The Meaning Of Time As Depicted In Waiting For Godot
by Jeffrey Philip Bigham, Princeton University
Several scenes in Waiting For Godot depicted dialogue between Vladimir and Estragon that employed questionable logic. Although these exchanges may have been included because they were amusing and contributed to the comedy of the play, the underlying reason was that they added to the meaning of the play as a whole. By analyzing one of these illogical portions, a deeper understanding of the main themes can be obtained. One such logical problem was Vladimir and Estragonís faulty memory.
Towards the beginning of the play, Vladimir and Estragon argued about whether or not they were waiting for Godot at the correct location and argued about what they had done yesterday. While Estragon insisted that they had waited in the same place the day before, he said that he didnít recognize it. At first Vladimir disagreed with him, but even he later expressed some doubt when he said to Estragon, ďBut you said we were here yesterday.Ē (8-9) This situation presents a problem in logic, for why would they not remember what they did the day before and, if they did wait in the same place yesterday, why would they not recognize the landscape? The answer, beyond a simple explanation citing their faulty memories, is that for Vladimir and Estragon it did not really matter what they had done the day before or where they were on that day. Their lives would have been the same even if this day was somehow skipped, a fact that their deficient memories support.
Another example of this faulty memory occurred when Vladimir mentioned the time that he and Estragon had spent in Macon country picking grapes. Estragon did not remember this period, and even Vladimir has trouble remembering details of their time there, such as the name of the man for whom they worked. (67-68) Both of these events seem illogical considering that they probably would have spent a great deal of time there because it was their place of employment. Again it seems as though Vladimir and Estragonís lives would have changed little minus this extensive period.
The repetition of the play provides further evidence of the unimportance of time for Vladimir and Estragon. Both acts are identical excluding a few small deviations. With one day after another being basically the same during their wait, it is no wonder that Vladimir and Estragon had trouble telling one day from the next and that they had trouble remembering what happened during each day. Because of this lack of significant change, time had no meaning for them, and therein lies the larger theme that these scenes help to convey. If the day before was meaningless and if most of the periods before this were meaningless, time itself was meaningless for them as well. As Estragon said at the beginning of the second day in reference to that day, ďFor me itís over and done with, no matter what happens,Ē (64) which suggested his own realization of the meaninglessness of that day and of time itself.
By extension this can be made to apply to all of humankind as well. Life is a lengthy period of waiting, during which the passage of time has little importance. Each day Vladimir and Estragon waited for Godot, and, if he didnít come that day they would come back tomorrow. (9) The amount of time that they had already spent doing this and the amount of time that would do so in the future is unknown, but neither is important because time was meaningless for them. Each day they would continue to wait for the unknown Godot until he either came or time ended through their death.
If a literal interpretation of the text is employed, one might wonder why the pair did not do something to end their waiting, such as searching for Godot, but, if one takes a more metaphoric look at the play, Godot becomes something for which the pair may have to wait. Because it was never revealed conclusively who or what Godot was, this unknown force can be seen to metaphorically represent that for which the audience is waiting in their own lives. The audience relates to these protagonists because waiting is common for all. While the event for which each person is waiting may change, the waiting continues until each individualís death. Two examples of something that waiting for Godot may represent are waiting for God or waiting for death. Indeed, several times throughout the play Vladimir and Estragon discuss hanging themselves, an action that would have ended their continual waiting, but they found themselves unable to do it. (12) No acceptable path existed for them to end their waiting and, therefore, they were forced to wait. Through this, the play showed that there are things for which one must wait and that no amount of initiative will end this waiting.
The play emphasized the common nature of waiting among all people, and, therefore, it suggested that the meaningless of time is universal. If one is always waiting for something to happen, the periods during that wait end up being meaningless, and, if the event finally does happen, the process repeats itself. If that something never occurs all time becomes a meaningless wait. In any case, one is always caught in a period in which time has no purpose and waiting is the only goal. This idea was demonstrated well in Waiting For Godot, for throughout the play the protagonists waited and nothing memorable seemed to happen. From this one can surmise that time has no meaning.
The overall theme of the meaninglessness of time presented itself many times throughout the play, often during what seemed to be silly arguments between Vladimir and Estragon. Only by looking at the deeper meaning of these often illogical conversations and by combining them with other supporting details of the play can one discover how these logic problems relate to the whole. In this case they are used to present the themes, one of which was the idea of arbitrary and meaningless time.
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"The play emphasized the common nature of waiting among all people...it suggested that the meaningless of time is universal..."
"From this one can surmise that time has no meaning."