Study Guide

Waiting for Godot Time

By Samuel Beckett

Time

Act 1
Vladimir

VLADIMIR
Hand in hand from the top of the Eiffel Tower, among the first. We were respectable in those days. Now it's too late. They wouldn't even let us up. (Estragon tears at his boot.) What are you doing?
ESTRAGON
Taking off my boot. Did that never happen to you?
VLADIMIR
Boots must be taken off every day, I'm tired telling you that. (1.20-22)

We are introduced to what appears to be a repeating, cyclical routine for these two men. The more we realize the extent of the repetition, the more horrifying their predicament seems.

VLADIMIR
He didn't say for sure he'd come.
ESTRAGON
And if he doesn't come?
VLADIMIR
We'll come back tomorrow.
ESTRAGON
And then the day after tomorrow.
VLADIMIR
Possibly.
ESTRAGON
And so on.
VLADIMIR
The point is—
ESTRAGON
Until he comes.
VLADIMIR
You're merciless.
ESTRAGON
We came here yesterday.
VLADIMIR
Ah no, there you're mistaken. (111-121)

Note that it is Estragon, NOT Vladimir, who recognizes that they’ve been repeating their actions again and again. Why, then, is Vladimir considered the more lucid character? Why is he the only one to remember Lucky and Pozzo later in the play?

VLADIMIR
How they've changed!
ESTRAGON
Who?
VLADIMIR
Those two. (1.709-11)

Vladimir’s comment suggests that Pozzo and Lucky appear every day, a part of what we have already guessed to be his and Estragon’s cyclical routine.

VLADIMIR
That passed the time.
ESTRAGON
It would have passed in any case.
VLADIMIR
Yes, but not so rapidly. (1.699-701)

Passing the time until nightfall has become Vladimir’s sole objective; because of his obsession with time, people have become mere entertainments, and he is capable of seeing them only as objects, not as humans.

VLADIMIR
He said Saturday. (Pause.) I think.
ESTRAGON
You think.
VLADIMIR
I must have made a note of it. (He fumbles in his pockets, bursting with miscellaneous rubbish.)
ESTRAGON
(very insidious) But what Saturday? And is it Saturday? Is it not rather Sunday? (Pause.) Or Monday? (Pause.) Or Friday?
VLADIMIR
(looking wildly about him, as though the date was inscribed in the landscape) It's not possible!
ESTRAGON
Or Thursday? (1.135-40)

Waiting for Godot reminds us that our labeling of time is ultimately arbitrary. Words like "Saturday" or "Thursday" are made-up anyway, so we have no way of knowing what day it really is.

Estragon

ESTRAGON
(violently) You let me alone. (Advancing, to the Boy.) Do you know what time it is?
BOY
(recoiling) It's not my fault, Sir. (1.745-6)

Estragon berates the Boy for being late, an odd criticism coming from a man who seems to have no sense of time himself.

Pozzo

POZZO
That was nearly sixty years ago . . . (he consults his watch) . . . yes, nearly sixty. (1.467)

Pozzo is the one character to have a watch, and in fact it is quite a watch. He uses it to speak not of minutes or hours, but a span of years, an impressive feat in a world where the men must examine the sky at length to determine whether or not night has come.

POZZO
He's stopped crying. (To Estragon.) You have replaced him as it were. (Lyrically.) The tears of the world are a constant quantity. For each one who begins to weep, somewhere else another stops. The same is true of the laugh. (He laughs.) Let us not then speak ill of our generation, it is not any unhappier than its predecessors. (Pause.) Let us not speak well of it either. (Pause.) Let us not speak of it at all. (Pause. Judiciously.) It is true the population has increased. (1.461)

Pozzo at first claims that time has essentially changed nothing at all as far as the world and its functions. But no sooner are the words out of his mouth that he sees a fallacy in his statement; population, after all, has increased, which means time does in fact bring change. Pozzo’s relationship with time and his attempts to understand it are important to his character; check out Pozzo’s character analysis for more.

POZZO
(Turning to Vladimir and Estragon.) Thank you, gentlemen, and let me . . . (he fumbles in his pockets) . . . let me wish you . . . (fumbles) . . . wish you . . . (fumbles) . . . what have I done with my watch? (Fumbles.) A genuine half-hunter, gentlemen, with deadbeat escapement! (Sobbing.) Twas my granpa gave it to me! (He searches on the ground, Vladimir and Estragon likewise. Pozzo turns over with his foot the remains of Lucky's hat.) Well now isn't that just—
VLADIMIR
Perhaps it's in your fob.
POZZO
Wait! (He doubles up in an attempt to apply his ear to his stomach, listens. Silence.) I hear nothing. (He beckons them to approach, Vladimir and Estragon go over to him, bend over his stomach.) Surely one should hear the tick-tick.
VLADIMIR
Silence!
All listen, bent double.
ESTRAGON
I hear something.
POZZO
Where?
VLADIMIR
It's the heart.
POZZO
(disappointed) Damnation!
VLADIMIR
Silence!
ESTRAGON
Perhaps it has stopped. (1.655-64)

Pozzo has lost his watch. Vladimir’s comment that "It’s the heart" they hear ticking, not the missing watch, is a fascinating one, since this is as accurate a ticking of time (and far more poignant) than that of a hunk of metal. Also note that Estragon, not Vladimir, is the man to comment that perhaps "it" has stopped. The watch, sure, but also time, an apt comment since the men are stuck in a cyclical, timeless repetition of banality.

POZZO
You are severe. (To Vladimir.) What age are you, if it's not a rude question? (Silence.) Sixty? Seventy? (To Estragon.) What age would you say he was?
ESTRAGON
Eleven.
POZZO
I am impertinent. (1.390-2)

Again, the notion of keeping track of time is portrayed as absurd, so we might just as easily call Vladimir "eleven" as "seventy." When Estragon characterizes him as "eleven" and Pozzo responds that he is "impertinent," he is simply exchanging one adjective for another. Think of it as you saying, "Hi, I’m Jen," and someone replying, "Hi, I’m hungry." Or, interpreted differently, you’ve got another neat structuring thing going on here, where Pozzo’s two lines, "You are severe" and "I am impertinent" surround the conversation about numbers; Pozzo asks Vladimir’s age and then entirely ignores the answer he gets in return.

Act 2
Pozzo

POZZO
(violently) Don't question me! The blind have no notion of time. The things of time are hidden from them too. (2.702)

When we realize in Act 2 that Pozzo has gone blind (and later that Lucky has become mute), we immediately want to know the reason why. Something must have happened in the time between  yesterday and today. But time is not logical in Waiting for Godot. Pozzo, who in Act 1 was all about time (his watch, his exposition on the twilight) has now resigned himself to this painful fact. He now admits that he is "blind" to time, or cannot at all understand its workings.

POZZO
But he [Lucky] is dumb.
VLADIMIR
Dumb!
POZZO
Dumb. He can't even groan.
VLADIMIR
Dumb! Since when?
POZZO
(suddenly furious) Have you not done tormenting me with your accursed time! It's abominable! When! When! One day, is that not enough for you, one day he went dumb, one day I went blind, one day we'll go deaf, one day we were born, one day we shall die, the same day, the same second, is that not enough for you? (2.769-73)

Frustrated at his inability to understand time, Pozzo writes it off as irrelevant.

Vladimir

VLADIMIR
A dog came in the kitchen
And stole a crust of bread.
Then cook up with a ladle
And beat him till he was dead.

Then all the dogs came running
And dug the dog a tomb–

He stops, broods, resumes:

Then all the dogs came running
And dug the dog a tomb
And wrote upon the tombstone
For the eyes of dogs to come:

A dog came in the kitchen
And stole a crust of bread.
Then cook up with a ladle
And beat him till he was dead.

Then all the dogs came running
And dug the dog a tomb– (2.1)

Vladimir’s song reflects the cyclic nature of time in Waiting for Godot.

We are waiting for Godot to come—
ESTRAGON
Ah!
POZZO
Help!
VLADIMIR
Or for night to fall. (Pause.) (2.526-9)

Vladimir’s notion of time is tied up with the concept of waiting for Godot. The fact is, waiting for Godot is as repetitive, predictable, and never-ending as waiting on a daily basis for night to come. The end result is always the same, and the process always begins anew the next day, with no end in sight.

VLADIMIR
Look at it.
They look at the tree.
ESTRAGON
I see nothing.
VLADIMIR
But yesterday evening it was all black and bare. And now it's covered with leaves.
ESTRAGON
Leaves?
VLADIMIR
In a single night.
ESTRAGON
It must be the Spring.
VLADIMIR
But in a single night! (2.197-203)

Time passes in an absurdly inconsistent manner in Waiting for Godot; while the characters decay (Pozzo goes blind, Lucky loses the ability to speak), the tree goes in the other direction—blossoming in a single night.

Estragon

ESTRAGON
We came too soon.
VLADIMIR
It's always at nightfall.
ESTRAGON
But night doesn't fall.
VLADIMIR
It'll fall all of a sudden, like yesterday.
ESTRAGON
Then it'll be night.
VLADIMIR
And we can go.
ESTRAGON
Then it'll be day again. (Pause. Despairing.) What'll we do, what'll we do! (2.334-40)

Estragon seems to catch only glimpses of the horrible stagnancy in which he and Vladimir are stuck. At this brief moment of realization he despairs, only to be distracted once again by Vladimir or by some inane element of their surroundings.

Pozzo

POZZO
(who hasn't listened.) Ah yes! The night. (He raises his head.) But be a little more attentive, for pity's sake, otherwise we'll never get anywhere. (He looks at the sky.) Look! (All look at the sky except Lucky who is dozing off again. Pozzo jerks the rope.) Will you look at the sky, pig! (Lucky looks at the sky.) Good, that's enough. (They stop looking at the sky.) What is there so extraordinary about it? Qua sky. It is pale and luminous like any sky at this hour of the day. (Pause.) In these latitudes. (Pause.) When the weather is fine. (Lyrical.) An hour ago (he looks at his watch, prosaic) roughly (lyrical) after having poured forth even since (he hesitates, prosaic) say ten o'clock in the morning (lyrical) tirelessly torrents of red and white light it begins to lose its effulgence, to grow pale (gesture of the two hands lapsing by stages) pale, ever a little paler, a little paler until (dramatic pause, ample gesture of the two hands flung wide apart) pppfff! finished! it comes to rest. (1.540)

We come to see that the daily wait for Godot draws to a close only with the coming of night and the rising of the moon. Twilight, then, is the least certain and most ambiguous time of day for Vladimir and Estragon. It is fitting that Pozzo, the man who grapples with time repeatedly in the play, is the man to soliloquize on its nature. His vacillations between the poetry of the sky’s color and the exactitude of the time—made clear by Beckett’s alternating stage directions "lyrical" and "prosaic"—suggest that an attempt to categorize and label time is frivolous, maybe even at odds with the deeper understanding one gains from observations.