Waiting for Godot, Waiting for God?

Reflection PaperArt
May 23, 2019

Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” is a tragicomedy play about two men waiting for another individual, Godot. The two men, Vladimir and Estragon, engage in various discussions and arguments as they wait for Godot. Despite their persistent waiting, the play ends with the two men still waiting. There are many interpretations of the play but this  reflection paper will take the religious perspective that waiting for Godot is waiting for god and that the contents of the play are a reference to religiosity.

Godot as God

During the events in “Waiting for Godot”, Vladimir and Estragon learned some of Godot’s characteristics through conversations with the young boy. First of all, Godot’s name contains the word “god” in it, which can lead to a quick association between Godot and god. This could have been a coincidence; the author thinking of a random name. However, events from the play and descriptions of Godot reveal that the naming is not coincidental. The boy described Godot as a white man with a white beard, similar to the common image of god in literature and movies. There are also passages from the Bible that describe god with white hair and beard and with fire-like shiny eyes (Wang). Since Beckett is knowledgeable about the Bible, it may not be a coincidence that the boy described Godot similar to John’s description of God in Revelation.

Furthermore, the boy himself is another piece of evidence that Godot is god. The boy introduces himself as Godot’s messenger. In Christianity, believers associate angels with children. The book describes angels as messengers of god, similar to the boy being Godot's messenger. There is also the boy’s revelation that he and his brother tend to Godot’s sheep and goats. This is a direct reference to the Bible when god will separate the people, similar to how a shepherd separates his sheep and goats (qtd. in Wang). This similarity strongly implies that Godot is god and the boy is a messenger, perhaps symbolizing an angel or religious leader. 

The boy, at the end of each day, assured Vladimir and Estragon that Godot will come tomorrow, which is similar to how religious leaders and figures preach about the coming of Christ. In the play, Vladimir and Estragon question their existence, and they are waiting for Godot to gain enlightenment (“Waiting for Godot”). They believe meeting Godot will improve their lives and lead them to salvation. This is what religious believers believe and so they hold on to their faith, similar to Vladimir’s and Estragon’s decision to wait for Godot despite uncertainty. Their wait for Godot is a metaphor for the believers’ anticipation for the second coming of Christ.

Vladimir and Religious Belief

Establishing that Godot is god, one can then interpret Vladimir and Estragon as exemplars of different types of individuals. Vladimir portrayed the faithful believer who insisted on waiting for Godot despite the uncertainty of his arrival. In the play, Vladimir was aware that the events happening that day had happened before. He knew about Pozzo, Lucky, and the boy starting from the first act. However, it was only until the second act that he questioned the events and asked Estragon if he was aware of the repeating events. Even after the realization, Vladimir insisted on waiting for Godot and even stopped Estragon from walking away.

We can interpret this as Vladimir’s awareness of suffering which the church often preaches to its believers. He understood that waiting for Godot may require him to suffer but the rewards are worth the pain. There were also instances in the play when Vladimir becomes agitated and irritated, however, he would always overcome them and refrain from acting brashly. We can compare this to a believer’s resistance to temptation as they remind themselves of the church’s teachings. So despite the problems and negative experiences, especially the realization that they are living a repeating day, Vladimir continued to wait for Godot.

Estragon and Doubt

Estragon is the embodiment of a doubtful believer. Some can associate Estragon with agnosticism or atheism , with agnosticism being more accurate. Estragon is a character who tends to hurt himself and utilizes violence. For instance, Estragon was physically aggressive towards Lucky and the messenger. His aggression makes him susceptible to injuries, such as the wound in his leg due to Lucky’s kick. Estragon lacks self-control and is impatient regarding most things. His impatience is in direct opposition to the play’s plot which is “waiting”. This opposition supports the thesis that Estragon embodies religious doubt since he does not possess the patience to wait for Godot or god.

In various parts of the play, Estragon attempted to leave and stop waiting for Godot. However, Estragon would always stay either because of Vladimir's reasoning or his inaction. Estragon’s attempt to leave indicates doubt about Godot or god. Vladimir's insistence, which prevented Estragon from leaving,  portrays a believer’s effort to save others and validate his beliefs. Alternatively, Estragon also attempted to persuade Vladimir to leave with him and stop waiting for Godot. Similar to Vladimir, Estragon tries to get Vladimir on his side, attempting to validate his doubt. Vladimir’s unwavering faith made Estragon stay and believe that Godot is coming, challenging the latter's doubts.

Pozzo and Lucky

Aside from Vladimir and Estragon, the play introduced Pozzo and Lucky. The two characters have a master-slave relationship which the play's two acts portrayed differently. Similar to the two protagonists, Pozzo and Lucky also embody humanity. However, they are not waiting for Godot and already have a destination and purpose. From a religious perspective, Pozzo and Lucky portray human life without god. They are not waiting for Godot, meaning they are not waiting for god and spiritual salvation. For instance, in the first act, Pozzo had power over others and was cruel to Lucky, an indication that he does not fear or recognize eternal punishment. In the second act, Pozzo was miserable and fixated on the misery of life; another indication of not believing in life after death . Pozzo's and Lucky's two versions showed how humanity acts in the absence of faith.

The Repeating Events

The repeating events in "Waiting for Godot" is another direct reference to the Bible. The Christian Bible stated that "there is nothing new under the sun" and everything that will happen has happened before (New International Version, Ecc. 1-9). The play's two acts showed the characters reliving the same events, portraying that humans are repeating history. It is also important to note that the tree in the play sprouted leaves during the second act, implying that time is passing forward and only the events are repeating. The Biblical reference and literal take further support the premise that the play is a representation of religious life and that waiting for Godot is waiting for god.

Conclusion

Vladimir and Estragon’s wait for Godot is a metaphor for the believers’ religious life and anticipation for the coming of a savior. “Waiting for Godot” showcased the day-to-day experience of common believers and their reactions to challenges. It highlighted the suffering, doubt, persistence, and faith that different individuals fixate on as they seek purpose and meaning in life. The play, despite many possible interpretations, is a reflection of the uncertainty of reality and of man’s hope that there is a higher power that gives meaning to earthly sufferings.

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Works Cited

Beckett, Samuel. Waiting for Godot. Faber & Faber, 2006.

Holy Bible, New International Version. Biblica. 1973.

Patkovszky, Patricia. “Samuel Becket and the Question of God in Waiting for Godot.” Grin. 2006, https://www.grin.com/document/62307,

“Waiting for Godot.” Encyclopedia Britannica. 2022, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Waiting-for-Godot.

Wang, Jing. “The Religious Meaning in Waiting for Godot.” English Language Teaching, vol. 4, no. 1. 2011, https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1080326.pdf.

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