Waiting for Godot
by Samuel Beckett
Ok, so Godot isn’t really a character. Or, at least, we can’t be sure if he’s a character or not. But he’s in the title, and talking about him seems to be everyone’s favorite past time, so here we go.
The place to start is that Godot’s name has a G-O-D in it. Depending on your pronunciation, this is either mildly or screamingly obvious. (Beckett said we should pronounce it with the emphasis on the first syllable, GOD-oh, but a lot of people say God-OH (source).
So there’s something god-like about Godot. Vladimir and Estragon wait in the hopes that he will "save" them. They worry that, if angered, he might "punish" them. They’ve made a "prayer" to him in the past. They can’t be sure if he exists. He’s perpetually absent, but human representatives speak of him in veiled terms. Yup – sure sounds like a god to us. As we talk about in Pozzo’s character analysis, this all makes Godot a very different kind of deity than the cruel, self-centered, potentially divine Pozzo.
The problem is, these differences are precisely the reason Godot can’t ever really show up. The type of god Godot seems to be is omniscient and omnipresent, a personal god without extension who exists outside the boundaries of time. It is therefore impossible for him to take physical form and exist at any given moment to interact with Vladimir and Estragon. If Godot ever did show up, it would mean he wasn’t Godot – at least not as Vladimir and Estragon define him.
This renders all the waiting, all the non-action and banality of Vladimir and Estragon’s lives completely useless.
Wait a minute…"a personal god"…that is "without extension"…who exists "outside time"…that sounds strangely familiar. Indeed, yes, one character in Waiting for Godot does realize this fundamental predicament and makes what is perhaps some sort of attempt to communicate (word used loosely) it to the others: Lucky. We’re not kidding – go read the first five or so lines of his speech in Act I.
Unfortunately for the ALL OF MANKIND that Vladimir and Estragon represent, everyone misses this delightfully useful piece of information. But Didi does manage to gain something from Lucky’s rambling: the fact that Godot has a white beard. Give the man a cookie. He passed on "God is without extension and outside time," but he went with "God has a white beard." Super. While this serves absolutely no purpose for Vladimir other than to terrify him in Act II by confirming Godot’s divine status, it provides for us – the reader/audience watching – another hint that Godot is the god Vladimir has in mind.
So the fact that Godot can never show up is pretty depressing. But there is an alternative explanation that provides some possibility of redemption and doesn’t contradict the notion of Godot as omnipresent and without extension.
OK here it is: Godot has already arrived. He’s just part of the characters on the stage. Hear us out for a minute. Pozzo clearly has divine attributes (as we talked about for far too long in his character analysis, so look there for more if you’re interested), and there’s the phonetic confusion of his name (POT-so) with that of GOD-oh. Estragon’s confusion seems silly, but he might be getting at something bigger. Then there are the nicknames of Estragon and Vladimir – Gogo and Didi – which together are reminiscent of the name in question. Even Lucky becomes a Christ-figure when we take a closer look; he is abused and made to suffer while he bears this sort of "crucifixion" in silence. All we know of Godot’s appearance is that he has a white beard, and Lucky himself has long, white hair.
Godot could be any of these men, or he could be all of them – that certainly fits with the idea of God as omnipresent and without concrete form, but it throws one heck of a wrench into the idea of waiting for Godot to arrive.