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CHARACTERS AS SYMBOLS

 

        At this stage of the teaching of the text, it should be quite clear to the students that GODOT is not about the social or political situation of any particular people or individuals. As Andrew Kennedy observes, the characters names, Estragon, Vladmir, Pozzo and Lucky, are respectively French, Russian, Italian and English (35). That the main characters, Vladmir and Estragon, are stripped almost to the bare of any social background has led many critics to convincingly conclude that they represent Everyman, Vladmir representing the intellectual dimension and Estragon the physical dimension of man.
        Without first giving this revelation to students, the teacher may assign them to look closely at the two characters and to write on a piece of paper any noticeable differences between the two, using the binary opposition model (for example good/evil, light/darkness, sun/moon). The following is likely to be the consensus of the class:

 

VLADMIR

 

ESTRAGON
He often takes off his hat and peers inside it as if it contained something. He often takes off his boots and peers inside them as if they contained something.

 

He has read the Bible thoroughly. He scrutinizes especially the gospels, on the subject of salvation. He has no interest in Bible stories.   All he remembers from the Bible are the maps of the Holy Land which were painted in color; he particularly remembers the color of the Red Sea.

 

His breath stinks. His feet stinks.

 

He has a sense of dignity. He has no sense of dignity.

 

He has a good memory He has a bad memory.  He only remembers who gave him food and who kicked him the previous day, thingsthat have to do with the body.

 

He is compassionate. He is violently inclined.

 

He has a will to live. He once attempted suicide by drowning in the Rhone and Vladmir fished him out.

        If these differences are probed from students and orderly put on the blackboard for all to see, it should not be hard to convince them (if they have not reached the conclusion themselves) to agree with many critics that Vladmir and Estragon are the intellectual and physical components of man. Although one would be tempted to use the usual dichotomy body/spirit, on a closer look Vladmir hardly represents the spirit; after all, "his breath stinks" (33).

        Students here, as elsewhere, should be asked to give other textual evidence to show that the two characters are actually one. For example, Vladmir and Estragon say that they have been inseparable for the past fifty years. Also, their reason for not committing suicide to escape their misery is that they are afraid one of them may not die. In fact, many times they think that their lot would be better off if they separated and they decide to do so, but they do not act on it.

        Clearly, this analysis of Vladmir and Estragon logically leads to the conclusion that the play is about man in general waiting for Godot. At this stage of teaching the text, the question of Godot's identity seems quite pertinent.

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