Waiting for Godot consists of two men unable to act, move, or think in any significant way while they kill time waiting for a mysterious man, Godot. The characters fail to realize that this very act of waiting is a choice; instead, they view it as a mandatory part of their daily routine. Even when these men manage to make a conscious decision, they can’t translate that mental choice into a physical act. They often "decide" to leave the stage, only to find that they are unable to move. Such inaction leads to stagnancy and repetition in the seemingly endless cycle of their lives.
If Vladimir and Estragon realized they had the freedom of choice, they could break their daily cycle of habit and inaction. The problem is one of consciousness.
Vladimir and Estragon are fully aware of their situation and of their ability to choose, but the uncertainty surrounding the result of any potential action prevents them from breaking the stagnant cycle of their waiting.
Waiting for Godot is hailed as a classic example of "Theater of the Absurd," dramatic works that promote the philosophy of its name. This particular play presents a world in which daily actions are without meaning, language fails to effectively communicate, and the characters at times reflect a sense of artifice, even wondering aloud whether perhaps they are on a stage.
Lucky is the only character in Waiting for Godot whose actions are rational, rather than absurd.
Waiting for Godot is a play driven by a lack of truth—in other words, uncertainty. Characters are unable to act in any meaningful way and claim this is because they are uncertain of the consequences. Without the presence of objective truth, every statement is brought into question, and even common labels (color, time, names) become arbitrary and subjective.
In Waiting for Godot, Beckett espouses the Existentialist tenet that the world is without meaning, but disagrees with the belief that one can give the world meaning and purpose through action.
The portrait of daily life painted by Waiting for Godot is a dismal one. It is repetitive and stagnant. It lacks meaning and purpose and entails perpetual suffering. The solution (which none of the characters take) would seem to be action and choice despite the ever-presence of uncertainty, and an awareness of one’s surroundings and past actions. As one character says, "habit is a great deadener"—our actions should stem from conscious choice rather than apathy.
The barren setting of Waiting for Godot is proof that Vladimir and Estragon will never be able to break their cycle of inactive waiting; it negates the possibility of life or creation.
Suffering is a necessary and constant state for all men in the world of Waiting for Godot.
Time presents a slew of problems in Waiting for Godot. The very title of the play reveals its central action: waiting. The two main characters are forced to whittle away their days while anticipating the arrival of a man who never comes. Because they have nothing to do in the meantime, time is a dreaded barrier, a test of their ability to endure. Because they repeat the same actions every day, time is cyclical. That every character seems to have a faulty memory further complicates matters; time loses meaning when the actions of one day have no relevance or certainty on the next.
Pozzo chooses to go blind because he has lost his watch.
Religion is incompatible with reason in Waiting for Godot. Characters who attempt to understand religion logically are left in the dark, and the system is compared to such absurd banalities as switching bowler hats or taking a boot on and off. Religion is also tied to uncertainty, since there is no way of knowing what is objectively true in the realm of faith.
Waiting for Godot operates on one principle contradiction: the men can only be saved if their personal god, Godot, were to appear. However, since a commonly accepted interpretation of God is that he is without extension (meaning he doesn’t occupy space), Godot’s presence would mean that he is not God. This renders Vladimir and Estragon’s waiting absurdly futile.
Friendship is tricky in Waiting for Godot, as each character is fundamentally isolated from each other. Relationships teeter between a fear of loneliness and an essential inability to connect. This tension is central to the play. The problems that keep characters apart vary from physical disgust to ego to a fear of others’ suffering.
Because Lucky and Pozzo understand and accept the nature of their positions as slave and master, they have a healthier relationship than Vladimir and Estragon.
Every character in Waiting for Godot seems to live in a prison of his own making. Each is confined to a state of passivity and stagnancy by his own inability to act. The one character who is literally the slave of another is no more restricted than those who are technically free; in fact, he may be more free because he is at least aware of his imprisonment.
Lucky’s position is the most enviable in Waiting for Godot since he has the security of being told what to do.
Vladimir and Estragon are slaves to their concept of Godot just as Lucky is a slave to Pozzo.
Suffering is a constant and fundamental part of human existence in Waiting for Godot. Every character suffers and suffers always, with no seeming respite in sight. The hardships range from the physical to the mental, the minor to the extreme. Suffering drives some men to find companionship (so as to weather the storm together), causes others to abuse their companions (to lessen the suffering of the self), and motivates others isolate themselves (since watching people suffer is a kind of anguish on its own).
Vladimir and Estragon suffer not for lack of happiness, but for lack of certainty. It is worse to not know whether or not they are miserable than to be certain of their anguish.
None of the characters in Waiting for Godot shy away from the fact that death is inevitable. In fact, death becomes at times a solution for the inanity of daily life. The main characters contemplate suicide as though it were as harmless as a walk to the grocery store, probably because there’s nothing in their lives worth sticking around for anyway. They ultimately do not commit suicide because they claim not to have the means, but also because they are uncertain of the result of their attempt (it may work, it may fail). Because they can’t be sure of what their action will bring, they decide on no action at all.
Estragon and Vladimir put the label of "waiting for Godot" on what is really just a systematic waiting for death.