Samuel Beckett’s tragicomedy “Waiting for Godot” has fascinated scholars and puzzled theatergoers since its first performance in Paris in 1953. What does it mean? Let’s briefly summarize the plot.
Two men, called Vladimir and Estragon, encounter each other near a leafless tree and learn from each other that they both are waiting for someone named Godot. Two other men enter, Pozzo and his slave, Lucky, on their way to market. Lucky entertains them, then he and Pozzo leave. Eventually a boy enters, claiming to be Godot’s messenger. Godot will not come tonight, but he surely will come tomorrow, he tells the two men. Vladimir and Estragon decide to leave but do not.
On the next night, Pozzo and Lucky return from market, but now Pozzo is blind, and Lucky is dumb. Pozzo does not remember their earlier encounter with Vladimir and Estragon. They leave, and Vladimir and Estragon continue to wait. Shortly the boy returns and tells them that Godot will not be coming. Vladimir and Estragon decide to leave, but again they do not move, and the play ends
Some scholars posit that Beckett’s play presents conflict between living by religious and spiritual beliefs, and living by an existential philosophy, which argues that it is up to the individual to discover the meaning of life through personal experience in the earthly world.
Today, we in America know about waiting. We exist in a time of waiting: Waiting for the next blunder by an unhinged president, waiting for the next firing, waiting for a catastrophic war to start, waiting for an endless winter to end, waiting for the next mass shooting, waiting for a seemingly endless investigation to show us the truth, waiting for Congress to grow a spine and actually work to reverse the madness, waiting for the lying and manipulating to end, waiting for Election Day when we can vote.
In Beckett’s play, Godot never comes despite promises to the contrary. But among Americans today, I feel a growing optimism, fueled by the power of our youth, that many of the things for which we wait are coming. Not all, but some. Perhaps sooner than we think.