Waiting for Godot
by Samuel Beckett
Pozzo: God or not?
Pozzo is tyrannical, cruel, focused only on himself, and seems to possess some sort of mystical watch. But one thing at a time. We’ll get to the watch in a minute. The first thing that happens when Pozzo comes on stage is that Estragon mistakes him for Godot. A lot. The name mix-up that follows practically begs us to compare Pozzo and Godot, which we will gladly do.
Godot, as we talk about in his analysis, is an absent deity. Pozzo, too, seems sort of like a God; he has complete control over Lucky, he tells the men the land is his, laughs at the thought that they are the same species as himself, and even outright says that he is "not particularly human." But if Pozzo is a god, we have to reconcile that with his being – what was it? Oh, yes, "tyrannical, cruel, and focused only on himself." This is a very different kind of god than we imagine of, say, Godot. One popular scholarly belief is that Godot is the Christian God – he’s omniscient, uninvolved, and without human form or characteristics. Pozzo, on the other hand, is like something out of Greek mythology. He is subject to the same emotions are people, has the same character flaws, and is motivated by selfish concerns. The only difference between him and a mere mortal is his power. What do you think – does that sound reasonable?
But if Pozzo has divine power, it is certainly limited. His memory is defective, he’s helpless, needs to be asked to sit down, can’t rise to his feet without assistance, and is dependent on the presence of others for any sort of function ("I cannot go long without the society of my likes," he says). He even credits Lucky with having taught him all he knows. Pozzo may be a god, but if so, he is an imperfect one.
Pozzo and Time
And for a powerful being, Pozzo is incredibly bogged down in the same inane trivialities as Vladimir and Estragon. His vaporizer plays the same role as Estragon’s boots: an everyday object which occupies an absurd amount of his time and without which he could not function. Losing his watch devastates Pozzo and may even have something to do with his going blind.
What? Losing the watch makes Pozzo go blind?! Read on for the explanation.
OK. Observe: 1) Pozzo is a strict believer in his ability to understand and measure time. He asks how old Vladimir is, he consults his watch to determine how many years have passed (sixty) since he supposedly stopped being trivial, he rhapsodizes on twilight (a temporal grey area between day and night), he functions by a "schedule," and he tells Vladimir to believe whatever he likes except the notion that time has stopped. 2) Pozzo loses his watch. He thinks he hears it ticking, but discovers that is in fact only the human heartbeat. Time isn’t controllable anymore because he’s now forced to measure it in terms of human life – the counting down of a pumping heart. This is a terrifying thought (and Pozzo even cries out "Damnation!"); a pumping human heart can only mean one thing: that heart will, at one point in time, stop pumping. 3) In fact, this thought is so terrifying that Pozzo decides to become blind.
Yes, that’s right: he decides to go blind. Vladimir points out at the end of Act II that Pozzo may have been faking, and from what we’ve seen so far is that suffering in Waiting for Godot is self-imposed. We have no trouble, then, convincing ourselves that Pozzo has caused his own blindness. He has chosen to be blind because he doesn’t want to face the fact of his own ticking heart.
Does this seem like a long-shot? A stretch perhaps? Does it seem like time has nothing to do with sight? Look at Pozzo’s violent outbursts in response to Vladimir’s questioning of when he went blind. "Don’t question me!" he yells. "The blind have no notion of time." Pozzo himself makes the explicit connection between his going blind and his refusal to deal with time – what has become for him a ticking clock measuring out the remainder of own life. He chooses to be blind because it means he can stop thinking about time (and, consequently, his own inevitable death). The same goes for Lucky becoming a mute; the only time Lucky speaks in the entire play is when Pozzo commands him to speak. We have little to reason to believe that Lucky lost his ability to vocalize – if he is a mute, it is because Pozzo chooses not to hear him speak (perhaps because he’ll end up talking about time again).
Pozzo even goes so far as to blame time for the meaninglessness of life. Vladimir will disagree with him and blame habit ("the great deadener"), but Pozzo is quite adamant that the fleeting, transient nature of one man’s existence makes it impossible for that man to have any purpose. "They give birth astride a grave," he says, "the light gleams an instant, then it’s night once more." Pozzo envisions a baby being born into the air above a grave; his life is the amount of time that passes during his fall, we guess from the birth canal, into the ground below him.