AN ANTI--CHRISTIAN TEXT FROM A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE:
THE CASE OF S. BECKETT'S "WAITING FOR GODOT"
Samuel Beckett's WAITING FOR GODOT (1952) has been acclaimed
as one of the most significant plays of the post-Second World
War era. Martin Esslin, one of the pioneering critics of the
play, calls it "one of the successes of the post--war
theater" (39). Poet Kenneth Rexroth, concurring with
playwright Tennessee Williams, says that GODOT is the greatest
play since Pirandello's SIX CHARACTERS IN SEARCH OF AN AUTHOR"
(244). For Andrew Kennedy, Beckett's change of status "from
the obscure avant-garde writer to the world figure"
(Beckett was awarded the 1969 Nobel Prize for Literature)
is attributed to the fame of the play (1). And David Gates,
in an obituary for Beckett that he wrote for NEWSWEEK, calls
WAITING FOR GODOT the most influential play of the 20th century"
(43). Indeed, that Robin Williams and Steve Martin, whom Jack
Kroll (also reporting for NEWSWEEK) calls "Americas two
best comic actors", acted in it in a prestigious off-Broadway
theater as recently as 1988 testifies to the play's
lasting importance; no wonder Kroll calls GODOT "the
most famous play of the century" (87).
critical acclaim of the play is not based on its form as a
"well-wrought urn," to borrow Cleanth Brooks's
metaphor. Commenting on the body of plays that have been given the label
of "Theater of the Absurd" to which WAITING FOR
GODOT belongs, Esslin writes,
If a good play must have
a cleverly constructed story, these have no story or plot
to speak of; if a good play is judged by the subtlety of
characterization and motivation, these are often without
recognizable characters and present the audience with almost
mechanical puppets; if a good play has to have a fully explained
theme which is neatly exposed and finally solved, these
often have neither a beginning nor an end; if a good play
has to hold the mirror up to nature and portray the manners
and mannerisms of the age in finely observed sketches, these
seem often to be reflections of dreams and nightmares;
if a good play relies on witty repartee and pointed dialogue,
these often consist of incoherent babblings. (21--22)
If the value of the play does not lie in its form, as Esslin
convincingly argues, then, many critics contend, it lies in
its theme: the absurdity of the human condition.
defines "the absurd" as that "which is devoid
of purpose...Cut off from his religious, metaphysical, and
transcendental roots, man is lost; all his actions become
senseless, absurd, useless" (qtd. in Esslin 23).
The sense of despair
and rootlessness that is the characteristic of the Theater
of the Absurd, as Esslin explains, was mainly a result of
the Second World War, which shattered many artists hopes for
mankind-in-progress and shook their religious faith (23).