Postmodernism and Absence in Waiting for Godot
Posted On April 14, 2017
Part B- Responding
The article refers to a number of important issues to a number of important issues related to postmodernism and absence in Samuel Beckett??™s Waiting for Godot.
Discuss the importance of absence in the play and how its representation reflects the important concerns of the Module Statement.
Your response should also consider to what extent Waiting for Godot can be viewed as a postmodern text.
As a literary device, absence is exceedingly difficult to define and to recognise. In Samuel Beckett??™s ???tragicomedy in two acts???, Waiting for Godot, absence is the central theme and structure for the text. Yet, in so being, it gives the play a lack of centre and structure; a concept outlined in Yuan, Yuan??™s article ???Representation and absence: paradoxical structure in postmodern texts.??™ While often considered as a postmodern text, Waiting for Godot is unable to be simply classified as postmodern as it both conforms to and defies a number of postmodern techniques. The play deals with a number of important issues relating to the cold war period and absence is the integral part of all of these issues. One of the driving forces behind the play is the absence of purpose and decision. This is seen through the contrast of Estragon and Vladimir with Pozzo and Lucky. The simultaneous presence and absence of hope in the play is another important concept and is seen through the use of repetition. Tied in with the absence of hope is the absence of a higher being. This is important as it represents one of the religious paradigms of the time and is seen through allusion. Through all these things the text was valued at the time of its being written; 1948-49, and remains a valued text in today??™s society.
In Waiting for Godot, the absence of any clearly defined purpose forms the basis of the play and is representative of a common post-war attitude. Right from the beginning of the play, the audience is ???warned??™ of the frustratingly pointless nature of the two main characters; Vladimir and Estragon??™s existences. ???Nothing to be done.??? In this first line of dialogue, Estragon sums up the very absence of purpose and action which is the integral concept to the play. While he is in fact referring to the issue he faces with his boot, the profundity of the remark is obvious. This lack of purpose is representative of the general attitude of the time. Following WWII and the destruction left in its wake, people felt completely lost and without purpose. There was a very long rebuilding process that is, in many countries still unfinished; much of the Eastern Block has never fully recovered from the War. This post-war anxiety is one of the main themes of the play. ???They give birth astride a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it??™s night once more.??? In this; one of the most insightful yet pessimistic lines of the play, Pozzo through the use of imagery and metaphor depicts the brevity and almost pointless nature of life. The image of a mother giving birth ???astride a grave??? is particularly potent as it plays on society??™s rejection of the death of a child. One imagines a baby in a grave and, as a baby at the time of being born has both no purpose and yet unlimited purpose, it is like the beginning and end of life become synonymous creating a very ironic and postmodern look at life and death. As written by Lance St. John Butler, ???To be human is to wait for what cannot come,??? the irony in this statement again points out the purposelessness which rules people??™s lives. The single minded-nature with which Estragon and Vladimir ???wait for Godot??? is representative of Nietzsche??™s conclusion that ???man would sooner have the void for his purpose than be void of purpose.??? They will not do anything except wait for this absent figure, ???Let??™s go…we can??™t…why not…we??™re waiting for Godot…??? and it is this inability for action which results from the necessity to wait for Godot which acts as their empty purpose to fill the lack of purpose which they would otherwise have. Their inability to leave this space which they seem to have inhabited is greatly contrasted with Pozzo and Lucky who after a brief stop in the first act continue on their journey with a seemingly more definite purpose than ???Gogo??™ or ???Didi??™ ever display. Even in the second act, after Pozzo loses his sight and is unable to lift himself from the ground he displays purpose and a decisiveness which eludes the two main characters for the whole play.
In Beckett??™s play, the other driving force behind the plot or lack thereof is hope and the absence of hope. Estragon and Vladimir pin their hopes on different things throughout the text yet all of these things fail to deliver. ???What about hanging ourselves??? It is here, where they pin their hopes upon suicide that they are dashed by the tree being unable to sustain their weight and kill them. Just as they have no purpose they have empty hopes; waiting for Godot, wanting a carrot, wanting to kill themselves, and so they are forced to hope for completely hopeless things to cover up the hopelessness of their very existence. ???That passed the time,??? ???It would have passed in any case.??? This sarcastic, pessimistic look at the activity of their lives sums up essentially everything that they do. There is the repetitious nature of them trying to find something to ???pass the time,??? which truly expresses the pointless nature of their lives. They react positively to having done anything to pass the time yet as the act of waiting is itself paradoxical; it erases itself as a deferral of activity is in turn a deferral of meaning, their time would have been far better spent actually doing something. Yet, in their infinite waiting and absence of anything, there exists the concept of infinite hope, as mentioned by Yuan Yuan. This idea of infinite hope is boundlessly more attractive to them than having no hope at all and for this reason they cling to it almost as tightly as they cling to each other. The absence, which is in part created by the almost empty stage and empty plot lead many to categorise the play as minimalistic and thus postmodern. Yet, minimalism is, by definition a technique where the responder??™s imagination has to fill in the empty spaces left by the composer due to the composer only putting in necessities. Waiting for Godot however leaves very little left to be imagined, it presents a blank, bleak look at a society devoid of women, religion and seemingly a large portion of the population is poverty stricken. It is through this magnification and exaggeration of the actual post war society that the text was found to be valued at the time it was first written. Its continuing value stems from the absence of any specific time period or setting. One is able to apply aspects of the play to one??™s own life and society far more easily.
While unable to call Waiting for Godot a play about ???waiting for God??? the play contains a great number of links to religion and the absence of a higher being is an important theme in the text. The godlessness of the society in the text is important as it is representative of the religious paradigm of the time. A large number of people felt as though they had been abandoned by God and seeing a world in the state it was in following WWII challenged people??™s perception of a ???loving and merciful lord.??™ Interesting to note is that it is not only an absence of God yet also the absence of women in this society; through Beckett??™s purposeful omission of woman he was trying to raise the point that a society without women would certainly be a bleak one. While there is no God in the play there is constant allusion to the Bible and Jesus. ???One of the thieves was saved. [Pause.] It??™s a reasonable percentage. [Pause.]??? The use here of pause is important as it shows the audience that Vladimir is considering his own odds of being saved which means that he believes himself to be damned. This parallel that he draws between himself and the thieves from the Bible is important as towards the end of the play, Estragon compares himself to Christ, leading the audience to believe that Gogo is Didi??™s saviour and also vice versa. As neither of them is able to remember much and both have a much skewed sense of consciousness and time, they rely on having the other to ensure that something in their lives is tangible and real. They act as the God for the other in this society, someone to whom they can tell everything and who is always there. One of the religious interpretations of the play sees Pozzo as a Pope-like figure while Lucky is the faithful. This interpretation is in many ways fitting as one sees Pozzo??™s reaction to Lucky??™s think. Whether he is outraged because it is like ???speaking in tongues??? which was considered Satanic and blasphemous in the early 20th century or because he shows more brilliance then Pozzo who should be a divinely chosen ruler of men, it hardly matters for both lend to this idea of organised religion oppressing even in this world where God is essentially dead. Due to the Godlessness, Godot fills the empty space left by acting as a saviour, ???Godot has become a concept??”an idea of promise and expectation…people wait in the hope that it will restore significance to their existence.??? This is exactly what a God does for a contemporary society. Although Godot and God are not tantamount it is important to notice the similar function that both serve, Godot in the play, God in society.
In the play Waiting for Godot written in 1949 by Samuel Beckett, there are a number of techniques used to make the play a postmodern text, most notably the use of absence which underlines every theme in the play, but also others. Beckett??™s use of irony to look at the absence of purpose which pervades the text both adds to the parody of the text and makes it postmodern. The use of repetition and minimalism in describing the absence of hope in the text creates a paradoxical atmosphere for the text. Through omission Beckett and intertextuality Beckett is able to create a vivid picture of society. By having all the characters as men, every character is contrasted so as to highlight their vast differences more clearly. The text is able to challenge a number of society??™s values and represents a number of the paradigms of the time. For all these reasons it was and is a valued text.
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