Sometimes, It’s Easier To Continue Suffering Than To Make A Change
“Waiting For Godot” reveals a lot about human psychology and the tendency to get stuck in an endless cycle.
There’s a TED-Ed video on YouTube explaining why people should read the play Waiting For Godot, and one person’s comment caught my attention:
“Two men are waiting, when they got tired of waiting, they decided to wait some more. The End.”
Well, like the other 1.3k people who liked this comment, I think this basically sums up the whole play—there is a bit more to it, though.
To Be Stuck In An Endless Cycle
Waiting For Godot is a two-act play by Irish novelist and playwright, Samuel Beckett. Published in 1952, it’s a modernist/postmodernist play belonging to the Theatre of the Absurd—it ignores conventional plot structures and speech patterns of traditional theatre. Another example of a Theatre of the Absurd play is The Zoo Story by Edward Albee.
We Are All Animals Living in the Zoo We Call “Society”
The conflicted nature of humans and society, presented in ‘The Zoo Story’ by Edward Albee.
Only 5 characters appear onstage—Estragon, Vladimir, Pozzo, Lucky, and a Boy. Estragon and Vladimir are two men who are apparently waiting to meet Godot (hence, the title of the play). They believe that Godot will be able to save them from their misery. Meanwhile, Pozzo enters with Lucky, who is controlled by Pozzo and has a rope around his neck. After their interaction, Pozzo and Lucky leave. A boy then comes to tell the two men that Godot will not be able to meet them that night. Vladimir and Estragon agree to leave and come back again the next day. Act one ends with the two of them remaining onstage, waiting.
The plot of the second act is basically a repetition of the first—with some slight differences such as Pozzo claiming to be blind, and no one but Vladimir seems to remember what happened the previous night.
What’s important to note is the repetition—the same events happen each day. Estragon and Vladimir wait for Godot beside the same tree, they meet Pozzo and Lucky, and then a boy comes to inform them that Godot won’t be showing up. Then, repeat.
It’s a continuous cycle. One that neither Vladimir nor Estragon can get themselves out of. They wait for Godot, but then get tired of waiting and wish to leave. Yet, they don’t. Estragon complains that he wants to leave, and Vladimir reminds him that they’re waiting for Godot and that he will “save” them. So they continue waiting.
This seems to be a pattern—no one can get out of the situation that they are in, whether they want to or not:
- Vladimir keeps holding onto the idea that once they meet with Godot, their lives will be changed. Thus, he continues to wait, even if it’s causing him anguish.
- Estragon is afraid of being alone and too emotionally dependent on Vladimir that he keeps coming back to him, even after Estragon himself suggests—multiple times—that it may be best for them to part.
- Pozzo always keeps Lucky with him and holds onto a rope that practically ‘ties’ them together—although in the first act he said he was on his way to sell Lucky, he never did and still relies on Lucky to lead him in Act Two when he lost his vision. Furthermore, in the second act, Pozzo literally gets stuck on the ground after he falls and is unable to stand up by himself.
- Lucky listens to Pozzo’s commands and does what he is told, even after being physically and verbally abused. Pozzo constantly dehumanizes him and treats him like a circus animal, yet Lucky never leaves and he still obeys his orders—even after Pozzo becomes blind. He has a chance to leave, though he still stays with Pozzo.
All four of them have the chance to leave, yet they do not. Although the play only takes place within two acts, or two evenings (though we can’t really know for sure, as the concept of time becomes convoluted throughout the play), the repetition of similar events would suggest that this has been going on for much longer.
Choosing Suffering Over Change
The name “Lucky” is ironic, considering that he is the one who experiences the most physical and mental abuse onstage. Though, it wouldn’t be true to say that he’s the only one who suffers.
Vladimir and Estragon wait for Godot, and they are bored to death—quite literally, as they discuss hanging themselves on the tree. Despite this, they still continue to wait—inflicting more internal suffering upon themselves as they struggle to find ways of passing time.
Pozzo wants to present himself as someone who’s composed and in control, yet he panics after losing his watch. He prides himself on the fact that he had a complete grasp over the time. The next day, after losing his watch, he is blind. Coincidence? Probably not. Vladimir suggests that Pozzo might have faked his blindness. It’s also during the second act, after he loses his sight, that Pozzo loses his strength and authoritative power—he becomes helpless. This suffering is likely to be self-imposed as well.
Which kind of suffering is worse—one that is imposed by an external source that you have no control over, or one that is inflicted onto oneself?
I guess everyone’s answer to this will be different. But I think we can agree that all of them suffer during the play, in one way or another.
So, if they’re going through such misery—why don’t they just leave?
It’s easy to look and say that they have the choice to make a change, but… do they?
On the surface, we seem to be given different choices. But our ability to make these choices is greatly affected by our own psychology.
Pozzo would rather suffer than to face the fact that he doesn’t have complete control, and Lucky chooses to be mistreated rather than leave—and live a supposedly better life—when he had the chance.
And sure, we can sit here and call Vladimir and Estragon fools as they wait for something that will never come. Yet, if you imagine yourself in their situation—being as desperate as they are, having no hope in anything else other than the thought of some man who will come and change your life—wouldn’t you continue waiting? The two men have lost all meaning to their lives. If not waiting and clingy on to their last bit of hope — other than be taken by death, what else are they supposed to do?
With all four of them, they would rather suffer than to deal with change. Why?
Because, as mentioned before, change leads to uncertainty.
People are afraid of uncertainty. There’s a theory that the “fear of the unknown” is the fundamental fear—the underlying fear behind all fears that we experience. Regardless if that’s true or not, it’s safe to say that—in most situations—people want to have some predictability in their lives. The thought of losing that is scary, as we are not able to prepare ourselves for what will happen.
In a way, being faced with uncertainty is a form of suffering. The uncertainty about when, and if even, Godot will show up is agonizing for Vladimir and Estragon. But, either way, the only thing they know for certain is that the future is uncertain — whether it’s about Godot’s arrival, or about the lives they could be having if they were not to wait for him anymore. Of course they would choose to hold onto the idea that Godot may arrive, even if there is uncertainty in doing so—at least it’s less than having no expectations about what the future holds. At least they have something to hold onto. To change and leave their situation would just lead to even more uncertainty, which they clearly do not want.
The Decision to Face Discomfort
Perhaps it’s a psychological phenomenon—to avoid change, and the unknown that comes with it, by keeping ourselves in an unhappy yet familiar situation.
It’s funny how people would rather suffer than to feel discomfort. I surely have stayed in situations when it would have been better for me to leave, with the fear of not knowing what could happen next. Yet, there’s some truth to the saying, “growth and comfort do not coexist.”
How long can we really wait—to allow our own thoughts and fears hinder us—before we are able to make a change?
Maybe it is a decision that is ours to make after all.
Hello there! I’m A.X. — a theatre student who is sharing her thoughts about the plays she’s reading in theatre stuff. Interested in more? Here’s what I had to say about Miss Julie: