The absurdist theater aims to discuss ideas associated with absurdism which deals with existence. Samuel Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot perfectly exemplifies the fundamental tenets of absurdism, which involves the
‘meaning of existence’ and the notion of ‘nothing’, ‘existential angst’ and ‘despair’.
Immediately, the play begins with the routine nature of existence. Estragon sits ceaselessly trying to put on his boot. Vladimir exclaims, “Boots must be taken off every day, I’m tired telling you that. Why don’t you listen to me?”. The play begins with these two characters who are in an unidentified place. This particular scene illuminates the emptiness of existence. Estragon through his fruitless attempts comes to the realization that existence follows the same routine and has no essence or meaning other than what we give it. Moreover, this is suggested in succession, whereas the two begin to talk about the bible. Vladimir asks Estragon, “Do you remember the Gospels?”. Estragon replies,
“I remember the maps of the Holy Land. Colored they were. Very pretty. The Dead Sea was pale blue. The very look of it made me thirsty. That’s where we’ll go, I used to say, that’s where we’ll go for our honeymoon. We’ll swim. We’ll be happy.
The foregoing quote highlights the function of organised religion. Religion functions to give existence meaning or hope which is the antithesis of despair. Estragon, who speaks about the contents of the bible, stating that “We’ll be happy” highlights the hope provided by the bible. Yes, there is no concrete meaning or road map for our existence other than ‘religious mythology’, which has a history of instilling a sense of hope. Arguably, without the basis of hope known as religion, one exists in perpetual despair.
However, the absurd, through it’s despairing tropes, offers a solution to the emptiness of existence. Albert Camus, an Algerian philosopher famously stated, “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy”. Further into the play, it is revealed that the two are ‘Waiting for Godot’ though no concrete illustration of Godot is presented.
While in wait, the two contemplate suicide. Estragon declares, “What about hanging ourselves?” which essentially is unusual. Suicide, as delineated in absudism, is the consequence of existential angst. This is the anguish that comes about with the realization of one’s existence. Clearly, contemplating suicide is not a viable option though works in tandem with the previously mentioned ideas.
The two characters can be described as having an ‘existential crisis’, though initially subtle. They are in touch with their existence, yet do nothing but wait. ‘Nothing’ as both an action and abstraction in the play posits the despairing idea that man is nothing other than what he creates. The text builds on the idea of nothing and freedom.
Later in the play, Pozzo, a snobbish otherwise wealthy man comes with a slave bound with his luggage. Lucky, the slave, is foremost presented as docile and submissive to the orders of Pozzo. Yet, Pozzo, who is tyrannical towards Lucky is confronted by Vladimir. This particular scene stood out because it speaks to how people can be restricted and bound through their existence that they forget how free they truly are. One’s freedom comes from first knowing that you are free and that you can act in the way you wish. Sometimes, one’s essence constricts. Because Lucky sees himself as nothing more than a slave, his freedom is therefore limited.