Study Guide

Waiting for Godot Freedom and Confinement

By Samuel Beckett

Freedom and Confinement

Act 1
Pozzo

POZZO
I do. But instead of driving him away as I might have done, I mean instead of simply kicking him out on his arse, in the goodness of my heart I am bringing him to the fair, where I hope to get a good price for him. The truth is you can't drive such creatures away. The best thing would be to kill them. (1.495)

Pozzo believes he is doing Lucky a service by enslaving him; and, in one sense, he is. This could be the reason that Lucky is considered lucky—someone is around to tell him what to do. Left to his own devices, he may be as helpless and miserable as Vladimir and Estragon.

POZZO
He used to dance the farandole, the fling, the brawl, the jig, the fandango and even the hornpipe. He capered. For joy. Now that's the best he can do. Do you know what he calls it?
ESTRAGON
The Scapegoat's Agony.
VLADIMIR
The Hard Stool.
POZZO
The Net. He thinks he's entangled in a net. (1.589-92)

We can take Pozzo’s statement about the net and apply it to all the characters in Waiting for Godot. Check out "Symbolism, Imagery, and Allegory."

POZZO
Ah! Why couldn't you say so before? Why he doesn't make himself comfortable? Let's try and get this clear. Has he not the right to? Certainly he has. It follows that he doesn't want to. There's reasoning for you. (1.432)

This is arguably the most explicit statement of classic existentialist reasoning in Waiting for Godot. There is no such thing as slavery or confinement, Pozzo argues here, since every action one performs is a matter of choice. If Lucky doesn’t put the bags down, it is because he chooses not to, not because he isn’t allowed.

Enter Pozzo and Lucky. Pozzo drives Lucky by means of a rope passed round his neck, so that Lucky is the first to enter, followed by the rope which is long enough to let him reach the middle of the stage before Pozzo appears. Lucky carries a heavy bag, a folding stool, a picnic basket and a greatcoat, Pozzo a whip.
POZZO
(off). On! (Crack of whip. Pozzo appears. They cross the stage. Lucky passes before Vladimir and Estragon and exit. Pozzo at the sight of Vladimir and Estragon stops short. The rope tautens. Pozzo jerks at it violently.) Back! (1.290)

From the moment they enter the stage, Pozzo and Lucky fulfill the roles of master and servant.

Vladimir

VLADIMIR
(stutteringly resolute) To treat a man . . . (gesture towards Lucky) . . . like that . . . I think that . . . no . . . a human being . . . no . . . it's a scandal! (1.388)

Vladimir is outraged at the notion of slavery. Given his own state of confinement, this is highly ironic.

VLADIMIR
(to Lucky) How dare you! It's abominable! Such a good master! Crucify him like that! After so many years! Really! (1.476)

Vladimir turns the table on the master-slave relationship, suggesting that Pozzo is as beholden and dependent on Lucky as Lucky is on Pozzo.

VLADIMIR
Our Saviour. Two thieves. One is supposed to have been saved and the other . . . (he searches for the contrary of saved) . . . damned. (1.64)

In the world of Waiting for Godot, freedom from confinement is arbitrary and without logic.

VLADIMIR
You work for Mr. Godot?
BOY
Yes Sir.
VLADIMIR
What do you do?
BOY
I mind the goats, Sir.
VLADIMIR
Is he good to you?
BOY
Yes Sir.
VLADIMIR
He doesn't beat you?
BOY
No Sir, not me.
VLADIMIR
Whom does he beat?
BOY
He beats my brother, Sir. (1.783-792)

In the Boy and the absent Godot we have another set of master and slave. Vladimir and Estragon, then, are the only set of equals in the play. Or are they?

Estragon

ESTRAGON
(his mouth full, vacuously) We're not tied?
VLADIMIR
I don't hear a word you're saying.
ESTRAGON
(chews, swallows) I'm asking you if we're tied.
VLADIMIR
Tied?
ESTRAGON
Ti-ed.
VLADIMIR
How do you mean tied?
ESTRAGON
Down.
VLADIMIR
But to whom? By whom?
ESTRAGON
To your man.
VLADIMIR
To Godot? Tied to Godot! What an idea! No question of it. (Pause.) For the moment. (1.266-275)

The verb "tied" makes more explicit the similarity of these two men to Lucky, who is literally tied by the rope around his neck. Estragon is actually asking the same question we just did—whether or not they are made prisoners by Godot. Vladimir, of course, is unable to answer with any certainty. Interestingly, it is his very uncertainty that makes him a prisoner of his own inaction.

ESTRAGON
Charming spot. (He turns, advances to front, halts facing auditorium.) Inspiring prospects. (He turns to Vladimir.) Let's go.
VLADIMIR
We can't.
ESTRAGON
Why not?
VLADIMIR
We're waiting for Godot.
ESTRAGON
(despairingly) Ah! (1.91-5)

Vladimir and Estragon are confined by their waiting just as Lucky is confined by the rope around his neck. In this comparison, Godot is compared to Pozzo as the being that governs such confinement. But do the prisoners, Vladimir and Estragon, choose to be imprisoned?

Act 2
Vladimir

VLADIMIR
We'll hang ourselves tomorrow. (Pause.) Unless Godot comes.
ESTRAGON
And if he comes?
VLADIMIR
We'll be saved. (2.877-9)

This exchange brings us full circle to the discussion of the two thieves at the beginning of the Act 1; whether or not the men are saved from their imprisonment is dependent on the arbitrary arrival or absence of Godot. Freedom from confinement is random and without reason.

Vladimir pulls up the trousers, looks at the leg, lets it go. Estragon almost falls.
VLADIMIR
The other. (Estragon gives the same leg.) The other, pig! (Estragon gives the other leg.) (2.233)

Vladimir has assimilated notions of master and servant from watching Pozzo and Lucky. Notice which role he takes for himself in this implicit case (calling Estragon a "pig," as Pozzo does to Lucky)—as opposed to the role Vladimir takes later when explicitly playing pretend with Estragon.

VLADIMIR
One is not master of one's moods. All day I've felt in great form. (2.16)

By declaring himself at the mercy of his emotions, Vladimir takes another step in the direction of self-imposed servitude.

VLADIMIR
I'll do Lucky, you do Pozzo. (He imitates Lucky sagging under the weight of his baggage. Estragon looks at him with stupefaction.) Go on. (2.361)

See the contradiction here (compared to the previous quote)?