othewise unnamed in the play). Is this an allusion to the Trinity? Or not. Beckett, I think, would DEFINITELY say not! -Paul

  2. Brilliant Paul! You gave me much to ponder over regarding what I have recently been going through. I hope that you don’t mind, but I forwarded this to my therapist Bill. Who knows, maybe he will join the blog!!

  3. Yes… you are right about “Boy…” Somehow I paired the Boy with the brother…. but still saw Godot alone. And, yes… there are religious allusions too….. none of it can really be held down fast as far as I can see. Very curious… the whole thing! I suppose that is the richness of it….

  4. Thank you, Paul. I enjoyed reading your Godot thoughts. I had googled ‘what to do while waiting for Godot’ because that is where I feel I am at present. All my life I’ve been waiting/searching for Godot. I think it is a spiritual play, not necessarily religious. And I wonder if the waiting sensation some of us experience is individual rather than general. Not everyone hears that call, I believe. Though I’d be happy to be wrong there.
    But I wanted to say that I have found my Godot and it does require a great deal of waiting to be in relation with one’s Godot. I wait for moments of action – which happen according to ones destiny. And I see my Godot as Nature Spirit, or sometimes, Goddess, and I have accessed this (which is a mystical/physical energy) through mediation and stillness. I am an Australian Aborigine (with European & Afro/American ancestors, as well) and I recognised my Godot when I finally understood the Aboriginal Lightning Spirit Man/Woman in artwork.
    Thank you again for your lovely, wise words.
    Philippa

    • Thank you, Philippa, for your kind comments. I do think that Godot can be thouhgt of as a kind of symbol, although he (she? it?) is at the same time much more than that, as is always the case with great works of art. At any rate, I very much understand your connecting with the world of Nature Spirit, accessed through meditation and stillness. You are most fortunate, I think, to have Australian Aboriginal heritage, which may afford you a direct and wonderfully unique way of accessing Spirit in Nature. I am a great admirer of native (aboriginal) cultures throughout the world, and wish you all the best in your continued quest. Paul

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