Samuel Beckett was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969. One of his famous plays, Waiting for Godot, was written in 1953. The play is simplicity itself, two men on a barren road by a leafless tree waiting for something to ease their boredom.
The play may be viewed in diverse ways and the narrative allows for all kinds of social and political and religious interpretation. Beckett did nothing to discourage debate. Like any work of art, critics argue, it needs to be appreciated for what it is.
Samuel Beckett came under the influence of Christianity from birth. He claimed to have been born on Good Friday, 13 April 1906 He was a Protestant and a member of the Anglican Church of Ireland. According to Anthony Cronin, “[Beckett] always possessed a Bible, at the end more than one edition, and Bible concordances were always among the reference books on his shelves.” Beckett viewed Christianity as a mythology with which he was perfectly familiar.
It has been suggested that ‘Waiting for Godot’ is primarily about hope. The play revolves around two tramps, Vladimir and Estragon, and their daily struggle to fill in the idle hours while they await a word, an answer, a reason to live. They resort to a series of mundane activities like the matter of Estragon’s boot, trivial conversations about vegetables and lively exchanges about more serious matters including suicide.
The topic of suicide first arises in a fit of boredom, as the two friends search for ways to speed up the passage of time while they wait for Godot. As one writer noted, “The main characters contemplate suicide as though it were as harmless as a walk to the grocery store, probably because there’s nothing in their lives worth sticking around for anyway.” Suicide becomes an option when hopes dissolve and change in circumstance seems unlikely. It is a recipe for despair. Nonetheless, there is a lack of realism to the debate and simply appears a mere diversion to break the monotony.
What hinders the two men from killing themselves?
Firstly, they don’t have the means. The only tree in their world will not support Vladimir’s weight on the noose and therefore will not break his neck. They also lack a suitable piece of rope.
Secondly, they have each other. They are uncertain of the result of their attempt (it may work, it may fail) and they are disturbed about being separated.
Thirdly, they cling to a semblance of hope. They wait for a word from the boy as to when Godot might come even though Estrogen confesses, “Personally I wouldn’t even know him if I saw him.”
The two men are destined to wait, waiting for a meaning that will save them. And what if that meaning were God, the seemingly unknowable, unrecognisable God?
They see the emptiness of their existence and feel stripped of all hope. Their only consolation is in trying to converse calmly and to go on waiting. But hope is never far away.
Vladmir: Let me think…it’s coming…go on waiting…now that we’re happy…let e see…ah! The tree!
Estragon: The tree?
Vladmir: Do you not remember?
Estragon: I’m tired.
Vladmir: Look at it. (They look at the tree)
Estragon: I see nothing.
Vladmir: But yesterday evening it was all black and bare. And now it’s covered with leaves.
Vladmir: In a single night.
Estragon: It must be the Spring.
They spoke of hope and yet were unaware. They looked upon hope and couldn’t see.
It reminded me of the ‘great thaw’ in C. S. Lewis’ ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’. Winter had surrendered its hold and a fervent Spring burst forth. It was a sign of hope, rebirth, new growth, and abundant evidence of life.
We need a hope that will keep us strong and sustain us when life appears incomprehensible and meaningless.
As James Aughey reminds us,
Hope is the last lingering light of the human heart. It shines when every other is put out. Extinguish it, and the gloom of affliction becomes the blackness of darkness – cheerless and impenetrable.