Waiting for Godot

In what ways do the language rituals in “The Homecoming” and “Waiting for Godot” suggest the playwrights’ respective perceptions of the human condition? Introduction The role of language and communication is a central issue in both plays on a purely theatrical level, serving to advance the plot and enhance characterisation, yet it achieves far more than simply forming an entertaining piece of drama.

Throughout the plays there are periods where dialogue between the characters manages to display human language’s most powerful capabilities, yet others where its shortcomings are dramatically exposed. Behind the conversations, hidden in the silences, both plays offer far more to the audience than can be gathered from the words alone. What is stated, what is implied and what is left unsaid are all of equal importance, as each simple line provokes thoughts on a series of deeper issues.

The use of language and language rituals offers an insight into wider thoughts than simply those concerning the characters in the play. Both playwrights’ ideas and suggestions concerning the human condition may be interpreted from these rituals; the interaction of the characters and the way they choose to communicate with one another present perceptions of our very existence as human beings. When seeking to compare the ways in which this is achieved by the playwrights, a fundamental difference between ‘Waiting for Godot’ and ‘The Homecoming’ must first be observed.

Whilst both work on many levels, and are successful when regarded simply as face-value theatrical works, they are approached from different perspectives by the author. The characters in ‘The Homecoming,’ whilst at times possibly tending towards exaggerated behaviour, are essentially rational and realistic characters. Their setting, their actions and their dialogue do indeed raise deeper issues in the minds of the audience, yet simultaneously they function as a regular collection of humans.

In ‘Waiting for Godot,’ however, the characters are more enigmatic and less credible as normal people. Although the play may work when taken purely at face-value, it is far from a depiction of realistic characters. In addition the language rituals developed, the areas of communication explored are all less clearly-defined than in ‘The Homecoming. ‘ ‘Waiting for Godot’ is concerned with suggestions and concepts, as oppose to the presentation of these ideas through more detailed and accurate social observations shown in ‘The Homecoming.

‘ Despite the fact that these differences are immediately obvious upon observing the plays, it is essential that they are considered at all times whilst they are contrasted; for it is through these different approaches that the thoughts and ideas of the playwrights reach the audience, and as such their influence upon how these suggestions are received is great. Language rituals and Beckett’s perception of the human condition in ‘Waiting for Godot’ The ideas contained in ‘Waiting for Godot’ are largely of an existential nature, with a bleak perception of the human condition and preoccupation with the basic futility of life.

Despite this pessimistic outlook, there is much within the play concerning hope. The story is of two elderly tramps, named Vladimir and Estragon, who wait by a tree each day for the arrival of a M. Godot. Each day he fails to arrive, and this news is made official by his messenger boy who comes to the pair and says that M. Godot will come ‘surely tomorrow. ‘ The character of Godot is left deliberately unclear, with Estragon claiming ‘we hardly know him’ and ‘Personally I wouldn’t even recognise him if I saw him. ‘ As time passes, Godot becomes symbolic of a salvation which will seemingly never come.

Vladimir and Estragon come to represent the futility of human existence, and the ways in which man seeks to distract himself from the disturbing reality of his predicament. The dialogues between the characters, and the rituals of their speech are the major vehicles for the expression of Beckett’s perception of existence. The existentialist writer Albert Camus suggested, notably in ‘La Peste,’ that human beings relied on the creation of habit or routine in their lives to keep them contented. Inactivity, he reasoned, led to boredom, and then on to a contemplation of one’s identity and position in life.

It can be seen that from this situation arise two fundamental problems. Firstly there is the likelihood that the individual will discover things about himself and their life which are not to their liking. Secondly there is the worry that the attempt to answer the great riddles and rhetorical questions of life may torment one almost to the brink of insanity. Beckett’s ‘Waiting for Godot’ is a presentation of humanity’s struggle against this position, and of the distractions and alleviations that we search for in order to keep ourselves both happy and sane.

This quest for entertainment and distraction is quickly introduced as a major theme in the play, with the opening lines setting the mood. ESTRAGON: Nothing to be done. VLADIMIR: I’m beginning to come round to that opinion. Although the phrase ‘nothing to be done’ is used here regarding Estragon’s boot, the hopeless tone is picked up by Vladimir who continues ‘All my life I’ve tried to put it from me, saying Vladimir, be reasonable, you haven’t yet tried everything. And I resumed the struggle.

‘ We see the line reappear later in the act, used by Vladimir this time as he examines his hat. From here on the two embark on a series of conversational ‘games’ designed simply to pass the time. Their desperate struggles to keep conversation going are punctuated by Estragon, as he cries ‘That’s the idea, let’s make a little conversation. ,’ and later ‘That’s the idea, let’s contradict each other. ‘ Also, as Vladimir prepares to relate to Estragon the biblical parable of the two thieves, he encourages his companion to listen with ‘It’ll pass the time.

‘ As Estragon refuses to participate in the discussion, Vladimir’s plea for his assistance in killing time whilst they wait for Godot is almost desperate ‘Come on, Gogo, return the ball can’t you, once in a way? ‘ There are also several references made by Vladimir and Estragon to the fact that these meaningless exchanges not only help pass the time but also do prevent their thoughts sliding towards a contemplation of their hopeless circumstances. ESTRAGON: In the meantime let us try and converse calmly, since we are incapable of keeping silent. VLADIMIR:

You’re right, we’re inexhaustible. ESTRAGON: It’s so we won’t think. This supports the notion that the activities we pursue in our lives our nothing but a deliberate smokescreen to divert our thoughts from our existence. Beckett suggests that it is in pondering the human condition that we arrive at truths we would rather not face. It is as though Godot represents the element of chance in life, the outside force which shapes our lives and over which we ourselves have no control. In waiting for these to take effect, we find ourselves discovering the alarming reality of our situation.

To avoid this Estragon and Vladimir find two benefits from a continued and yet fundamentally meaningless conversation. A second key aspect is the way the play is structured. It has a cyclical format in terms of the action, and this is assisted by a series of repetitions of language rituals in the script. Each day the two men meet to wait for Godot, and each day a boy is sent to tell them he shall not come until the next day. There is no specific reference to how long they have been doing this, nor how long it will continue, yet there are suggestions that the passage of time goes unmarked by the two.