Note on the Significance of Title of the play “Waiting for Godot” by Samuel Beckett

A lot of controversies have arisen since the publication of ‘waiting for Godot’. Critics have not been able to reach any kind of agreement about this play. Even Beckett himself did not offer much help to interpret the play. The chief concern of this absurd drama is ‘waiting’ and ‘Godot’ which are ever puzzling. Throughout their lives, human beings always wait for something, and Godot simply represents the objective of their waiting-an event, a thing, a person, death. Beckett has thus depicted in this play a situation that has a general human application.

The source of the title of the play has aroused a greater controversy than anything else connected with it. An earlier version of the play was simply called waiting’. Martin Esslin holds the view that the subject of the play is not Godot but waiting. There is a general agreement that Godot is of less importance in the play than waiting, but the source of the word Godot has excited much curiosity. Beckett himself was of little help and, when asked about the meaning of Godot he replied, “If I knew I would have said so in the play.”

One of the critics, wishing to pinpoint the foolishness of trying to identify Godot too closely, said, “Godot is that character for whom two tramps are waiting at the edge of a road and who does not come.” Yet those hunting for the meaning of ‘Godot’ have ignored the advice offered by this critic and by Beckett himself and have displayed much ingenuity in interpreting the word ‘Godot’. It has been said, for instance, that the word has been formed from the English ‘God’ and French ‘Eau’ (water). Even ‘Godo’ is spoken Irish for God. Hugh Kenner has connected the name with his famous theory of the ‘cartesian centaur’ by mentioning the name of a French racing cyclist whose last name was Godean.

The source for the full title of the play caused similar anxiety. The most convincing suggestion, in this case, comes from Eric Bentley who traces the title to Balzac’s play ‘Marcadet’. In Balzac’s play, the return of a person named Godean is anxiously awaited, the frustration of waiting is a much a part of Balzac’s play as it is of Beckett’s. According to yet another view of Martin Esslin, the source of the title for the play was Odets’s ‘Waiting for lefty’. It is believed that the name of ‘Odet’s might have itself have suggested to Beckett the name Godot’. There is still another possibility Beckett’s title may have its source in Tom Kromer’s book called ‘Waiting for Nothing?”

The play is a direct presentation of waiting, ignorance, impotence, boredom. We all are impotent and suffering from boredom, loneliness, and alienation. We have no sons, no daughters, and no women with us, we are all alone like Estragon and Vladimir. There is no one to accompany is, no one to relieve us of our misery, pain, and suffering. It is true, no system, no philosophy, person or even God that can deliver us free. We wait and wait, that finale, our relief or freedom does not come, probably Godot would never come whether we wait hopefully or not.

‘Waiting for Godot’ is a dramatization of the themes of habit and ‘The sufferings of being’. Habit is a great deadener, says Vladimir’, and by the time he says so, he and Estragon have had about ninety minutes on the stage to prove it. It is the sound of their own voices that re-assumes the two tramps of their own existence, of which they are not otherwise always certain because the evidence of their senses is so dubious. The tramps have another reason also to keep talking. They are drawing out those voices that assail them in the silence, just as they assailed nearly all Beckett’s heroes.

Vladimir and Estragon, have traveled towards total nihilism, but they have not fully achieved it. They still retain enough remnants of hope to be fomented by despair. And in place of hope as a dynamic, they have expectancy. This is the main motif of the play. The two tramps are in a place and in a mental state in which nothing happened and time stands still. Their main preoccupation is to pass time night until might comes. They realize the futility of their exercises and they are merely filling up the hours. In this sense their waiting in mechanical, it is the same thing as not moving.

In another sense, it is an obligation. They have to remain where they are, though they resent doing so and would like to leave. This mood of expectancy has also a universal validity because whenever we wait we are expectant even though we are almost certain that our waiting will be rewarded. The title of the play thus brings into our mind about the meaningless waiting and it is the waiting for Godot who may stand for God, or for a mythical human being, or for the meaning of life, or for death or for something else.