Waiting for Godot
from The Plays of Samuel Beckett by Eugene Webb, Univ. of Washington Press, Seattle
placed a jar in Tennessee
And round it was, upon a hill
It made the slovenly wilderness
Surround that hill
"The Anecdote of the Jar"
Aristotle said, a creature that desires to know, man cannot endure for long
the absence of meaning. And meaning, in its most basic sense, is pattern. If
man cannot find pattern in his world, he will try by any means at his disposal
to create it, or at least to imagine it. if a jar is not available, then a stump
or a tin can will do. Waiting
for Godot is the
story of two vegabonds who impose on their slovenly wilderness an illusory,
but desperately defended, pattern: waiting. The Godot they wait for is a vague
figure at best and would probably be a disappointment to them if he came, but
as long as they can make themselves believe that he will someday come and that
he offers some kind of hope, they can comfort themselves with the thought that
"in this immense confusion one thing alone is clear. We are waiting for
Godot to come" (Godot, p.51a)
The situation is a universal one. The only thing that distinguishes Vladimir and Estragon from Pozzo, Lucky, and the rest of us is that, having long since been deprived of most of the customary patterns that man imposes on his world, such as ownership and philosophical systems, they are forced to concentrate with a special intensity all their hope on this last illusion. Distilled in this way to its essentials, their situation becomes a symbol of that of man as such. They are man seeking meaning in an absurd universe. When asked who they are by Pozzo in Act II, Vladimir answers, "We are men" (p.53). And in Act I Estragon had responded to the same question with essentially the same answer : "Adam" (p.25).1 In the latter part of the play even Pozzo, after he has lost most of his possessions and powers that gave him personal identity and security, is universalized in the same way : when he answers to both "Cain" and "Abel," Estragon comments, "He's all humanity" (p.54).
Vladimir and Estragon, representing a sort of composite Everyman, embody complementary aspects of human nature : Vladimir the intellectual side of man, Estragon the corporeal. Their names suggest their personalities. "Vladimir," for example, means "ruler of the world,"2 a name that suggests the aspiration of intellect to master the universe by reducing it to knowledge, while "Estragon," the French word for the herb, tarragon, is a fitting name for a character so earthbound and with such persistent physical appetities. The way their personalities complement each other is reflected in a varity of characteristics. Vladimir has trouble with his hat, Estragon with his shoes. Vladimir has "stinking breath," Estragon "stinking feet" (p. 31). Estragon asks for carrots and radishes and is eager to hang himself when he hears that it will give him an erection. Vladimir, on the other hand, while not immune to physical appetite, tends to be more concerned with problems of meaning. For this reason he is also more optimistic; being more of a thinker, he has a greater need to search for explanations and to fabricate hopes. There is a significant irony in the fact that Vladimir, though the more intellectual of the two, is the less adequately intelligent: not as much of a thinker, Estragon has somewhat less need of knowledge and hope and is consequently somewhat less susceptible to illusions. Because he is more willing to let a mystery remain mysterious, he can retain a better grasp on reality. It is characteristic, for example, that when Vladimir is wrestling with the discrepancies among the four evangelists on the subject of the two thieves, Estragon's response is, "Well? They don't agree and that's all there is to it" (p. 9a). He can rest in an ignorance that would be intolerable to Vladimir, and in most of the circumstances with which this play deals a voluntarily accepted ignorance is the only reasonable attitude.
Pozzo and Lucky, in a more limited way, are also archetypal figures representing certain aspects of man.3 One might describe their relationship as that of exploiter and exploited, keeping in mind that these terms must be understood in their most general senses. It is true, of course, that Pozzo is a landowner and slaveowner and that Lucky is his slave, but it would be much too simple to reduce them to symbols of an economic relationship, as Bertolt Brecht wished to do:4 there are other equally significant types of exploitation involved. Pozzo, for example, can be interpreted as a symbol of the mass audience controlling and debasing the arts (since Lucky is a dancer) or as a nonintellectual world using thought as a plaything (since Lucky is a philosopher and theologian). And it should not be forgotten that Lucky is as attached to the relationship as Pozzo is : Lucky, Pozzo says, is trying to impress him so that he will keep him (p.21), and he weeps when Pozzo speaks of getting rid of him. Although their relationship has proved a disappointment to both, they seem each to have believed at one time that it would bring them benefits. Pozzo says that Lucky used to think and dance "very prettily" once (p. 26a), though now he shudders at the thought of having to watch or listen to him. There was a time when Lucky used to dance "the farandole, the fling, the brawl, the jig, the fandango and even the hornpipe" (p. 27), but now all he dances is "the Net," a a representation of his feeling of being trapped or entangled; and whereas Pozzo first took Lucky on nearly sixty years earlier in the hope of learning from him "beauty, grace, truth of the first water" (p. 22a), Lucky's thought has long since fallen into torturing incoherence.5 Evidently this is the fate of art and thought in an absurd universe. We are not told exactly what Lucky was looking for when he entered the relationship, but since he is currently so intent on keeping his position with Pozzo, it would seem likely that what he was looking for was precisely his condition of servitude. Freedom is a difficult burden to bear in an absurd world, and many of Beckett's characters flee from it in a variety of ways; in the midst of chaos, slavery can appear to have something satisfyingly definite about it.
If this is the case, then the relationship of Pozzo and Lucky is a devastating comment on the hopes of Vladimir and Estragon. Since they have made their Godot into a kind of absolute authority, at least in their imaginations, their relationship to him, like Lucky's to Pozzo, is that of slaves:
Estragon : Where do we come in? . . .
Vladimir : Come in? On our hands and knees.
Estragon : As bad as that?
Vladimir : Your Worship wishes to assert his prerogatives?
Estragon : We've no rights any more? . . . We've lost our rights?
Vladimir : (distinctly). We've got rid of them.
If what they seek from Godot is what Lucky has already found, then the emptiness of their hope is obvious, at least to the audience. Fortunately for their peace of mind, however, it is not obvious to them.
Their situation, then, is that of people waiting for nothing much, in a universe that has nothing much to offer. As they wait, and we watch, we learn something about how man behaves under such circumstances. We see them devising, with diminishing success, games to play to pass the time; we see them try again and again to understand the unintelligible; we see them discuss committing suicide, but never without finding an excuse to put it off; we see them cling to each other for company while continually bickering and talking about how much better off they would be apart.
From their relationship we learn how inevitably isolated man is within himself. Even though the company of one another is one of the few distractions they have from the boredom and anxiety that constantly press upon them, their moments of real companionswhip are evanescent. Most of the time they are locked away from each other in separate streams of thought. The mind is not only an ineffective instrument of understanding, it is also a prison ; man's need to think merely aggravates his basic egocentricity. This is made clear at the very beginning of the play. The scene opens with Estragon seated on a mound struggling with a boot that will not come off. Giving up temporarily he says, "Nothing to be done." Vladimir hears this, but instead of asking what is wrong or if he can help, he uses the words as a springboard for general philosophical observations : "I'm beginning to come round to that opinion. All my life I've tried to put it from me saying, Vladimir, be reasonable, you haven't tried everything. And I resumed the struggle" (p. 7). It takes some time for Estragon to get through to him, and when they finally do get onto the same subject, Vladimir again uses it as an occasion for a philosophical maxim : "Boots must be taken off every day" (p. 7a). And sympathy has an even more difficult time reaching between egos than does understanding :
Estragon : (feebly). Help me!
Vladimir : It hurts?
Estragon : (angrily). Hurts! He wants to know if it hurts!
Vladimir : (angrily). No one ever suffers but you. I don't count. I'd like to hear what you'd say if you had what I have. [p. 7a]
What Vladimir has seems to be gonorrhea, since it makes urination difficult and painful for him. As Estragon continues to ask for help, Vladimir continues to talk about his own problem, until finally Estragon gets the boot off by himself.
Their reactions to the arrival of the blind Pozzo in Act II present another illustration of the same tendency. When they hear Pozzo and Lucky approaching, Estragon shouts, "God have pity on me!" Vladimir, vexed, says, "And me?" but Estragon cries again, "On me! On me! Pity! On me!" (p. 49a). Then, after Pozzo falls and calls for help and they have spent several minutes discussing whether or not they would gain anything by helping him, Vladimir, even in the process of resolving to go to Pozzo's aid, becomes so lost in his own thoughts that he forgets all about Pozzo (pp. 51-52). Although here in need of others, Pozzo himself during the first act, when he was still secure in the power that his possessions and health gave him , was even more impervious to communication than Vladimir and Estragon. He would wander off into long digressions while they had to repeat their questions over and over again, trying to catch him at a moment when he would be "on the alert" (p. 20).
Seeing the difficulty these characters have in communicating with each other, one is reminded of what Malone said of Mr. and Mrs. Saposcat in Malone Dies : "They had no conversation properly speaking. They made use of the spoken word in much the same way as the guard of a train makes use of his flags, or of his lantern."6 Even when their trains of thought are going in the same direction, which is seldom enough, they run on separate, though parallel, tracks.
Under ordinary circumstances the workings of the mind, even if they reinforce man's basic isolation, do provide some comfort : thought can be used to organize experience into patterns. The kinds of pattern vary somewhat depending on the mind. Vladimir finds a degree of serenity in the kind of thought that can be formulated into maxims, and even Estragon, though less inclined to speculate, can enjoy now and then an idea with a nice shape to it. The latter, "aphoristic for once," says, "We are all born mad. Some remain so" (p. 51a). That the idea does not mean anything is less important than that it sounds as if it does. Pozzo, in better control of things in the first act than the two vagabonds, reduces reality to submission by imposing patterns of ownership on it. The trouble is, however, that in the universe Beckett portrays circumstances never remain ordinary for very long. The mind can never manage indefinitely to keep ahead of reality. The real plot of this play is the story of the gradual breakdown of all the illusory patterns that appear to give meaning to experience.
The illusion of ownership is probably the most fragile of these. Vladimir and Estragon were deprived of all but a few remnants of it long before the play began. Although they still have their clothing and are particularly attached to their hats and boots, and although Estragon is too keen on his carrot not to run back and get it when he drops it in his fright at the arrival of Pozzo and Lucky in Act I, these are only a few remaining vestiges of ownership. The archetypal representative of man's desire for possession is Pozzo. When he enters the first time with his slave, Lucky, loaded down with belongings of his, he is incensed to find the two vagabonds waiting on his land and thinks it "a disgrace" that the road is free to all (p. 16). As the act goes on, however, the security of ownership gradually slips away from him as his possessions disappear, one by one. His pipe, for example, and his watch simply vanish. This is a blow to his illusion of power, but although it distresses him that he is unable to find these things, he manages in the first act to avoid the full realization of what is happening. Giving up the search for his watch, he comforts himself with the thought that he "must have left it at the manor" (p. 31), though he had been making a conspicuous display of it only a few minutes earlier. Old habits of thought are a great comfort and animportant defense against the firect vision of reality -- "habit is a great deadener," as Vladimir says at a later point (p. 58a) -- and Pozzo clings to them as long as he can.7 Even in Act II, when time has already eroded most of the power Pozzo once had, Pozzo still refers to Lucky as "my menial" (p. 56), and though the possessions that once filled the bags Lucky carries are now replaced by sand, Pozzo still drives him on.
As the various meanings that have given shape and coherence to their lives gradually fail them, all of the characters are forced to confront at least briefly, before finding new defenses or patching together the old ones, the real absurdity of existence. When they do, their world falls apart for them into a meaningless flux. "Everything oozes," says Estragon at one point, recalling Heraclitus's river of becoming, "It's never the same pus from one second to the next" (p. 39).
Even at the beginning of the first act the realization of absurdity is already beginning to be a threat. This is why Vladimir is so concerned over the problem of what became of the two thieves. When he tries to interest Estragon in the subject, he speaks of it as a game that will "pass the time" (p. 9), but it soon becomes evident that the mystery of the thieves is more than a mere game to him. There is a note of real perplexity, even perhaps anxiety, in his persistence in exploring it. The fate of thieves, one of the four accounts that "everybody" believes, becomes as the play progresses a symbol of the condition of man in an unpredictable and arbitrary universe. Various other situations echo it, gradually augmenting its significance. Pozzo, for example, says of Lucky's condition of servitude, "Remark that I might just as well have been in his shoes and he in mine. If chance had not willed otherwise" (p. 21a). Lucky has had luck all right, but the wrong kind. And Godot, who is kind to one boy but beats the other, is as arbitrary as God was to thieves or to Cain and Abel.
As long as thought can find at least an illusion of meaning it is a source of some comfort, but the trouble is that it continually runs up against such ultimate mysteries as that represented by the story of the thieves. When this happens, the effect is not only disorienting but painful, sometimes excruciating. Lucky's speech and the response of the others to it is a good example. The very problem to which the story of the thieves refers seems to have had a great deal to do with the breakdown of Lucky's mind. The speech begins with the subject of "a personal God . . . with white beard . . . who from the heights of divine apathia divine athambia divine aphasia loves us dearly with some exceptions for reasons unknown but time will tell . . ." (p. 28a). The "time will tell" is wishful thinking, of course, and there is much wishful thinking in the speech : Lucky hopes that God suffers in sympathy "with those who for reasons unknown but time will tell are plunged in torment plunged in fire" and that he will one day "blast hell to heaven." A God who has already been defined as unable to feel, be impressed, or speak is supposed to care what becomes of man. In the universe of this play, time not only does not resolves such paradoxes, it continually forces them upon man's attention. The remainder of the speech shows both the persistence of Lucky's hope and the perplexity and despair to which the failure of his specific hopes is reducing him.
From the theological beginning he moves on to the subject of "Anthropopometry," in which it has been proved "beyond all doubt all other doubt than that which clings to the labors of men," proved, that is, with the most uncertain certainty but with irresistible force, "that man . . . in spite of the strides of alimentation and defecation wastes and pines wastes and pines" (p. 29). Human progress, that is, has not helped. man's decay continues as steadily as ever in spite of dietetics and "what is more for reasons unknown in spite of the strides of physical culture the practice of . . . tennis, football, running . . . sports of all sorts."
From the study of man, Lucky proceeds to nature and the philosophies that have explained it. The four elements of Empedocles dissolve on the one hand into Heraclitean "rivers running water running fire" (p. 29a) and on the other into the entropy of death : ". . . and then the earth namely the air and the aerth abode of stones in the great cold alas alas." And this "in spite of the tennis."
As the speech approaches its end, the image of a dying earth becomes a vast Golgotha : ". . . abode of stones . . . the skull the skull . . . the skull alas the stones." Lucky's last word, the opposite of Christ's, is "unfinished." The condition of a man is implicitly, whether Lucky realizes it consciously or not, a crucifixion. The only important difference between the agony of modern man and that of Christ is, as Estragon says somewhat later, that in the earlier time "they crucified quick" (p. 34a). In our time it is more drawn out, and less dramatic. "To every man his little cross," as Vladimir says, "Till he dies . . . And is forgotten" (p. 40).
During the course of the speech, the three listeners become increasingly agitated until finally they throw themselves on Lucky and silence him. Pozzo has heard it all before, probably often, and therefore is "dejected and disgusted" (p. 28) at the start. Vladimir and Estragon are curious in the beginning because thought, at least in such a systematic form, is not quite so familiar to them. Although they occasionally touch on areas of mystery, they normally avoid going into them too far. Most of the time, as they tell us in Act II, they use talk as a distraction so that they "won't think" (p. 40) and "won't hear . . . . All the dead voices" (p. 40a) of those who have thought before. When they do hear them, the world becomes "a charnel-house" (p. 41a) filled with the "corpses" of old ideas. Lucky's speech is a window into the charnel house, and the vision proves intolerable.
Silencing Lucky, conversing, and playing games can hold off for a while the realization of the futility of thought, but in the long run reality is more powerful than all man's defenses. "Time will tell," says Lucky, and it does, but in an entirely different sense from that which he intended. Ideas are necessary to man if he is to order his experience, but time eventually erodes even the most apparently solid ideas. The effect on man is slow torture. If ideas were demolished instantaneously and irretrievably, the process would be far less painful ; meaninglessness would at least be something definite. Instead, however, man is continually teased with meanings that seem always just beyond his reach. This torment was something that Beckett's Watt knew well. After he had been living for some time in the household of the amorphous Mr. Knott, Watt found that things and the ideas that describe them began to slip apart. In In the case of a poet, for example, he found that "it resembled a pot, it was almost a pot, but it was not a pot of which one could say, Pot, pot and be comforted."8 Nor could one rest comfortably in the idea that it was not a pot. Potness hovered about it and would neither settle on it nor withdraw. "And it was just this hair breadth departure from the nature of a true pot that so excruciated Watt." In their more perceptive moments, Vladimir and Estragon know the same feeling. "This is becoming really insignificant," says Vladimir at one point (p. 44). "Not enought," answers Estragon.
Most of the time, however, they are not even this conscious of the true nature of their problem. Normally, when they are not diverting themselves with superficial conversation, they spend their time trying to reduce the amorphous to form. Like Watt in the days before Knott, they stumble "in the midst of substance shadowy" pursuing certainties that always slude them.9 Since Vladimir has the greater compulsion to think and understand, he is the more persistent and the more who feels it most keenly.
One of the seemingly most stable of the patterns that give shape to experience, and one of the most disturbing to see crumble, is that of time. Like the mystery of the thieves, this is a subject that is beginning to trouble Vladimir when the play opens, and as the action progresses it comes to seem more and more problematic, driving him finally to a crisis of realization.
The trouble begins when Estragon asks Vladimir what they did the day before. Vladimir has been insisting that they were someplace else doing something else, but he can't say where or what. When Estragon insists on being told, Vladimir bursts out angrily, "Nothing is certain when you're about" (p. 10a). Estragon then asks if Vladimir is sure that this is the evening they were to wait for Godot.
Vladimir : He said Saturday. (Pause) I think.
Estragon : You think.
Vladimir : I must have made a note of it . . . .
Estragon : (very insidious). But what Saturday? And is it Saturday? Is it not rather Sunday? . . .
Or Monday? . . . or Fryday?
Vladimir : (looking whildly about him, as though the date was inscribed in the landscape).
It's not possible!
Estragon : Or Thursday?
Vladimir : What'll we do?
In the face of these questions reality begins to fall apart into a dreamlike incoherence that Vladimir cannot endure. This may be why he refuses a minute later to listen to Estragon tell about a dream. "This one is enough for you?" asks Estragon (p. 11).
Pozzo, as one might expect, is as attached to an orderly time scheme as he is to his possessions, and in Act I he is still in a position to resist the doubts that are beginning to gnaw at Vladimir. He has a watch and a schedule and holds firmly to them. When Vladimir says, "Time has stopped," Pozzo cuddles his watch to his ear and replies, "Don't you believe it, Sir, don't you believe it. . . . Whatever you like, but not that" (p.24a). Although he does not realize it at the time, when his watch later disappears it is more than just a possession that is slipping away from him.
After Pozzo and Lucky leave, Vladimir turns to Estragon and remarks on how they've changed. Estragon, however, says he doesn't know them. Vladimir, disturbed at the implications of this statement, insists that they do. But the seeds of doubt have been planted again : "Unless they're not the same . . ." he says to himself several times (p. 32).
This musing is cut short by the arrival of the boy, who comes to tell them that Godot will not come that evening "but surely tomorrow" (p. 33a), and who in his own turn contributes to the undermining of Vladimir's certainties.
Vladimir : I've seen you before haven't I?
Boy : I don't know, Sir.
Vladimir : You don't know me?
Boy : No Sir.
Vladimir : It wasn't you came yesterday?
Boy : Yes Sir.
"Words words," says Vladimir after a silence. Words, the vehicles of man's ideas, no longer seem to fit reality.
If Act I raises doubts about the orderly relationship between the present and the past, Act II demolishes temporal pattern altogether. The stage directions read "Next day. Same time. Same place" (p. 36a), but during the act Vladimir is confronted with a variety of changes far too great to have taken place in one's day's time. When the scene opens, Vladimir enters "agitatedly" (p. 37), perhaps because the absence of Estragon has left him too long to his own thoughts, and perhaps also because he has not quite recovered from the disorientation of the day before. Immediately he stops and "looks long" at the tree, which had been bare the day before (see p. 10) but which now "has four or five leaves." This evidently disturbs him, because it sets him moving "feverishly" about the stage, apparently looking for Estragon either as a source of distraction or as someone who can confirm that it is indeed the next day, same time, same place.
This feverish activity culminates in his singing loudly a song which has great significance as a foreshadowing of the vision of time which will force itself upon him before the play is over. He sings it by fits and starts, stopping now and then to brood as its significance perhaps breaks through to him. Reduced to its simple form it has a clearly cyclical pattern :
A dog came in the kitchen
And stole a crust of bread,
Then cook up with a ladle
And beat him till he was dead.
Then all the dogs came running
And dug the dog a tomb
And wrote upon the tombstone
For the eyes of dogs to come :
A dog came in the kitchen . . . .
The song starts over again where it began and repeats itself endlessly. Time in the song is not a linear sequence, but an endlessly reiterated moment, the content of which is only one eternal event : death.
When Estragon finally arrives, Vladimir has company once more and a chance to try to reconstruct his time scheme. He first tries to get Estragon to confirm that this is the same place they were in the night before :
: . . . . Do you not recognize the place?
Estragon : (suddenly furious). Recognize ! What is there to recognize?
All my lousy life I've crawled about in the mud!
And you talk to me about scenery!
. . . Look at this muckheap ! I've never stirred from it!
The reply, of course, not only does nothing to reassure Vladimir as to the place, but also implies that just as there is only one place, the mud, so there is only one time, that of the life in the mud.10
Vladimir then attempts to reconstruct, if not the day before, then the larger scheme of the past, but with no more success. He tries to remind Estragon of the time some years before when they were grape pickers in the Macon country, but even he cannot remember the name of the man they worked for and Estragon insists that he was never there : "I've puked my puke of a life away here, I tell you! Here! In the Cackon country" (p. 40).11 Cackon is a pun on the French word caca, a child's word for excrement.12 Once again what Estragon means is that all he has known of the world has been mud or something even more unpleasant.
After a little further conversation, during which Estragon asks Vladimir to "sing something" (p. 41) and he refuses -- the song seems to have disturbed him, since his response, "No no !", suggests a horror of beginning it again -- Vladimir finally remembers that he wanted to ask Estragon how he would account for the change in the tree : ". . . yesterday evening it was all black and bare. And now it's covered with leaves. . . . In a single night" (p. 42a). "it must be the Spring," says Estragon. "But in a single night !"Vladimir insists. Estragon answers that they were somewhere else the day before, that the problem is just another of Vladimir's "nightmares," and for a moment Vladimir feels reassured : "(sure of himself). Good. We weren't here yesterday evening. Now what did we do yesterday evening?" Estragon's reply to this question, however, echoes his earlier description of the place : "Yes, now I remember, yesterday evening we spent blathering about nothing in particular. That's been going on now for half a century." Vladimir is looking for a time scheme with some sort of fixed shape to it, but all he can get from Estragon is an eternal, formless mud and blather.
Things look as if they are going to take on a shape once again when Vladimir finds that Estragon does remember the kick Lucky gave him the previous day and even locates the wound, but the arrival of Pozzo and Lucky a little later destroys this tentatively recovered certainty. The changes that have taken place in them, like the foliation of the tree, are too great to be accounted for by the passage of twenty-four hours : Pozzo is now blind and decrepit, and Lucky is dumb. When he hears them coming, Vladimir naively hopes that the arrival of "reinforcements" (p. 49a) will deliver them from their stagnation and set time moving again : "Time flows again already. The sun will set, the moon rise" (p. 50). What happens, however, is quite the reverse.
Seeing the enormous change in Pozzo, Vladimir has to try to explain it, at least in the sense of pinning it down to a particular moment on a linear time scale. But when he asks Pozzo when it happened, he finds Pozzo even less firmly oriented in time than he :
Vladimir : I'm asking you if it came on you all of a sudden.
Pozzo : I woke up one fine day as blind as Fortune. . . .
Some times I wonder if I'm not still asleep.
Vladimir : And when was that?
Pozzo : I don't know.
Vladimir : But no later than yesterday ---
Pozzo : (violently). Don't question me ! The blind have no notion of time.
The things of time are hidden from them too.
Pozzo tries rather feebly to recover some sense of time and place himself -- "Is it evening?" (p. 55), is this "by any chance the place known as the Board?" (p. 55a) -- but as Vladimir keeps insisting that Pozzo confirm the relationship between today and yesterday, he drives Pozzo finally to the vision both of them have been trying to avoid :
Pozzo : (suddenly furious). Have you not done tormenting me with your accursed time ! When ! When ! One day, is that no enough for you, one day he went dumb, one day, I went blind, one day we'll go deaf, one day we were born, one day we shall die, the same day, the same second, is that not enough for you? . . . They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it's night once more.
When time is seen in this way, an endless cycle of birth and death repeating forever the same eternal moment, it ceases to have either flow or direction but only, in the words of the Unnamable, "piles up all about you, instant on instant" in seconds that are "all alike and each one . . . infernal."13
Pozzo leaves at this point, and Vladimir is left to try to bolster again his still more badly shaken sense of coherence. Waking Estragon, who slept through the preceding conversation, he tries out on him the idea that perhaps Pozzo might not really have been blind, that is, that he had not really changed so much from the day before. Estragon is as little help as ever. "You dreamt it," he says (p. 58), then asks if Vladimir is dure Pozzo is not Godot. "Not at all," answers Vladimir with certainty, but then, "(Less sure) Not at all ! (Still less sure) Not at all !" Giving up finally his attempts to understand what has happened and what is happening, he says, "I don't know what to think any more." Then, as Estragon settles back into sleep, Vladimir proceeds from this radical uncertainty to the vision of cyclical time that Pozzo had introduced but that Vladimir had till now resisted : "Asride of a grave and a difficult birth. Down in the hole, lingeringly, the grave-digger puts on the forceps. We have time to grow old" (p. 58). This is all that time is in this vision, a moment in which to grow old and die, and to fill the air with "our cries" (p. 58a).
At this point the boy comes again, and this time Vladimir is not surprised that the boy does not recognize him. He can even anticipate his lines :
Vladimir : You have a message from Mr. Godot.
Boy : Yes Sir.
Vladimir : He won't come this evening.
Boy : No Sir.
Vladimir : But he'll come tomorrow.
Boy : Yes Sir.
After a few questions about whether the boy had seen Pozzo and Lucky or not and about the health of the boy's brother, Vladimir asks a final question that proves shattering for him :
Vladimir : (softly). Has he a beard, Mr. Godot?
Boy : Yes Sir.
Vladimir : Fair or . . . (he hesitates) . . . or black?
Boy : I think it's white, Sir.
Vladimir : Christ have mercy on us !
Evidently in this moment, having let down most of the defenses that normally shield him from the vision of reality, he realizes the painful truth that the Godot he has made with his imagination into a kind of God, into a figure, that is, representing absolute power and ultimate meaning, is as empty a God as the traditional one "with white beard" that Lucky described in his speech.
Such a realization is not easy to endure for long, however, and Vladimir is no hero. He retreats from it almost immediately. When Estragon awakes and suggests that they "go far away from here" (p. 59a), Vladimir, reconstructing the old faith for both of them, says they cannot go far because they have to come back again the next day "to wait for Godot." And what seems to be a further attempt to rekindle his belief in the power of life he says, "Everything's dead but the tree." This is not the first time they have tried to "turn resolutely towards Nature" (p. 41a), and it will probably not be the last. Even if time stands still, man cannot. Pozzo, after his vision of the emptiness and futility of human life, revives his Lucky and cries, "On !" though they have nowhere to go and nothing to carry but sand. Vladimir and Estragon too go on in their own way, but the critic must resist the temptation to interprete this as an affirmation on the part of the play of hope or human fortitude. All of these characters go on, but in the old ruts, and only by retreating into patterns of thought that have already been thoroughly discredited. In the universe of this play, "on" leads nowhere.