Samuel Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot strives to address the concept of existence and what reality actually is. By using the protagonists Estragon and Vladimir to remove the structure superimposed over most lives, Beckett demonstrates that truly living is much more than just moving through the motions of day-to-day life. Beckett wants the reader to ask themselves the hard questions: What is real? What is truthful? What does life ultimately mean?
Vladimir and Estragon are undoubtedly alive, but visibly stuck in an endless cycle of waiting. The two characters return to the same spot, each day, looking outside themselves to someone (or something?) called Godot for solutions. Their very existence pivots on this cycle of waiting, creating a false sense of purpose for the two men. Vladimir and Estragon fall into the most common trap of life: the two mistake their movement for progress. Although they are acting, the protagonists are not actually moving towards their goal, because they fail to look to themselves for salvation. In this sense, although they are both alive, neither character is actually living.
This connects to philosopher Søren Kierkegaard’s growth pattern towards truth. Most people find themselves stuck somewhere between Kierkegaard’s state dubbed “crisis of despair” and his state known as “paralysis and dread.” Estragon and Vladimir are visibly trapped in a state of paralysis, as evidenced by the end of each act: “Let’s go,” they do not move. Despite its dire name, the state of paralysis is actually quite comfortable, and the state in which most of society dwells. In both Godot and in real life, this state of existence prevents the people stuck in it from experiencing life. In order to live to life’s fullest potential, one must be willing to push beyond the comfortable state of numbness and seek the answers to life’s most challenging questions: Who are we? Why are we here? What is real?
Beckett uses Waiting for Godot as a mirror to society. He poses the question: if most of the world is living somewhere between cognitive paralysis and denial, is this world real? By never providing a definitive conclusion to the play, Beckett forces the audience to take a long, hard look at themselves for the answers. In a sense, it is the audience that is the third act of the show. Estragon and Vladimir never understand that their solution lies not in Godot, but in their own acceptance that nothing in life is certain and that they must move beyond paralysis to begin to accept what is real. Because the characters never manage to understand this, the audience must realize that their lack of thought is holding them back from seeing truth. This forced introspection pushes the audience to think about what is real in their own lives. Beckett’s ultimate goal is to push the audience to realize that in some regard we are all waiting for our own Godot. In order to fully experience reality, we must change the image that we see in the mirror and fight the paralysis which we too easily sink.