Theme of Nothingness in Waiting for Codot

Jean-Paul Sartre published his seminal existentialist work  Being and Nothingness in 1943 in which he asserts that at the root of our being there is nothingness. Samuel Becket, who was inspired by the existentialist philosophy of Albert Camus and Sartre in his early 20s, published his trend setting play Waiting for Godot  in 1952,( in which nothing significant happens). He also asserts in the play that nothingness is at the root of our existence, especially in the life of the modern people. 

Whereas in the tradition play we see a concentrated single action motivates the whole play, here in the case of Wating for Godot everything is fuelled by the sense of ‘nothingness’. In fact, here nothing creates everything.

Whether we look at or look into the play , the sense of nothingness determines the course of the whole play. As a playwright, Samuel Becket believes that form and content should be complementary and should not be separate from each other. Here in the play both the form and the content  are structured by  an encircling sense of nothingness. Apart from form and content every outer and inner component of the play serves complementary role to establish the idea of ‘nothingness’. Every  aspect of the play - structure ,theme, setting, character , dialogue or some other  behavioral silent activities- is motivated by one thing that is  nothingness—the nothingness of the human life. But here ‘nothingness’ points its finger toward ‘everything’ –everything that modern people face physically and psychologically after two World Wars.

       In order to understand how nothingness is able to create everything in the play Waiting For Godot we must look back to the events that took place during the first half of the 20th century in the worlds of politics, literature, philosophy and religion. The early 20th century witnessed two World Wars. In literature it gave birth to two recognizable literary styles: modernism and post-modernism and all these happenings paved the way for the theatrical tradition the absurd drama which in fact was a reflection the age. In fact, almost all literary activities were predetermined by a sense of nothingness in the early 20th century.  The theatre of the absurd describes a mood, a tone towards life, where man's existence is a dilemma of purposeless, meaningless, and pointless activity. It is complete denial of age-old values. It has no plot, no characterization, no logical sequence, and no culmination. Samuel Becket introduced the concept of absurdity, nothingness and meaninglessness of life in his play Waiting for Godot.

The setting of the play is influenced by a mode of nothingness. A desolate country road, a ditch, and a leafless tree make up the barren, otherworldly landscape, which bears a surplus of   symbolism. The landscape is a symbol of a barren and fruitless civilization or life. There is nothing to be done and there appears to be no place better to depart. The tree, usually a symbol of life with its blossoms and fruit or its suggestion of spring, is apparently dead and lifeless. But it is also the place to which they believe this Godot has asked them to come. The setting of the play reminds us the post-war condition of the world which brought about uncertainties, despair, and new challenges to the all of mankind.

Next comes the plot. The beginning and the end of Waiting for Godot, in which "Nothing happens, nobody comes ... nobody goes, " are also determined by a sense of nothingness. The play is without the traditional, Aristotelian structure where there is a beginning, a middle and a perfect ending. Waiting for Godot does not tell a story; it explores a static situation. On a country road , by a tree, two old tramps, Vladimir and Estrangon , are waiting. That is the opening situation at the beginning of act I. At the end of act I they are informed that Mr. Godot, with whom they believe they have an appointment , cannot come, but that he will surely come tomorrow. Act-II repeats precisely the same pattern. The same boy arrives and delivers the same message. So, the play ends exactly where it started. In this way, a sense of nothingness or purposelessness acts as a driving force in the play.

  As per as the portrayal of characters is concerned the play also uplifts the sense of nothingness. A well-made play is expected to present characters that are well-observed and convincingly motivated. But in the play we five characters who are not very recognizable human beings and don’t engage themselves in a motivated action. Two tramps, Vladimir (Didi) and Estragon (Gogo), are waiting by a tree on a country road for Godot, whom they have never met and who may not even exist. They argue, make up, contemplate suicide, and discuss passages from the Bible. The play concludes with a famous exchange:

Vladimir: Well, shall we go?
Estragon: Yes, let’s go.
They do not move.
A play is expected to entertain the audience with logically built, witty dialogue. But in this play, like any other absurd play, the dialogue seems to have degenerated into meaningless babble. ‘Nothing to be done’ are the words that are repeated frequently. The dialogues the characters exchange are meaningless banalities. They use language to feel the emptiness between them, to conceal the fact that they have 'nothing' to talk about to each other.

   In the play we come across some behavioural attitudes that are more important than dialogues as they reflect the frustration, hesitation and psychological complexities of modern people. The opening lines of play are the superb example of it. When the curtain opens we find Estragon is engaging in his another vain attempt to take off his boots. His repeated failure attempt symbolizes the meaninglessness of everyday life activities and more symbolically the meaninglessness of life itself. Throughout the play there are so many behavioural attitudes that reflect the nothingness of human life.

To conclude, in order to better understand how nothingness creates everything in the play we can compare Waiting for Godot with The Spanish Tragedy and Hamlet. In these two plays, the central motive is revenge. In fact, everything is structured by this revenge motive. But in Waiting for Godot, where there is no motivated action, the sense of nothingness play the pivotal role in determining  the every aspect of the play. So, nothingness creates everything in Waiting for Godot.