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The Solution as Problem: Beckett's Waiting for Godot* ROLF BREUER • WAITING FOR GODOT (written in 1948, first published in 1952)1 is Beckett's most popular work. Most popular not only among th~ wider audience of theatergoers but also among professional critics - as the amount of scholarly attention shows. Besides sociological, Marxist, existentialist , and even biographical interpretations, there are, above all, religious readings where the famous Mr. Godot who never shows up in the play is understood to be a deus absconditus. Taking this line of interpretation as a starting point, the following is an analysis of the structure of Waiting for Godot in light of concepts developed by Bertrand Russell, Alfred Tarski, and Ludwig Wittgenstein (the distinction of logical levels) which were recently applied by a group of psychiatrists at Palo Alto to explain certain anomalies and paradoxes in schizophrenic as well as everyday communication. Furthermore, I shall refer to Beckett's other works as they help us to better understand the problems which arise in Godot.2 In rather striking contrast to the basic idea of Aristotelian drama (drama meaning "action" in Greek), the main plot in Waiting for Godot stresses the inert waiting of the two characters, Vladimir and Estragon; and, indeed , Beckett's first title for the play was simply En attendant, "waiting." In terms of physical space, this waiting is the attitude of "stay, wait and *Mr. Beckett has read this article and has given his permission to add a line of dedication, "To Samuel Beckett for his seventieth birthday." R.B. 225 226 ROLF BREUER see"; on the other hand, at a spiritual level, it is "expectation." Therefore , the two tramps know that no change in location will solve their problems: VLADIMIR. We've nothing more to do here. ESTRAGON. Nor anywhere else. (p. 134) Similarly, in Texts for Nothing (1950) one finds: "Where would I go, if I could go ... 1"3 Thus, the attitude of waiting becomes an inevitable lifestyle and an end in itselfas is explicitly stated by the narrator in the novel Malone Dies (1948, written after Godot): ... he who has waited long enough will wait forever. And there comes the hour when nothing more can happen and nobody more can come and all is ended but the waiting that knows itself in vain.4 In Malone Dies and in the other novels of the trilogy (Molloy and The Unnamable) it becomes evident that any quest (or waiting) is eo ipso doomed to failure - not only because the goal is unattainable but even more so because of the reflexive structure of the quest. Stasis as the principle of Waiting for Godot is especially obvious at the ends of both acts where the tramps~ words contradict the stage directions : ESTRAGON. Well, shall we go? VLADIMIR. Yes, let's go. They do not move. (p. 138) These lines are repeated, only with the speakers exchanged, at the end of the second act. (p. 232) This inability to move is not the sign of a superior peace of mind but rather an indication of resignation and weakness while the tramps retain their yearnings and illusions. Gunter Anders correctly characterizes the behavior of the two by saying that their guiding principle seems to be '''We are waiting, thus we must have something to wait for."'5 For, although we have noticed that their waiting is largely devoid of content, as an attitude it nevertheless has clear religious overtones and is similar to a vaguely defined Christian expectation of salvation. In other words, many of the Christian interpretations are to an extent valid and certainly touch upon a central point of the play.6 On the surface Beckett seems to resemble Camus' religiously tinged existentialism, but from the thematic similarities of the play to his earlier novel Watt (1943-45) it is apparent that Beckett is much more rigorous and ascetic than the author of, for example, La Peste. In Watt, Beckett uses the paradoxical method of having Mr. Knott ("naught") appear in order to show what does not exist, that is, the purpose is to show that the problem of the novel is a question which, first of all, has to be posed...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5286
Print ISSN
0026-7694
Pages
pp. 225-236
Launched on MUSE
2013-07-03
Open Access
No
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