There’s a bit of Vladimir and Estragon in all of us. Vladimir and Estragon are waiting. They’re waiting for a mysterious someone who goes by the name of Godot. Godot should be here any moment. In the meantime, Vladimir and Estragon pass the time with buffoonery and witty banter. That’s pretty much the plot of Samuel Beckett’s 1953 tragicomedy Waiting for Godot [affiliate link].
The protagonists’ mission to wait for Godot is somewhat complicated by the fact that they have no clue who Godot actually is, where they’re supposed to meet and when. They have no idea what he looks like or if he’ll show up at all. To make matters worse, in both acts, a boy shows up to tell them Godot couldn’t make it today. Though, he reassures them Godot should arrive tomorrow. So, Vladimir and Estragon keep waiting.
Embracing Chekhov’s Gun
Beckett’s masterpiece is an unusual and farcical play; very much open to interpretation. Beckett himself reportedly said it was all about “symbiosis”, which of course is as good as any explanation. In any case, Waiting for Godot is indeed strangely painful to read or watch. At first glance, Godot seems to be a bit of a douche. As if he concocted a carefully calibrated plan to drive the two protagonists mad with unkept promises — alongside the audience. There’s just enough supply of hope to keep everyone in the game, no more and no less. Arguably, rarely in literary history has an author blatantly ignored Chekhov’s Gun to such a great effect. In a sense, the pointless wait for Godot dislocates the audience in time and space.
In that, Waiting for Godot can be a valuable mind hack to become aware of impending time-waste. How often do we find ourselves in similar situations, waiting for someone or an event to occur? Once we’ve realised we’ve been waiting for nothing, it’s often too late. That said, such a situation is much easier to spot from the outside or in hindsight. That colleague who has been waiting for a promotion for years, who keeps telling you that once that next project is finished successfully her boss will make her a ‘senior’. Or maybe you’ve been investing in stocks. They crashed, you didn’t sell in time and since then you’ve been waiting for them to recover. Analysts say they might. It’s only after a year or so that you realise you’ve wasted your time waiting for Godot.
What’s the Wait?
There are plenty of potential reasons why we, or Vladimir and Estragon for that matter, can’t get ourselves to move.
First of all, we may think it’s rude not to wait. Godot seems to be committed to the meeting – kind of. What would he think of us if he showed up and we’re gone? But then again, how rude is it to keep people waiting?
Secondly, we may be waiting for Godot because he has something valuable to offer. Something we really want or need. We’ve waited for so long, what if Godot shows up as soon as we leave? We may be missing out. But then again, if he’s as sought after as it appears, Godot might be too busy to meet with us anyway.
Third, we may simply not have anything better to do. That’s probably going to sound harsh, but maybe we find it easier to kill time with meaningless chatter while we’re waiting for the next big thing to come our way all by itself. But then again, what would we be able to offer Godot if he did show up?
If we look at the situation more closely, we may realise that the person we’re really waiting for is nobody else but ourselves. In the absence of a Godot or a traditional story arc, Vladimir, Estragon and the audience are thrown back to themselves.
Tomorrow Never Comes
In my view, Waiting for Godot is a wonderful manifestation of the idea that tomorrow never comes. A metaphor for our tendency to postpone difficult decisions or avoid taking responsibility. At some point, however, we inevitably look back and can’t shake the feeling that – even though an eternity has passed – we’re still stuck and stagnate in the here and now. So what to do if we find ourselves under similar tragi-comic circumstances?
First, we might want to acknowledge that nobody else is coming. That’s not to say that we haven’t got any support from friends or family. But no matter how much they’re willing to inspire or help, they can’t and shouldn’t live our lives for us.
Second, we might want to set ourselves some worthwhile goals and work on a plan or alternative options. You know, on the off chance that this obscure Godot never shows up. Another plus would be that we actually knew what we’re aiming at. We got plenty of time, so we might as well stop procrastinating and start using it productively.
Lastly, once our goals, options and plans are laid out, let’s set our personal Godot a deadline. When time’s up, we cut our losses, leave and implement. In other words, don’t make yourself dependant on other people’s decisions. It’s hard enough to commit to our own goals.
As soon as we’ve managed to stop catering to some random stranger with a made-up name, strange things happen. All of a sudden, Godot may show up, keen to join us. Though, chances are we won’t care anymore. We’ve got our own plans now and they don’t involve the lazy freeloader types, the Vladimirs and Estragons.
It’s also worth considering that there’s a Godot in waiting in all of us. By pursuing our own goals and plans, we become Godot ourselves. Someone other people seem to build their day around. We’re not sure why, aren’t they busy? Suddenly, we find ourselves in the strange situation of having to decide how to handle this strange pair that has nothing better to do than wait for us. We’re observing them from afar while we’re busy doing our thing. Let’s take one last look at them. Vladimir and Estragon are still sitting idle.
Vladimir: Well? Shall we go?
Estragon: Yes, let’s go.
They do not move.