Study Guide

Waiting for Godot Truth

By Samuel Beckett

Truth

Act 1
Estragon

ESTRAGON
You're sure it was this evening?
VLADIMIR
What?
ESTRAGON
That we were to wait.
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? (1.132-40)

Add this to the list of uncertainties surrounding the act of waiting for Godot. Not only are the men unsure of what day they are supposed to meet him, but even if they were, they couldn’t know what day it is anyway. Part of the problem here is that what should be objective truth—the name of this specific day—is actually arbitrary. If it’s Thursday, it’s because we choose to call it Thursday. Some existentialists argue that, actually, there is no such thing as objective truth, ever, so it’s possible that Beckett is getting at that claim.

ESTRAGON
If he came yesterday and we weren't here you may be sure he won't come again today. (1.142)

This threat hangs over much of the play; the men may already be damned (in the sense that they will never get to meet Godot) and just not know it. The problem there isn’t with being damned, but with the uncertainty over whether or not they are damned.

ESTRAGON
What exactly did we ask him for?
VLADIMIR
Were you not there?
ESTRAGON
I can't have been listening.
VLADIMIR
Oh . . . Nothing very definite.
ESTRAGON
And what did he reply?
VLADIMIR
That he'd see.
ESTRAGON
That he couldn't promise anything. (1.202-212)

Even Godot is unsure! If Godot is a real omniscient, omnipresent God, then none of these statements can be true. If he is a figment of the men’s imaginations, their security blanket figure of certainty and truth, why do they assign to him all these doubts?

ESTRAGON
His name is Godot?
VLADIMIR
I think so. (1.277-8)

The doubt surrounding Godot increases as the play continues. Now they cannot even be sure of the man’s name, arguably the one "fact" they were operating with until now.

ESTRAGON
Why doesn't he put down his bags?
[…]
ESTRAGON
Why doesn't he put down his bags? (1.407-15)

The asking of questions—often the same question over and over—sets the tone of uncertainty in Waiting for Godot.

ESTRAGON
We came here yesterday.
VLADIMIR
Ah no, there you're mistaken.
ESTRAGON
What did we do yesterday?
VLADIMIR
What did we do yesterday?
ESTRAGON
Yes.
VLADIMIR
Why . . . (Angrily.) Nothing is certain when you're about. (1.120-5)

Vladimir puts a condition on uncertainty: nothing is certain when Estragon is around. Compare this to Estragon’s claim that nothing is certain—period.

Lucky

LUCKY
Given the existence as uttered forth in the public works of Puncher and Wattmann of a personal God quaquaquaqua with white beard quaquaquaqua outside time without extension who from the heights of divine apathia divine athambia divine aphasia loves us dearly with some exceptions for reasons unknown […]. (1.639)

In the course of his "nonsense" speech, Lucky says "for reasons unknown" ten times. His speech feigns authority with its academic tone, but the words themselves reveal the same deep uncertainty that pervades the rest of the play.

Vladimir

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)

Much of the uncertainty in Waiting for Godot is the result of a world in which results are arbitrary. The motif of the 50/50 chance starts here, with the discussion of two thieves, one saved and the other damned for no discernible, discriminating reasons.

VLADIMIR
You want to get rid of him?
[…]
VLADIMIR
You want to get rid of him?
[…]
ESTRAGON
You've had enough of him?
[…]
VLADIMIR
You want to get rid of him? (1.437-43)

Exactly. Same deal as the thought above.

VLADIMIR
Tell him . . . (he hesitates) . . . tell him you saw us. (Pause.) You did see us, didn't you?
BOY
Yes Sir. (1.817-8)

Vladimir’s uncertainty seems to have worsened throughout the course of the play. Whereas earlier he doubted memory and knowledge, he now can’t even accept that actions are true in the moment they occur.

VLADIMIR
Well? What do we do?
ESTRAGON
Don't let's do anything. It's safer.
VLADIMIR
Let's wait and see what he says.
ESTRAGON
Who?
VLADIMIR
Godot.
ESTRAGON
Good idea. (1.193-8)

The men use Godot as their reassurance that objective truth is coming soon, or at least someone with the authority to tell them what to do. This should clear up their issues of uncertainty. Of course, this assumption is incredibly ironic since the men can’t be sure of Godot’s arrival (or existence, or name, or form, and so on).

VLADIMIR
(without anger) It's not certain.
ESTRAGON
No, nothing is certain. (1.855-6)

Vladimir has resigned himself to this predicament; Beckett makes a point of the stage direction here.

VLADIMIR
And why doesn't he beat you?
BOY
I don't know, Sir.
VLADIMIR
He must be fond of you.
BOY
I don't know, Sir.
Silence.
[…]
VLADIMIR
You're not unhappy?
[…]
BOY
I don't know, Sir.
VLADIMIR
You don't know if you're unhappy or not?
BOY
No Sir. (1.797-808)

The repetition of "I don’t know" is an appropriate ending to Act 1.

VLADIMIR
But all four were there. And only one speaks of a thief being saved. Why believe him rather than the others? (1.86)

Vladimir makes that point that even things that many consider to be true are subject to doubt. Beliefs are without rationale in the world of Waiting for Godot.

VLADIMIR
I've seen you before, haven't I?
BOY
I don't know, Sir.
VLADIMIR
You don't know me?
BOY
No Sir.
VLADIMIR
It wasn't you came yesterday?
BOY
No Sir. (1.771-6)

Vladimir doubts his own memory here, but compare this to his reaction in Act 2 when he sees the Boy again.

VLADIMIR
We're waiting for Godot.
ESTRAGON
(despairingly) Ah! (Pause.) You're sure it was here?
VLADIMIR
What?
ESTRAGON
That we were to wait.
VLADIMIR
He said by the tree. (They look at the tree.) Do you see any others?
[…]
ESTRAGON
Looks to me more like a bush.
VLADIMIR
A shrub.
ESTRAGON
A bush.
VLADIMIR
A—. What are you insinuating? That we've come to the wrong place? (1.94-109)

The torturous nature of this endless wait for Godot derives from the uncertainty surrounding the act. If Vladimir and Estragon can’t be certain as to the right location, the central action of their daily lives (the waiting) may be moot.

VLADIMIR
But you say we were here yesterday.
ESTRAGON
I may be mistaken. (Pause.) Let's stop talking for a minute, do you mind?
VLADIMIR
(feebly) All right. (1.143-5)
ESTRAGON
(with effort) Gogo light—bough not break—Gogo dead. Didi heavy—bough break—Didi alone. Whereas—
VLADIMIR
I hadn't thought of that.
ESTRAGON
If it hangs you it'll hang anything.
VLADIMIR
But am I heavier than you?
ESTRAGON
So you tell me. I don't know. There's an even chance. Or nearly. (1.188-92)

Vladimir and Estragon are barred from even this act—that of suicide—because of an uncertainty as to whether or not it will work. In the "Choices" theme we look at how these two men consistently make "decisions" to act, yet are then somehow barred from actually doing anything. It may be that uncertainty is the barrier between choice and action.

Pozzo

POZZO
(calmer) Gentlemen, I don't know what came over me. Forgive me. Forget all I said. (More and more his old self.) I don't remember exactly what it was, but you may be sure there wasn't a word of truth in it. (1.485)

Pozzo is at least certain of his uncertainty, which is more than we can say for Vladimir—at least in Act 1.

POZZO
(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)

The cast of Waiting for Godot finds that the more they speak, the less certain they become. What starts off as assurance and fact quickly degenerates into guesswork and even more questions.

Act 2
Estragon

ESTRAGON
They're coming!
VLADIMIR
Who?
ESTRAGON
I don't know.
VLADIMIR
How many?
ESTRAGON
I don't know.
VLADIMIR
(triumphantly) It's Godot! At last! Gogo! It's Godot! We're saved! Let's go and meet him! (2.378-83)

Vladimir takes Estragon’s uncertainty and draws a conclusion of assurance; in some ways, he’s regressed since Act 1, since he now can’t even admit that he is unsure of anything.

ESTRAGON
Are you sure it wasn't him?
VLADIMIR
Who?
ESTRAGON
Godot.
VLADIMIR
But who?
ESTRAGON
Pozzo.
VLADIMIR
Not at all! (Less sure.) Not at all! (Still less sure.) Not at all! (2.786-791)

The uncertainty surrounding Godot increases as the play goes on. Now, not only are they unsure of his name, whether he is coming, who he is, what he looks like, or whether they missed him, but Vladimir also has to wonder whether he has already met Godot.

Vladimir

VLADIMIR
And you are Pozzo?
POZZO
Certainly I am Pozzo.
VLADIMIR
The same as yesterday?
POZZO
Yesterday?
VLADIMIR
We met yesterday. (Silence.) Do you not remember?
POZZO
I don't remember having met anyone yesterday. But tomorrow I won't remember having met anyone today. So don't count on me to enlighten you. (2.746-51)

The constant state of uncertainty is the only consistent, objective truth in Waiting for Godot.

VLADIMIR
Tell him . . . (he hesitates) . . . tell him you saw me and that . . . (he hesitates) . . . that you saw me. (Pause. Vladimir advances, the Boy recoils. Vladimir halts, the Boy halts. With sudden violence.) You're sure you saw me, you won't come and tell me tomorrow that you never saw me!
Silence. Vladimir makes a sudden spring forward, the Boy avoids him and exits running. (2.829)

This is interesting; at the end of the play, Vladimir is at his most lucid. He knows he saw the Boy yesterday (and, we can extrapolate, many other days in the past) and he knows he will see him tomorrow. His moment of clarity, however, leads only to fruitless anger. What good is certainty, anyway, in a world full only of unreliability and doubt?

VLADIMIR
But that is not the question. What are we doing here, that is the question. And we are blessed in this, that we happen to know the answer. Yes, in this immense confusion one thing alone is clear. We are waiting for Godot to come— (2.526)

Again, this is ironic; the one fact the men are absolutely certain of is surrounded by the most doubt and questioning.

VLADIMIR
Was I sleeping, while the others suffered? Am I sleeping now? […] At me too someone is looking, of me too someone is saying, He is sleeping, he knows nothing, let him sleep on. (Pause.) […] What have I said?
He goes feverishly to and fro, halts finally at extreme left, broods. (2.795)

Vladimir can’t even be certain of his own consciousness by the end of the play.

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?
VLADIMIR
Wait for Godot. (2.42-50)

Faced with constant uncertainty, the men begin to fake conviction. Unfortunately, assigning labels (like "happy") provides no assistance with the central problem of inaction.

Pozzo

POZZO
It isn't by any chance the place known as the Board?
VLADIMIR
Never heard of it.
POZZO
What is it like?
VLADIMIR
(looking round) It's indescribable. It's like nothing. There's nothing. There's a tree.
POZZO
Then it's not the Board. (2.707-11)

Pozzo convinces himself of "facts" by using an arbitrary and contrived system of logic. The fact that there is a tree in the scenery has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not this is "the Board." (Actually, "the Board" is an old word for "stage," so in fact the setting IS the Board. Pozzo is not only faking certainty, he’s just plain wrong.)