Study Guide

Waiting for Godot Friendship

By Samuel Beckett

Friendship

Act 1
Estragon

ESTRAGON
Wait! (He moves away from Vladimir.) I sometimes wonder if we wouldn't have been better off alone, each one for himself. (He crosses the stage and sits down on the mound.) We weren't made for the same road.
VLADIMIR
(without anger) It's not certain.
ESTRAGON
No, nothing is certain.
Vladimir slowly crosses the stage and sits down beside Estragon.
VLADIMIR
We can still part, if you think it would be better.
ESTRAGON
It's not worthwhile now.
Silence.
VLADIMIR
No, it's not worthwhile now. (1.854-9)

Estragon and Vladimir ask this question repeatedly in Waiting for Godot: whether or not they would be better off alone than they are with each other. The answer never seems to change, and is always passive or indecisive in nature. Or, in Estragon’s earlier words, they don’t do anything because they believe "it’s safer." Too uncertain to part, and too hesitant to have a real friendship, the men are left in constant limbo.

ESTRAGON
(restored to the horror of his situation) I was asleep! (Despairingly) Why will you never let me sleep?
VLADIMIR
I felt lonely.
ESTRAGON
I had a dream.
VLADIMIR
Don't tell me!
ESTRAGON
I dreamt that—
VLADIMIR
DON'T TELL ME!
ESTRAGON
(gesture toward the universe) This one is enough for you? (Silence.) It's not nice of you, Didi. Who am I to tell my private nightmares to if I can't tell them to you?
VLADIMIR
Let them remain private. You know I can't bear that. (1.146-153)

Here we see the incredibly contradictory nature of Vladimir’s relationship with Estragon. He wakes him up for company, but can’t commit emotionally to listening to the workings of Estragon’s subconscious (i.e., his dreams).

ESTRAGON
Let's hang ourselves immediately!
[…]
ESTRAGON
After you.
[…]
VLADIMIR
You're lighter than I am.
ESTRAGON
Just so!
VLADIMIR
I don't understand.
ESTRAGON
Use your intelligence, can't you?
Vladimir uses his intelligence.
VLADIMIR
(finally) I remain in the dark.
[…]
VLADIMIR
You're my only hope.
ESTRAGON
(with effort) Gogo light—bough not break—Gogo dead. Didi heavy—bough break—Didi alone. Whereas—
VLADIMIR
I hadn't thought of that. (1.174-189)

This is an interesting exchange. At nearly every other instance in the play, Vladimir is the more intellectual of the two men. Yet here, he needs Estragon to walk him through the scenario. Also, check out the line "I remain in the dark." On the one hand, Vladimir is confessing his ignorance; he remains in the dark cerebrally because he can’t figure out what Estragon is talking about. But his response "I remain in the dark" is also the answer to the problem Estragon has proposed: what happens if Estragon goes first? Then the bough holds up and Estragon dies hanging. Then, when Vladimir tries, he is heavier and breaks the bough—leaving him alone and, in a sense, in the dark. This isolation for Vladimir would be a worse fate than death.

ESTRAGON
(gently) You wanted to speak to me? (Silence. Estragon takes a step forward.) You had something to say to me? (Silence. Another step forward.) Didi . . .
VLADIMIR
(without turning) I've nothing to say to you.
ESTRAGON
(step forward) You're angry? (Silence. Step forward.) Forgive me. (Silence. Step forward. Estragon lays his hand on Vladimir's shoulder.) Come, Didi. (Silence.) Give me your hand. (Vladimir half turns.) Embrace me! (Vladimir stiffens.) Don't be stubborn! (Vladimir softens. They embrace. Estragon recoils.) You stink of garlic! (1.164-7)

This time Estragon takes the step forward in their friendship. But we find yet another barrier in the way, this time smell. Throughout the play Estragon will repeatedly cite smell as the reason he cannot get close to another, almost as if he is disgusted by others’ visceral humanity.

ESTRAGON
Why doesn't he put down his bags?
POZZO
I too would be happy to meet him. The more people I meet the happier I become. From the meanest creature one departs wiser, richer, more conscious of one's blessings. Even you . . . (he looks at them ostentatiously in turn to make it clear they are both meant) . . . even you, who knows, will have added to my store.
ESTRAGON
Why doesn't he put down his bags? (1.405-7)

Pozzo’s lines are highly ironic here. He is busy declaring how much he benefits from personal interaction while he directly ignores 1) Estragon’s attempts at communication and 2) the suffering of his slave, Lucky, who is still holding the heavy bags. The way his comment is couched in Estragon’s repeated lines is a great example of how structure complements and builds meaning in Waiting for Godot.

ESTRAGON
(coldly) There are times when I wonder if it wouldn't be better for us to part.
VLADIMIR
You wouldn't go far. (1.154-5)

Vladimir speaks repeatedly of Estragon’s dependence on him. At times this seems warranted, but at other times we wonder whether he isn’t just assigning a physical dependence to Estragon when he himself is emotionally dependent on the presence of another.

ESTRAGON
(on one leg) I'll never walk again!
VLADIMIR
(tenderly) I'll carry you. (Pause.) If necessary. (1.459-460)

And yet another example; Vladimir begins to express his feelings of friendship for Estragon, but, perhaps embarrassed, quickly pulls back.

ESTRAGON
(feebly) Help me!
VLADIMIR
It hurts?
ESTRAGON
(angrily) Hurts! He wants to know if it hurts!
VLADIMIR
(angrily) No one ever suffers but you. I don't count. I'd like to hear what you'd say if you had what I have.
ESTRAGON
It hurts?
VLADIMIR
(angrily) Hurts! He wants to know if it hurts! (1.23-28)

One of the barriers preventing an authentic friendship between these two men is that neither can truly understand what it means for the other to suffer. This sounds a lot like the primary thesis of The Plague, the existentialist work of fiction published just one year before Beckett wrote Waiting for Godot.

Vladimir

VLADIMIR
I'm going.
POZZO
He can no longer endure my presence. I am perhaps not particularly human, but who cares? (1.401-2)

Pozzo directly contradicts his earlier statement that he is just like Estragon and Vladimir—that they all are made in God’s image. He thinks of himself as somehow above mere humans, perhaps even divine. But the line "who cares?" is an interesting one. He may mean to say that he can still relate to the men despite his not being "particularly human," but we can interpret this in another, less optimistic way: it could be that, since men can’t connect to one another anyway, it doesn’t matter whether or not Pozzo himself is human. He’s going to be isolated either way.

VLADIMIR
I'm glad to see you back. I thought you were gone forever.
ESTRAGON
Me too. (1.4-5)

The ambiguity of Estragon’s reply (in one of the earliest lines of the play) sets us up for a central uncertainty in regards to this friendship. His response "Me too" could refer to Vladimir’s claim that he’s glad to see him, or it could refer to the comment that he thought Estragon was gone forever. We are forever unsure as to whether these two men achieve a friendship or are emotionally isolated from each other.

VLADIMIR
(exploding) It's a scandal!
Silence. Flabbergasted, Estragon stops gnawing, looks at Pozzo and Vladimir in turn. Pozzo outwardly calm. Vladimir embarrassed.
POZZO
(To Vladimir) Are you alluding to anything in particular?
VLADIMIR
(stutteringly resolute) To treat a man . . . (gesture towards Lucky) . . . like that . . . I think that . . . no . . . a human being . . . no . . . it's a scandal!
ESTRAGON
(not to be outdone) A disgrace!
He resumes his gnawing. (1.386-9)

Estragon’s chiming in here is a brilliant addition to the exchange; he clearly holds no genuine concern for Lucky, as he’s busy eating his bones while the man is abused. Vladimir, too, is aghast at Pozzo’s treatment of Lucky, but wait a bit and watch him berate Lucky for mistreating Pozzo. There’s no logic or consistency in his concern, so his attempt at sympathy is negated by its absurdity.

VLADIMIR
Together again at last! We'll have to celebrate this. But how? (He reflects.) Get up till I embrace you.
ESTRAGON
(irritably) Not now, not now. (1.6-7)

This early exchange also established an important dynamic in Waiting for Godot; one man attempts to get closer while the other pulls back. This motif will repeat itself, though Estragon and Vladimir will frequently switch roles.

VLADIMIR
Who told you?
POZZO
He speaks to me again! If this goes on much longer we'll soon be old friends. (1.403-4)

Pozzo defines friendship by mere interaction. Communication—even poor communication—is enough to break isolation, at least in his mind.

Pozzo

POZZO
(halting) You are human beings none the less. (He puts on his glasses.) As far as one can see. (He takes off his glasses.) Of the same species as myself. (He bursts into an enormous laugh.) Of the same species as Pozzo! Made in God's image! (1.314)

Pozzo here admits that, at least biologically, he is exactly the same as Vladimir and Estragon. This seems incompatible with his status as a God, or his belief that he is somehow above these two men (and above Lucky, who is also clearly a human being). Just like Didi and Gogo, Pozzo struggles between a desire to get close to others and a belief that he is somehow separate from them.

POZZO
Make haste, before he stops. (Estragon approaches Lucky and makes to wipe his eyes. Lucky kicks him violently in the shins. Estragon drops the handkerchief, recoils, staggers about the stage howling with pain.) (1.454)

This is a perfect example of the way isolation works in Waiting for Godot. One man makes an attempt to connect to another, and the second man violently pushes him away.

POZZO
Good. Is everybody ready? Is everybody looking at me? (He looks at Lucky, jerks the rope. Lucky raises his head.) Will you look at me, pig! (Lucky looks at him.) Good. (He puts the pipe in his pocket, takes out a little vaporizer and sprays his throat, puts back the vaporizer in his pocket, clears his throat, spits, takes out the vaporizer again, sprays his throat again, puts back the vaporizer in his pocket.) I am ready. Is everybody listening? Is everybody ready? (He looks at them all in turn, jerks the rope.) Hog! (Lucky raises his head.) I don't like talking in a vacuum. Good. Let me see.
He reflects. (1.426)

Pozzo is arguably the loneliest character in Waiting for Godot. While he makes a big show out of interacting with others and praising the benefits of human connection, he is always focused on himself, not on others. When he says "I don’t like talking in a vacuum," it’s clear that his concern is with his own ego, not in whether others hear or benefit from what he is saying.

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.
Lucky weeps. (1.450)

This brings us back to the earlier exchange in which Vladimir and Estragon debate killing themselves. It became clear then that isolation was a worse fate than death, and Pozzo reiterates that here. Lucky’s response—weeping—is unclear. Does he weep at the thought of being driven away? Or of being killed? Or is he simply distraught that Pozzo no longer wants his company?

POZZO
(He jerks the rope.) Up pig! (Pause.) Every time he drops he falls asleep. (Jerks the rope.) Up hog! (Noise of Lucky getting up and picking up his baggage. Pozzo jerks the rope.) Back! (Enter Lucky backwards.) Stop! (Lucky stops.) Turn! (Lucky turns. To Vladimir and Estragon, affably.) Gentlemen, I am happy to have met you. (Before their incredulous expression.) Yes yes, sincerely happy. (He jerks the rope.) Closer! (Lucky advances.) Stop! (Lucky stops.) […] (Pozzo finishes buttoning up his coat, stoops, inspects himself, straightens up.) Whip! (Lucky advances, stoops, Pozzo snatches the whip from his mouth, Lucky goes back to his place.) Yes, gentlemen, I cannot go for long without the society of my likes (he puts on his glasses and looks at the two likes) even when the likeness is an imperfect one. (He takes off his glasses.) Stool! (Lucky puts down bag and basket, advances, opens stool, puts it down, goes back to his place, takes up bag and basket.) (1.336)

Notice the same sort of conflict here; Pozzo alternates between treating Lucky as scum and declaring that he cannot be without others for company. He is obsessed with what he considers his superiority, but he can’t deal with the loneliness and isolation that superiority brings.

Act 2
Vladimir

VLADIMIR
(vexed) Then why do you always come crawling back?
ESTRAGON
I don't know.
VLADIMIR
No, but I do. It's because you don't know how to defend yourself. I wouldn't have let them beat you.
ESTRAGON
You couldn't have stopped them.
VLADIMIR
Why not?
ESTRAGON
There was ten of them.
VLADIMIR
No, I mean before they beat you. I would have stopped you from doing whatever it was you were doing. (2.24-30)

We are told repeatedly that Estragon is dependent on Vladimir, but is Vladimir similarly dependent on Estragon? It almost seems here as though he needs to be needed by his companion; that he grasps at a self-designed purpose through his helping Gogo.

VLADIMIR
We could play at Pozzo and Lucky.
ESTRAGON
Never heard of it.
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.
ESTRAGON
What am I to do?
VLADIMIR
Curse me!
ESTRAGON
(after reflection) Naughty!
VLADIMIR
Stronger!
ESTRAGON
Gonococcus! Spirochete!
Vladimir sways back and forth, doubled in two.
VLADIMIR
Tell me to think.
ESTRAGON
What?
VLADIMIR
Say, Think, pig!
ESTRAGON
Think, pig!
Silence. (2.359-370)

Because they don’t know how to have a real relationship themselves, the best Vladimir and Estragon can do is imitate what they see around them. The tragedy is that they are imitating an abusive and unhealthy relationship, as it’s the only example they have.

VLADIMIR
Make sure he's alive before you start. No point in exerting yourself if he's dead.
ESTRAGON
(bending over Lucky) He's breathing.
VLADIMIR
Then let him have it.
With sudden fury Estragon starts kicking Lucky, hurling abuse at him as he does so. But he hurts his foot and moves away, limping and groaning. Lucky stirs. (2.735-7)

It’s difficult to reconcile this callous comment (about making sure Lucky is alive) with Vladimir’s earlier outrage at Pozzo’s mistreatment of Lucky. You might want to check out our character analysis of Vladimir, where we jump right into this messy business.

Enter Pozzo and Lucky. Pozzo is blind. Lucky burdened as before.
[…]
VLADIMIR
At last! (He goes towards the heap.) Reinforcements at last!
POZZO
Help!
[…]
VLADIMIR
We were beginning to weaken. Now we're sure to see the evening out. (2.456-63)

This is a great example of the way Vladimir sees other people only for purposes of entertainment. He ignores the fact that Pozzo is blind and that both he and Lucky have fallen helplessly to the ground. Instead, he rejoices that he has something to do to pass the time until evening. In this way, Vladimir could be seen as the most isolated character in Waiting for Godot, since he can’t even recognize the humanity of another.

VLADIMIR
That seems a good idea all right. But could we do it? Is he really asleep? (Pause.) No, the best would be to take advantage of Pozzo's calling for help—
POZZO
Help!
VLADIMIR
To help him—
ESTRAGON
We help him?
VLADIMIR
In anticipation of some tangible return. (2.520-4)

This is a lowly low for Vladimir; while his earlier focus on the self was indifferent, this one is malicious—he’s plotting to manipulate another for personal gain.

VLADIMIR
You're a hard man to get on with, Gogo.
ESTRAGON
It'd be better if we parted.
VLADIMIR
You always say that and you always come crawling back.
ESTRAGON
The best thing would be to kill me, like the other.
VLADIMIR
What other? (Pause.) What other?
ESTRAGON
Like billions of others. (2.85-90)

Whoa there. Like billions of others? We’re thinking this isn’t literal. First, let’s go back to that line in Act 1 when Pozzo says that it would be better to kill Lucky than to send him away. Estragon is definitely repeating what he’s heard, even as he denies remembering anything about Lucky and Pozzo from the day before (this denial is what prompts Vladimir to declare he’s a difficult man to get along with). It would seem then that Estragon is either mindlessly repeating things, intelligent-parrot-style, or he agrees with the claim that death is better than isolation. As to the comment about others, Estragon is simply equating his and Vladimir’s relationship with all the other "billions" of relationships in the world. The thought that death is better than loneliness, then, applies to everyone, not just these crazy guys on the stage.

VLADIMIR
Moron!
ESTRAGON
That's the idea, let's abuse each other.
They turn, move apart, turn again and face each other.
VLADIMIR
Moron!
ESTRAGON
Vermin!
VLADIMIR
Abortion!
ESTRAGON
Morpion!
VLADIMIR
Sewer-rat!
ESTRAGON
Curate!
VLADIMIR
Cretin!
ESTRAGON
(with finality) Crritic!
VLADIMIR
Oh!
He wilts, vanquished, and turns away.
ESTRAGON
Now let's make it up. (2.413-24)

It’s as if Estragon and Vladimir use each other only to pass the time; each man is only seen as entertainment, not as another real, genuine human being.

VLADIMIR
Was I sleeping, while the others suffered? Am I sleeping now? Tomorrow, when I wake, or think I do, what shall I say of today? (2.795)

This is an oft-quoted line from Waiting for Godot, since it seems an incredibly human and sympathetic expression. However, in context, you’ll find that such an interpretation is incredibly ironic. Vladimir utters this while ignoring others’ cries of "Help!"

VLADIMIR
Let us not waste our time in idle discourse! (Pause. Vehemently.) Let us do something, while we have the chance! It is not every day that we are needed. (2.526)

Vladimir is able to rejoice in Pozzo's and Lucky’s pain and helplessness because it lends importance to his own life.

They look long at each other, then suddenly embrace, clapping each other on the back. End of the embrace. Estragon, no longer supported, almost falls. (2.8)

Estragon, who, moments before, hesitated to even look at Vladimir, can now no longer stand without him. He is dependent on Didi, but certainly not by choice.

Estragon

ESTRAGON
(wild gestures, incoherent words. Finally.) Why will you never let me sleep?
VLADIMIR
I felt lonely.
ESTRAGON
I was dreaming I was happy.
VLADIMIR
That passed the time.
ESTRAGON
I was dreaming that—
VLADIMIR
(violently) Don't tell me! (Silence.) (2.774-9)

We’ve gotten this several times by this point in the play, but this one is arguably the clearest in its message. Vladimir wants Estragon awake because he’s lonely—he needs the entertainment. But he doesn’t want to invest anything personally by listening to Estragon’s dreams; this would make Estragon human, real, which Vladimir can’t seem to handle.

ESTRAGON
If I could only sleep.
VLADIMIR
Yesterday you slept.
ESTRAGON
I'll try.
He resumes his foetal posture, his head between his knees.
VLADIMIR
Wait. (He goes over and sits down beside Estragon and begins to sing in a loud voice.)
Bye bye bye bye
Bye bye–
ESTRAGON
(looking up angrily) Not so loud!
VLADIMIR
(softly)
Bye bye bye bye
Bye bye bye bye
Bye bye bye bye
Bye bye . . .
Estragon sleeps. Vladimir gets up softly, takes off his coat and lays it across Estragon's shoulders, then starts walking up and down, swinging his arms to keep himself warm. Estragon wakes with a start, jumps up, casts about wildly. Vladimir runs to him, puts his arms around him. There . . . there . . . Didi is here . . . don't be afraid . . .
ESTRAGON
Ah!
VLADIMIR
There . . . there . . . it's all over.
ESTRAGON
I was falling—
VLADIMIR
It's all over, it's all over.
ESTRAGON
I was on top of a—
VLADIMIR
Don't tell me! Come, we'll walk it off.
He takes Estragon by the arm and walks him up and down until Estragon refuses to go any further. (2.312-323)

Check out the conflict here. Vladimir wants to sing Estragon to sleep, but he’s awkward and clumsy in his attempts to do so. He wants to get closer to his companion, but doesn’t know how. He then sacrifices his jacket for the sleeping Estragon though it means he suffers the cold himself—but when Gogo wakes up, Vladimir refuses to listen to his nightmare. Every attempt at connection is made futile by an inability or unwillingness to commit.

ESTRAGON
(sadly) You see, you piss better when I'm not there.
VLADIMIR
I missed you . . . and at the same time I was happy. Isn't that a strange thing?
ESTRAGON
(shocked) Happy?
VLADIMIR
Perhaps it's not quite the right word.
ESTRAGON
And now?
VLADIMIR
Now? . . . (Joyous.) There you are again . . . (Indifferent.) There we are again. . . (Gloomy.) There I am again.
ESTRAGON
You see, you feel worse when I'm with you. I feel better alone too. (2.17-23)

Vladimir’s line, in which his emotion ranges from joy to indifference to gloom, is an important one, and helps us to understand the men’s conflicting feelings in this passage. He’s happy to see Estragon, but Estragon’s very presence reminds him of his own plight, which makes him gloomy.

ESTRAGON
Don't touch me! Don't question me! Don't speak to me! Stay with me! (2.5)

Look at the tension in this one line of Estragon’s—he needs Vladimir close, but he can’t handle any sort of genuine friendship with him.

ESTRAGON
That wasn't such a bad little canter.
VLADIMIR
Yes, but now we'll have to find something else.
ESTRAGON
Let me see.
He takes off his hat, concentrates. (2.182-84)

Estragon and Vladimir are playing at having a relationship; the best they can do is simulate what they think they are supposed to do: have an argument, converse, make up, etc.

ESTRAGON
(recoiling) Who farted?
VLADIMIR
Pozzo.
POZZO
Here! Here! Pity!
ESTRAGON
It's revolting!
VLADIMIR
Quick! Give me your hand!
ESTRAGON
I’m going. (Pause. Louder.) I'm going. (2.566-71)

Smell is clearly an issue for Estragon. This is the second time (earlier it was Vladimir’s breath) that he recoils from another for such a reason. As we mentioned in Quote #6, it would seem that Estragon is bothered by the visceral nature of another’s humanity. This time, however, the smell isn’t enough to drive him away; he repeats loudly that he’s going to leave, possibly in the hopes that someone will stop him.