Themes Of Life In Waiting For Godot English Literature Essay

‘Waiting for Godot’ and ‘The Outsider’ have similar themes running through the main vein of the plot, though they are radically different in style and plot. In particular there are questions presented by the texts concerning what it really is to be human, an assessment as it were of how we live our lives.

In ‘The Outsider’ (The Stranger as it is sometimes known by the original title), the plot follows a young man named Meursault. Seemingly detached from the world around him, he has a brutal honesty and an initially disturbing ability to coldly observe and evaluate any situation. The death of his mother at the novel’s opening sees him dry of tears, not wanting to see the body at her funeral but instead drinking a cup of tea and smoking a cigarette with a caretaker. There is an indifference to his mother’s death, an apathy towards the concerns and emotions of most people that we see countless times, as the thrashings of Salamo’s dog and Raymond’s beating of his girlfriend. He is independent of society, ignoring many of the social conventions and structures we apply to life; yet he is not lonely. Underneath his wooden demeanour, there is a real zest for life, a thrill that he finds in the world around him often lost to all but children. He seems to be happy, not because he follows the guidelines that civilisation lays out, but because he finds happiness in his own way, happiness found very much in the present. But his ‘happiness’ is not what we would primarily imagine. Perhaps because happiness is sensed as wild, a sun kissed passion laden with laughter and delight where as Meursault, except for occasional moments where he totally lets go like the lorry, is cold and robotic in his joy. A distinction then, between happiness and what Meursault feels, content. This is an important theme in the book which, although adamantly denied by Camus, seems to have a rather existentialist edge. We work hard to get money, have sometimes difficult relationships, do things we simply do not want to, and for what? To be happy? Surely not this fleeting momentary emotion; then perhaps it is to be content with ourselves and our lives. Yet, is this not what Meursault feels by ignoring all of these principles?

It appears as though the structure of social order is ignored by Meursault, and he is better off without it. But because of this singularity, it seems as though the rest of society, the ‘civilised’ peoples of the world, cannot understand him and therefore find him so unpalatable, so wrong. Indeed, it is this that is really used to convict him of a crime punishable by death in the courtroom, the actual murder secondary to his coldness, the picture of his as a soulless monstrosity. They see him as uncaring and in some ways, he is, but this is a very simplified view. So if Meursault is such an alien character, how can we relate to him? In most things we can’t, yet as the book proceeds we can begin to understand him; and through this understanding his development. It seems as though Meursault’s growth throughout the book is fairly limited, if not non-existent. This is however, quite wrong. All of Meursault apparent polarity from others around him seems to stem from, not a lack of knowledge and caring from what is around him, but from himself. He’s not aware of his own desires, motivations and as such, acts as though he has none. Because of this, his interaction with the world around him is limited, his emotions are severely abridged, decisions non-existent, his views of people wholly disinterested or casually misguided in their objective unbias. The passive demeanour he adopts creates an aura of uncaring and unfeeling, relationships based on ease rather than a connection with the person. He can observe them carefully, details of their face, actions voice all fully rendered in his mind, yet his understanding of what this means is inadequate for what is considered human communication. The change that Meursault undergoes then is a major one. From the end of Chapter three where he kills the Arab, without regret and indifference he ends his life, then proceeds to shoot the dead body three more times. Why? This act underlines all of Meursault’s separation from society. He does not believe in anything religious (more unusual at the time), existence is an ephemeral thing; it flees after a passing moment. The killing holds no significance; it is as if other people to Meursault, as in the old people’s home, do not really exist. This is something of Meursault that we could, to some extent, expect. It is, however; the shooting of the body after that is surprising. As mentioned, Meursault does not know himself and so when questioned, he says he is not sure why he continued to discharge bullets into the corpse. This is significant as it shows that Meursault is not solely unconcerned with life, there is something else beating its tune in his actions. Perhaps this is a release for him, hatred, anger from the death of his mother, moreover from the imperfect society he lives in. The heat, which plays a huge part throughout the book could, to some extent, not only infer the daze in which Meursault finds himself at times, but also a small measure of burning emotion within himself.

It is these deep buried emotions that Meursault begins to come to grips with towards the end of the book. Indeed the change between him at the end of chapter two, and the end of chapter three is somewhat fascinating. His prison sentence serves as a catalyst to change in Meursault, the isolation of his cell bringing him closer to notions of normality rather than pushing him away. His passive deportment falls away and he begins to make decisions, actions and words that have direct effects and consequences that he can portray before they happen. When he shouts at the Chaplain, he does so “with cries of anger and joy”. Emotion comes alive within Meursault and with it, a knowledge. A knowledge of his wants and incentives, assurances of everything he has ever seen, heard, touched; what it means to be alive, “sure about himself, about everything, surer than the chaplain could ever be, sure of his life and sure of the death he has waiting for him.” We see that he moves from indifference from his death to understanding, then to acceptance. This might seem trivial, but this is the peak of his change, the transformation into feeling. He wants to live his life again, to escape and be free, to experience, this time really feel. But he doesn’t. He has recognised his sentence, recognised his death and will face it. The last lines are particularly poignant, anger rises to the front in a roaring tempest and he spills forth all the pent up emotion that has been held within him all his life. He realises with a despairing glee the futility of life, the indifference that, like he had once shown, the universe has for human life. The final step in his conversion is being the focus of hate at his execution, finally understanding why they should feel this way towards him, why they found him so wrong.

Waiting for Godot obviously delivers its ideas is a very different way. It is of course a play so unlike Meursault, we see the characters from the outside, communicating to us with the help of the physical body. The absurdist text makes it sometimes harder to keep track of the emotions of the characters as it does in the Outsider, yet we never feel lost in their sudden mood swings and odd reactions. Like the Outsider, Waiting for Godot has strong themes on the idea of society and where we are ‘placed’. This is constantly challenged, by both Estragon and Vladimir and indeed the characters of Lucky and Pozzo. Godot himself, of whom we never catch a glimpse, it an interesting character, simply by the way that the two tramps (never actually referred to as tramps in the script) talk of him; words of worship, prostration, begging. A very simple interpretation might be that Godot is God, but it seems that he is more routed in our world. Beckett himself said he did not know who Godot was, yet it seems that he represents not a person, but something more abstract. He is society, rules, structure; he is the collective mind of a people. As ideals change, Vladimir and Estragon might be accepted back into a world of normality. They are eternally at the clemency of Godot, his will it was dictates their place. But outside of society, what do Vladimir and Estragon have? Very simply, they have… nothing. They exist in a world of emptiness, the play is often described as something in which, “Nothing happens, twice.” And this is what the play says. Like the Outsider, it explores the idea that ultimately, there is nothing. And so, we create something; society. We create rituals, religion, rules, principles, ideas all to cover up the essential nothingness of our lives. The play elicits a sense of terror lurking in daily life, an elegiac tone of despair, the loss of hope. And in the process of watching it, the point is forced home in dark irony. We are waiting for Godot, we are the ones passing the time watching the broken dialogue between two bewildered men; we are the ones who try blind ourselves from meaningless existence. Vladimir and Estragon exist outside this facade in a state we would hardly call cognisant, yet more truthful to themselves. Forgetful, suspicious and in pain, they fight against boredom and empty continuation and so pass time by insulting one another and repeating what had come before. Like the Outsider, the characters are radically different from what we would call normal, because they challenge the accepted beliefs and constitutions.

But let us now look at character inside what we would consider pubilc culture, Pozzo and Lucky. Although still vastly different from most of us in conduct and presentation, they are if you will metaphors for what our lives have become. The slave and the master, perhaps more relevant in history these characters, yet not as extraneous as one might think. We exist in a world where you are either on top or on bottom, struggling to rise ever higher. You take what you can, or someone else will, and provide only for yourself in a battle against those we would call our community. These two characters are not medieval relics, but very much representations of us today. Pozzo, whilst in total control in the first Act, treating Lucky like an animal is far from unassailable in his position. By the second Act, he is blind, and Lucky is more leading him around than being commanded. Lucky is now in control, although Pozzo is blind to it, physically and more importantly, mentally. This change of power underlines the petty infighting of politics and human interaction, both characters riddled with flaws yet too focused on each other, Pozzo on Lucky’s help and obedience, Lucky of Pozzo now desperate commands; both unable to do anything about their own problems.

And again and again, inferences can be drawn from the absurd actions of the characters from Waiting for Godot and Meursault in the Outsider touching upon the subject of death and of bleak pessimism. It is a powerful subject and one that both allude to countless times. The Outsider portrays death as a boon, a final release, the one thing in which we are all equally blessed. Waiting for Godot, something for which we must wait for, wait through scenes of boredom unless we sign up to the poor ministrations and false ideas as the rest of humanity. And in this we have a deeply cynical view of us as people, although this is redeemed somewhat by certain fragments of text. The strong friendship between Vladimir and Estragon is solely good, a friendship trying to outweigh the difficulties they face. The Outsider offers peace, at first false peace through Meursault’s emotional emancipation, and then true peace through his comprehension of feeling and his absolution. So whilst both plays can be considered both unenthusiastic of life, there is some element to them that inspires something more, something difficult to fully comprehend.

It is in this that we see hope. Difficult to see at first, granted, yet it is there. Life is without meaning, without purpose. But it is not pointless. Yes, society is cruel and untrusting of those that we call different yes, we cannot ascribe a higher meaning to our existence but it does not mean we cannot find our own purpose and harness it for a chance at good.

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