Bleak Tones And Visual Sadness In Waiting For Godot

The audience faced a minimalistic set in 1953, with just a single tree. Beckett reveals the grimmest tones through visual sadness as well as by placing characters in an overall metaphysical condition. This setting is strikingly similar to the picture of T.S. Eliot in ‘The Wasteland,’ “a heap of broken image, where sun beats & the dead tree does not give shelter”

The characters’ world only has a tree and a road in common. The setting is a bleak one; the road represents a journey away or towards something, but characters do not move. They even state “We Can’t” (leave). The tree represents hope, life, and even life itself, although there is none. Beckett insists that the tree has leaves in Act 2 to represent spring, while Estragon and Vladimir realise there is no hope. Beckett’s use of dramatic staging is a great way to play with comedy and tragedy. Beckett is a master at manipulating language, which I think makes him responsible for some of his most bleak and comic scenes.

Estragon (ii), and Vladimir (iii), both speak the words, “Nothing that can be done”. This statement will be used as a key philosophy in the entire play. The phrase is initially funny to audiences because it is coupled with Estragon’s physical sequence, where he tries to remove his boot (iv). After a long battle Estragon concedes that there is nothing to do. This line is brilliant because it has a colloquial tone that appeals universally to audiences. They can relate when a seemingly simple task becomes so difficult to accomplish they cannot see a way to resolve it. It’s funny that a human can’t remove a shoe, and that the boot in some way has defeated the human. Now he is defeated by a boot. The universality of this struggle makes it appealing to audiences. They ask: Why does Estragon believe that the boots are wrong? Beckett highlights the arrogance of humanity. Vladimir, Estragon’s messenger, tells Estragon: “There’s men all over who blame their boots on the faults of their feet.” This sentence contains many topics for debate because the boots were made perfect by the bootmaker. He thought they had no defects or he would have not sold them.

Vladimir adds undertones to the comedy by saying that he has also “come around” to Estragon’s opinion. Vladimir says the line, but he does it in a way that makes him seem unaware of Estragon’s struggle. He looks into the distance as he speaks. Beckett is able to convey the brutality of the situation by introducing this exchange. The character has literally no options. Esslin argues that the play ‘Waiting for Godot,’ contains “a metaphysical anguish about the absurdity and futility of human existence” (vi). The characters, trapped in the barren and featureless landscape, are waiting for a man they do not know as they would “not recognise him even if they saw him” (vii), but they have no influence over their lives.

Beckett explores human behavior through language and, ultimately, the confusing plot of his play. One conversation that exploits humanity’s way of operating is:

“Estragon, we always find some thing, Didi. To give us the illusion that we are real.

Vladimir: Yes, yes, we’re magicians.” (viii)

This is hilarious to audiences because Estragon has a positive outlook on their situation. And the sudden mood change that’s seen on stage, which seems so unjustified, also makes for hilarity. Vladimir’s dismissal Estragon’s statement and his dismissal on optimism are both beautiful contrasts that make the audience laugh. They also support the hypothesis that the two acts are a duo and totally dependent on one another. This double act can also be seen in:

“Vladimir. How do they speak?

Estragon: These people talk about their own lives.

Vladimir: They cannot live.

Estragon Estragon

The double act can be used to exploit the language of the play and its claim that “the two most important groups of characters appear in pairs” (x). Estragon & Vladimir are Laurel & Hardy, whose silhouettes were familiar to a audience in 1953. They brought the world of Laurel & Hardy closer, while still being miles away. Beckett uses the double act to illustrate the existentialist nature and need of humans to rationalise their own experience. Beckett’s double act is a way to show the audience that he wants the audience to think. Beckett is trying to make audiences understand that the word’magician,’ which is associated with illusion and trickery has the darkest undertones.

This eloquent and powerful point is rooted in the social movement that followed World War Two. Beckett was a part of this period, when society believed itself to be decaying. It was impossible to depend on comforts like order that were essential for them to get by in their daily lives. The dark view of society is still present in comedy because the characters live in a world that they think they understand but don’t. Estragon and Lucky are examples of dramatic irony. They look into the worlds of Pozzo, Vladimir, Estragon in arrogance because they understand what characters don’t. Beckett uses this to illustrate that audiences don’t really understand the nature of their own world. The bleak undertones of the play are derived from the language manipulation, while the comic elements come from the character’s visual presentation to the audiences. According to one critic,

The actors’ actions, expressions, feelings, and reactions are as important to the play as its dialogue.

This is an excellent argument, as the audience will respond primarily to how the lines are delivered. It could be said that the performance of the lines is more important than the language itself.

Beckett reportedly said “If Godot was meant to be God I would’ve said God and not Godot.” Estragon begins the play by explaining that he slept ‘in a hole’ (xiii), and that a group of men ‘beat’ Estragon. The events of the play are similar to that of ‘The Good Samaritan.’ However, this time there is no Samaritan. Estragon receives neither help nor redemption from any outside source. Vladimir’s approach is similar, he claims Estragon acted wrongly to deserve his beating. Estragon challenges Godot or God’s power by telling Vladimir they’re ‘not bound?’ (xiv). Estragon says this ‘feebly,’ but they are both scared because Godot is coming. Beckett plays around with the audience’s ideas about Godot by having the boy describe him as a man with a white beard. This makes the audience laugh and then surprised. Beckett makes us continue to think about God by using Lucky’s words. It starts off with a very academic and logical presentation of religion. But then it descends to rambling, meaningless rubbish that ends “despite tennis”. I took this to mean ‘for no reason’. That’s an excellent way of describing God’s relationship with humanity, as mankind can never make any definitive conclusions about God.

Beckett manipulates language to create some of the darkest moments, because words resonate with us and cause us to think about Beckett’s themes. The comedy comes out more through the use of stage directions, and odd physical movements.

Pg. 6, Vladimir

Pg.1, Estragon

Pg. 6, Vladimir

Pg. The director gave instructions for the actors to move to the next scene.

Pg. 3 Vladimir

Martin Esslin’s Theatre of the Absurd is a style of theatre that focuses on the absurdity of the human condition and illogical nature of the universe.

Pg. 16, Estragon

Pg. 61

Pg. 54

Sparknotes provides help to students in understanding and analyzing literature and other subjects. It offers summaries, study guides, and other resources to assist in the learning process.

Sparknotes provides summaries of literary works, including novels, plays and poems, to assist students in their understanding. It features key points, explanations of characters and themes and more, so readers can have an easier time comprehending what they’re reading.

Samuel Beckett , Wikipedia ‘Waiting for Godot’

Pg. 1

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  • rosssaunders

    Ross Saunders is an educational blogger and professor, who has written extensively on topics such as education reform, online learning, and assessment. He has also spoken on the topic at various conferences and universities.

rosssaunders Written by:

Ross Saunders is an educational blogger and professor, who has written extensively on topics such as education reform, online learning, and assessment. He has also spoken on the topic at various conferences and universities.

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