A post-modernist Reading of Waiting for Godot

Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot (1948) is an absurd play that falls into both the genre of modernism and postmodernism. Considering its publishing period and other features such as subjectivism, fragmentation, paradox, existential crisis, identity crisis etc we can see that the play more tends to belong to postmodernism than to modernism. Moreover, this play is also a leading play in the Theatre of Absurd, a theatrical outcome of postmodernism, which was inspired by existential philosophy and its view that at the root of our being there is nothingness. In the play, two major characters Vladimir and Estragon are waiting on a country road, by a tree for Godot who never comes. Through the barren setting and meaningless waiting the play actually symbolizes the psychological barrenness of modern people that arouse after two world wars. Modern people fall in the trap of waiting, a waiting that has no solution except keeping on waiting.

Prior to our main discussion, we must know some background information and to do so we must look back to the events that takes 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 gives birth to two recognizable literary styles: modernism and post-modernism and all these happenings paved the way for the theatrical tradition the absurd drama, as we mentioned earlier, that it is an outcome of postmodernism. In fact it is a reflection of the age. 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.

Now, let us know some basic features of post-modernism which will help us to analyze the text perfectly. Post-modernism is the term used to suggest a reaction or response to modernism in the late twentieth century. Postmodernism has opposite characteristics to traditionalism, realism. Postmodernism believes in the premise ‘irrational is real, real is irrational’. Moreover, unlike modernism, postmodernism celebrates the fragmentation instead of lamenting over it.  Postmodernism does not care ground zero in its framework though traditionalism does. There is no pre-determined rules, well-established and long-term principles. Events, activities, thoughts, manners do not exist for a long time in postmodernism. All of these issues are subjected to change unlike traditionalism. Postmodernism argues that there is no absolute truth in the universe. Characteristics of literary works in postmodernism are so broad. Rules of classical literary works are not valid in these literary works. There is no unity of time, place and action in literary works in postmodernism. Unlike Classical literary works, there is no hero. However; characters of literary works in postmodernism are from middle or low class in other words they are ordinary man. Subject of literary works are inner world, thought and problems of these ordinary people. Endings of literary works can be interpreted in many different ways. Outcome of literary works may change from person to person. On the other hand, there is a close ending in classical literary works. There is only one lesson for everyone in classical works. For example, King Oedipus by Sophocles has a close ending and same lesson for everyone. The lesson is: “obey the fate”.

With the above information, now it will be a bit easier to analyze our text Waiting For Godot . Waiting for Godot written in the second half of the 20th Century in other words in just before the postmodernism, so; there are similarities between postmodernism and the play.

At first, the play celebrates the fragmentation in all dimensions. The language, plot, character, setting, and theme are presented in a fragmented form. It is as if the play were the supreme example of the fragmentations. The difference between The Waste Land and Waiting for Godot is that the latter laments for the glory of the past which has fallen apart, but the former never laments for the past. On the other hand, the play celebrates the fragmentations.    

Another key characteristic of postmodernism is that it holds the view that what is irrational is real and what is real is irrational. The play with its bizarre characteristics turns irrationality in the very rationality, the very unreality into the reality.

To add more, characters (Vladimir, Estragon) are not from high-class but ordinary man. The play is interested in their identity problem which is an inner problem. There is no plot as well as action in Waiting for Godot. So, nothing happens in the play. There is no order also in postmodernism. It is a common characteristic in both postmodernism and Waiting for Godot.

Then, in Waiting For Godot there is no absolute truth. All things are relative here. There is one truth for everything in traditionalism. Like modernism, postmodernism also believes the view that there is no absolute truth and truth is relative. Postmodernism asserts that truth is not mirrored in human understanding of it, but is rather constructed as the mind tries to understand its own personal reality. So, facts and falsehood are interchangeable.

Waiting for Godot, as we mentioned earlier, is concern with identity problem. We do not learn anything, about two major characters Vladimir and Estragon, such as their age, their status in society, their job etc.. Though they have name, but we do not know them as they do not call their names. Vladimir calls Estragon as Gogo and Estragon calls Vladimir as Didi. Their loss of memory is also associated with their identity crisis. The characters cannot remember their past. Loss of memory loss of identity. In Act II, Pozzo appears as blind and he cannot remember that they had met Vladimir and Estragon the previous day.

Waiting for Godot is also a play in the Theatre of Absurd, a theatrical outcome of  postmodernism. Through the portrayal of characters, Beckeet asserts that at the root of our being there is nothingness. Vladimir and Estragon face existential crisis as life seems nothing to them.This frustration is expressed through the repetation of the sentence, "Nothing to be done” by Estragon. Almost all modern people after two world wars experience the same feelings. Life appears to them as absurd thing with full of pureposeless, nothingness and meaninglessness.

Thus, we can say that the play Waiting for Godot is an interesting play for a study from postmodernist perspectives. The character, setting, language, and the style of the play go with the later 20th century literary movement called postmodernism.