In the play “Waiting for Godot,” there are two homeless men named Vladimir and Estragon waiting for a mysterious figure named Godot. They pass the time by creating their own drama and engaging in poetic language, dreams, and nonsensical conversations.
This play is often interpreted as a representation of humanity’s never-ending search for purpose and meaning. The unique style of language used by the author, Samuel Beckett, captures the existential state of Europe after World War II with its expressionistic minimalism.
Despite its heavy themes, “Waiting for Godot” remains a beautiful and magical allegory that has stood the test of time.
You do not have to read the entire book if you don’t have time. This book review provides an overview of everything you can learn from it.
Let’s get started without further ado.
In this Waiting for Godot book review, I’m going to cover the following topics:
Table of Contents
Two tramps pass the time while awaiting the arrival of a man named Godot.
It is evening and two tramps, Vladimir (nicknamed Didi) and Estragon (nicknamed Gogo), wait on a deserted country road for Mr. Godot to arrive. The only object in sight is a tree with no leaves. Estragon struggles to take off his boot as his friend Vladimir enters.
Estragon finally succeeds in removing the troublesome boot as Vladimir fidgets with his hat. They chat about their afflictions, then about the Bible, which Estragon remembers for its colorful maps. Vladimir puzzles over varying Gospel accounts of two thieves crucified with Christ, especially about the version which tells that one thief was saved and the other damned.
Estragon wants to leave but Vladimir reminds him they are waiting for Godot. Estragon’s questions about whether they have come to the right place shake Vladimir’s certainty, but Estragon calmly falls asleep. Awakened by a dream, Estragon tries to tell a joke, but Vladimir abruptly runs off.
The two embrace as Vladimir returns, then consider hanging themselves from the nearby tree, but decide it is safer to simply wait for Godot. Frightened by a noise from off-stage, Vladimir interrupts Estragon, then gives his friend a carrot to eat as they return to Estragon’s question about whether they are tied to Godot.
According to Vladimir, they definitely are not—for the time being. Another noise sends the two friends scurrying. Cringing together, they see two strangers, Pozzo and Lucky, appear. Weighed down by Pozzo’s baggage, Lucky staggers across the stage and exits. A rope around his neck connects him to Pozzo, who drives Lucky forward by cracking a whip.
When he spots Vladimir and Estragon, Pozzo violently jerks the rope and Lucky falls with a crash. Estragon wonders if Godot has come at last, but neither he nor Vladimir recognizes Pozzo’s name once the newcomer introduces himself.
Pozzo, a landowner, is displeased to learn that Vladimir and Estragon are waiting on his land, but acknowledges that the road is open to everyone. He sits on a stool and begins to dine on chicken and wine, carelessly throwing the bones aside.
Vladimir and Estragon inspect Lucky, who is falling asleep on his feet. Satisfied from his meal, Pozzo settles back with his pipe. Estragon asks for the chicken bones and begins gnawing on them after Lucky, to whom they rightfully belong, refuses them. Vladimir is outraged at Pozzo’s treatment of Lucky. Unperturbed, Pozzo smokes another pipe.
Vladimir considers leaving, but Pozzo reminds him of his appointment with Godot. Estragon asks why the exhausted Lucky doesn’t put down his bags. Pozzo explains his plan to sell Lucky at the fair and argues that Lucky is trying to convince his master to keep him. Lucky weeps upon hearing this, then rewards Estragon with a violent kick in the shins for trying to comfort him.
As Pozzo recalls his life and trials with Lucky, Vladimir accuses Lucky of cruelty to his master. Pozzo searches frantically for his misplaced pipe, then notes, after consulting his watch, that he must leave soon if he is to maintain his schedule.
After another crack of his whip, Pozzo explains how night arrives suddenly—”pop! like that!”—after there is sunlight all day. One of the play’s many silences follows, and as Vladimir and Estragon discuss their tedious situation, Pozzo decides to cheer them up with a performance by Lucky.
Estragon wants to see him dance and Vladimir wants to hear him think aloud. “The Net,” as Lucky calls his dance, is disappointing, but Pozzo notes that this is the best his servant can do.
Pozzo loses his throat vaporizer and they all momentarily forget what they were discussing until Vladimir asks Pozzo to tell Lucky to think. Once Vladimir has placed Lucky’s hat back on his head, Pozzo yells, “Think, Pig,” and Lucky utters an animated but incoherent speech. During his tirade, Pozzo, Vladimir, and Estragon become increasingly upset and finally throw themselves on Lucky, who falls silent once his hat is removed by Vladimir.
Pozzo tramples the hat and Vladimir and Estragon help Lucky up, supporting him while Pozzo gathers his belongings. After Pozzo discovers that his watch is lost, he and Lucky depart. Estragon suggests leaving but Vladimir reminds him of their appointment with Godot and notes how Pozzo and Lucky have changed.
Estragon does not remember them and is suddenly hobbled by a pain in what had been his good foot. A Boy arrives who calls Vladimir “Mister Albert” and timidly says he has a message from Godot: Mr. Godot will not come this evening but will surely come tomorrow. The Boy reveals that he tends goats for Mr. Godot and that Godot is kind to him but beats the Boy’s shepherd brother.
The Boy is ordered to report that he saw Vladimir and Estragon; then he runs off. Night falls suddenly and Estragon, choosing to go barefoot as Christ did, leaves his boots on the ground in case someone with smaller feet comes along. Vladimir assures Estragon that things will be better tomorrow, since Godot is sure to come.
They decide to take cover for the night. Seeing the leafless tree, Estragon stops, wishing he had some rope that he could use for hanging himself and Vladimir. After another silence, Estragon suggests they leave and Vladimir agrees. But they remain where they are as the curtain falls.
The next evening, Vladimir is in the same place, agitatedly wandering about and singing a repetitious song. Estragon’s boots are there, and the tree has mysteriously sprouted four or five leaves. Estragon appears, barefoot, and he and Vladimir embrace.
Saddened to hear Vladimir singing without him, Estragon suggests they are each better off alone. Vladimir disagrees and makes Estragon say that they are happy. Estragon groans at the thought of spending another “happy” evening waiting for Godot. Vladimir reminds Estragon of the previous day’s events, only to discover that Estragon has forgotten nearly everything.
Struggling to keep the conversation going, Vladimir and Estragon chatter about the sounds of “dead voices.” They contradict each other and ask one another questions. Searching for another topic, Vladimir remembers the tree and draws Estragon’s attention to the newly sprouted leaves, but Estragon insists they were someplace else yesterday.
Calling him “Pig,” Vladimir makes Estragon show the festering wound from Lucky’s kick and triumphantly points to Estragon’s boots as a sign that they are in the same place. Estragon replies that his boots were a different color. When Estragon suggests they leave, Vladimir reminds him of their appointment.
Recognizing the triviality of their actions, they resolve to try the boots, which miraculously fit Estragon. Estragon then curls up to sleep. Vladimir sings Estragon a lullaby and gently places his own coat over his sleeping friend. Wakened by a nightmare, Estragon again suggests leaving, and he despairs when Vladimir reminds him that they can leave only when night falls.
Vladimir is pleased to discover Lucky’s hat, which reassures him that they have come to the right place. It provides a humorous diversion as the two men pass three hats back and forth, as in a vaudeville routine. Discarding his own hat for Lucky’s, Vladimir suggests that he and Estragon pretend to be Pozzo and Lucky.
They curse each other, give commands, and try to dance, then Estragon hurriedly leaves. Panting, he returns, saying that someone is coming. Vladimir rejoices at the thought that they are saved, but Estragon frantically searches for an exit.
When no one arrives, the friends engage in a series of insults before making up with an embrace. Without warning, Pozzo and Lucky enter, connected by a shorter rope.
Lucky, wearing a new hat and weighed down as before, stops short at the sight of Vladimir and Estragon, causing both himself and Pozzo to fall. Unable to get up, Pozzo calls for help, but Vladimir and Estragon momentarily ignore him as they realize Pozzo is at their mercy. Vladimir muses about being needed, then decides to stop wasting the diversion Pozzo and Lucky offer.
As Vladimir tries to raise the fallen Pozzo, he, too, falls and cannot get up. Estragon threatens to leave, then falls when he tries to help Vladimir. After Pozzo crawls away, Vladimir and Estragon call to him and are surprised to learn that he answers to the names Pozzo, Abel, and Cain.
Weary of the business with Pozzo, Vladimir and Estragon decide to try getting up and have no trouble doing so. They then raise Pozzo and must hold him up as he tells them he is blind and has lost his sense of time. Seeing a chance to avenge himself, Estragon savagely kicks the sleeping Lucky but only hurts his own foot.
He sits down to take off his boot but soon falls asleep, leaving Vladimir and Pozzo to discuss their previous encounter. Pozzo, who remembers nothing of that meeting, reveals that Lucky is now mute and that Pozzo’s bag contains only sand. When Vladimir asks when the changes took place, Pozzo attacks Vladimir’s preoccupation with time, proclaims that only an instant separates birth and death, and marches off behind Lucky.
Feeling lonely, Vladimir wakes Estragon and they ask themselves whether Pozzo was really blind and whether he might have been Godot. Suddenly Estragon’s feet hurt and he struggles with his boots before dozing off again.
Another Boy, much like the one who had come the day before, arrives to interrupt Vladimir’s brooding. The Boy denies recognizing Vladimir and says that Mr. Godot will not come this evening but will definitely appear tomorrow. The Boy reveals that his brother is sick and that Mr. Godot does nothing and has a white beard.
To this, Vladimir replies, “Christ have mercy on us!” The Boy runs off with orders to report that he saw Vladimir. Immediately the moon rises. Estragon wakes up and Vladimir informs him that they cannot go far, since they must return tomorrow to wait, or risk punishment for abandoning Godot.
They approach the tree and decide to hang themselves using Estragon’s belt. But the belt breaks as they pull on it and they vow to bring a good piece of rope back with them. Estragon thinks they should leave, but Vladimir assures him they will either hang themselves tomorrow or be saved by Godot’s arrival.
When Estragon proposes that they leave, Vladimir points to the trousers that have fallen around Estragon’s ankles when he removed his belt. Once Estragon has pulled his trousers back up, Vladimir suggests they leave. Estragon agrees, but they remain where they are as the curtain comes down.
Vladimir: A clownish tramp with an uncertain age and origin. His name recalls the Russian prince who expanded the empire. Estragon calls him “Didi,” and the Boy calls him “Mr. Albert.” Vladimir is a talkative, logical thinker who is intellectual. He suffers from bad breath and a kidney problem and wears a bowler hat that irritates him. He carries miscellaneous junk in his coat pockets.
Estragon: Vladimir’s friend who he calls “Gogo.” His age and background are uncertain. His name is French for the aromatic herb “tarragon.” Estragon’s interests and personality complement Vladimir’s. He is quieter and more intuitive than rational, and he is more concerned with physical needs. He claims he used to be a poet and suffers from smelly feet and ill-fitting boots. He wears a bowler hat like Vladimir, Pozzo, and Lucky.
Pozzo: A local landowner and master of Lucky, who he treats cruelly, almost in an S&M sense. His name is Italian for “fountain” or “well.” Pozzo is a bald, self-important, conceited bully who carries a whip, a watch, and other belongings that he inexplicably loses. He is preoccupied with time and manners in Act 1, and he is blind in Act 2.
Lucky: Pozzo’s servant who carries his baggage. His name may be ironic since he is treated so badly, or perhaps he is “lucky” because he expects so little and has a master who tells him what to do. Pozzo calls him “Pig” and “Hog.” Lucky has long white hair and a running sore where the rope connecting him to Pozzo rubs his neck. His speech in Act 1 is a parody of logical thinking and ideas of progress, and he is mute in Act 2.
The Boy: A timid young messenger for Mr. Godot and a goatherd. He recalls the typical “messenger” character of more traditional plays. The Boy in Act 2 appears to be the same person as in Act 1, yet claims not to know Vladimir. He reflects the uncertainty that is characteristic of the entire play.
Main Themes and Ideas
1. Waiting and Nothingness
The play explores waiting from different angles. The main characters, Vladimir and Estragon, are waiting for Godot, which highlights the futility of life when we rely on external forces. They seem unable to take control of their own lives and feel helpless and bored. On the other hand, their perseverance and courage in the face of hopelessness may represent a human desire to keep going despite the odds.
2. Human Suffering and Salvation
All the characters suffer in some way, whether physically or emotionally. The play suggests that humans may be responsible for each other’s suffering, but also hints at the possibility of salvation from sin and death, or from the monotony of life. However, it remains unclear why some people are saved and others are not.
The play portrays different aspects of time. Pozzo is obsessed with clock time and schedules, while Vladimir and Estragon are more concerned with filling up time while waiting. The faulty memories of some characters suggest a disconnect from the past, while the cyclical nature of the tree leaves and the return of Pozzo and Lucky suggest that time is circular.
Many aspects of the play are deliberately vague and unclear, such as the time and place, the characters’ names, and the identity of Godot. This vagueness raises questions about human knowledge and reason and invites the audience to interpret the play in their own way.
5. Freedom and Dependency
The play explores the idea of human freedom to choose and determine our own actions, as well as our dependency on others for comfort, happiness, and satisfaction of our basic needs.
Vladimir and Estragon are uncertain about their relationship with Godot, suggesting that hope may make us less self-reliant. The relationship between Lucky and Pozzo, who are literally tied together by a rope, highlights our interdependence as humans.
Tree: The tree is a symbol of the characters’ suffering and the limitations of hope and change. It is also connected to the tree that Judas hanged himself from, but the characters are unable to do the same. The tree’s leaves in Act 2 represent hope and change, but it is fleeting and uncertain.
Road: The road symbolizes movement and progress, which contrasts with Vladimir and Estragon’s static waiting. However, the return of Pozzo and Lucky implies that progress may be illusory and that their travels only bring them back to the same place.
Watch: Pozzo’s constant checking of his watch emphasizes his sense of time as orderly and predictable. The loss of his watch marks the play’s shift into a more subjective and unverifiable perception of time. It highlights that the span of human life is short, even if waiting for Godot seems long.
Pozzo’s blindness and Lucky’s muteness: These symbols suggest the inevitability of human decay over time.
Rope: The rope marks Lucky as Pozzo’s slave in Act 1, representing cruelty and control. However, in Act 2, the rope allows the blind Pozzo to follow Lucky, showing the dependence of strong people on the weak. The rope also symbolizes the dependency of Vladimir and Estragon on Godot and on each other.
1. The Absurdity
Waiting for Godot is a perfect example of the Theatre of the Absurd, where there is no traditional plot or character development. The play is confusing and jumbled, leaving the readers and viewers in a state of bewilderment. The humor in the play is also absurd, much like the comedy of Abbott and Costello and Laurel and Hardy. The nonsensical conversations and characters’ behaviors create a comedic effect, which I found quite entertaining.
2. The Comedic Scheme
The addition of the characters Pozzo and Lucky adds another level of comedy to the play. The intellectual diatribe of the seemingly intellectually challenged Lucky is hilarious and reminds me of watching old Laurel and Hardy routines as a young boy.
3. The Interpretation
The play’s meaning and plot is open to interpretation, making it a classic. The lack of a definitive plot allows the viewer to find their own meaning and connect with the play in a unique way. It’s like Groundhog’s Day or Seinfeld, where the meaning is subjective and different for each person.
1. A Purposefully Vague Plot
The plot of Waiting for Godot can be frustratingly elusive, leaving readers with more questions than answers. The characters spend most of their time waiting for Godot, but we never really find out who or what Godot is, and whether or not he will ever actually arrive. The play raises more questions about the nature of existence than it answers, and the ambiguity of the plot can be unsatisfying for some readers.
2. Lack of Characterization
While the characters of Vladimir and Estragon are well-developed, the supporting characters of Pozzo and Lucky are largely one-dimensional. Pozzo is presented as cruel and domineering, while Lucky is portrayed as simple-minded and submissive. This lack of depth in supporting characters can make the play feel flat and two-dimensional, making it difficult for readers to fully engage with the story.
3. Heavy Philosophical Themes
Waiting for Godot is a play that is more focused on exploring philosophical and existential themes than it is on providing an enjoyable plot or interesting characters. This can make it difficult for some readers to stay engaged with the story, especially if they are looking for a more traditional narrative. The play is dense and requires careful attention to fully appreciate, which can be off-putting for readers who prefer more straightforward storytelling.
Waiting for Godot is a classic play that is open to interpretation and begs for deep contemplation. The absurdity, symbolism, and profound message are the elements that make this play timeless. The book requires careful attention and thought to fully appreciate. If you are looking for a thought-provoking and comedic play that challenges your perceptions, then Waiting for Godot is the right choice for you.
Samuel Beckett was born in Dublin in 1906. He was educated at Portora Royal School and Trinity College, Dublin, where he graduated in 1927. He made his poetry debut in 1930 with Whoroscope and followed it with essays and two novels before World War Two.
He wrote one of his most famous plays, Waiting for Godot, in 1949 but it wasn’t published in English until 1954. Waiting for Godot brought Beckett international fame and firmly established him as a leading figure in the Theatre of the Absurd. He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969. Beckett continued to write prolifically for radio, TV and the theatre until his death in 1989.
Buy The Book: Waiting for Godot
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