Study Guide

Waiting for Godot Suffering

By Samuel Beckett

Suffering

Act 1
Vladimir

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!
ESTRAGON
(pointing) You might button it all the same.
VLADIMIR
(stooping) True. (He buttons his fly.) Never neglect the little things of life. (1.24-30)

Estragon and Vladimir both have a case of chronic pain. Again, when we see the play as an allegory, it is a statement that pain is a necessary part of the human condition.

VLADIMIR
You're not unhappy? (The Boy hesitates.) Do you hear me?
BOY
Yes Sir.
VLADIMIR
Well?
BOY
I don't know, Sir.
VLADIMIR
You don't know if you're unhappy or not?
BOY
No Sir. (1.803-8)

Much of the suffering in Waiting for Godot is the result of uncertainty.

VLADIMIR
And they didn't beat you?
ESTRAGON
Beat me? Certainly they beat me.
VLADIMIR
The same lot as usual?
ESTRAGON
The same? I don't know. (1.12-15)

Waiting for Godot presents suffering as a regular, expected part of daily life.

VLADIMIR
A running sore!
ESTRAGON
It's the rope.
VLADIMIR
It's the rubbing.
ESTRAGON
It's inevitable. (1.348-51)

Estragon literally says that chafing is inevitable when you’ve got a rope around your neck. But he also makes the point, whether intentionally or not, that suffering is inevitable. For everyone.

Vladimir breaks into a hearty laugh which he immediately stifles, his hand pressed to his pubis, his face contorted.
VLADIMIR
One daren't even laugh any more.
(1.45-6)

That Vladimir feels pain when he laughs is a cruel joke, but representative of the play’s nature as a tragicomedy. Tragicomedy should mean a marriage of the tragic and the comic, but Waiting for Godot goes one step further in suggesting that the tragedy (in this case, the pain) is the result of the comedy (in this case, Vladimir’s laughter).

Pozzo

POZZO
(groaning, clutching his head). I can't bear it . . . any longer . . . the way he goes on . . . you've no idea . . . it's terrible . . . he must go . . . (he waves his arms) . . . I'm going mad . . . (he collapses, his head in his hands) . . . I can't bear it . . . any longer . . . (1.471)

Pozzo’s character makes the case that suffering is self-imposed. He is upset by Lucky’s predicament, a situation of his own making.

POZZO
(Lyrically) The tears of the world are a constant quantity. […] (He laughs.) Let us not then speak ill of our generation, it is not any unhappier than its predecessors. (Pause.) (1.461)

Pozzo would try to ignore suffering because it has always existed. Unfortunately, this sort of rationale leads to men like Pozzo treating men like Lucky the way that, well, the way that Pozzo treats Lucky.

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)

Note that Lucky only thinks himself entangled in a net; this is another piece of evidence for the argument that suffering is self-imposed.

Estragon

ESTRAGON
I'm unhappy.
VLADIMIR
Not really! Since when?
ESTRAGON
I'd forgotten. (1.766-8)

Waiting for Godot argues that suffering is the constant and eternal condition of man.

Act 2
Vladimir

VLADIMIR
Say you are, even if it's not true.
ESTRAGON
What am I to say?
VLADIMIR
Say, I am happy.
ESTRAGON
I am happy.
VLADIMIR
So am I.
ESTRAGON
So am I.
VLADIMIR
We are happy.
ESTRAGON
We are happy. (Silence.) What do we do now, now that we are happy? (2.42-9)

Vladimir and Estragon try to fake happiness, only to find that the label "happy" is as meaningless as, well, just about everything else in the play.

VLADIMIR
You must be happy too, deep down, if you only knew it. (2.38)

This reinforces the problem with doubt; the men can’t be happy until they are sure they are happy. Since, as Estragon so eloquently says, "nothing is certain," it follows that the men can never be happy.