English Literature » Notes » Structure Of “Waiting For Godot”

Structure Of “Waiting For Godot”

“Waiting for Godot” is not a play to which traditional ideas of plot, action, structure etc. do apply. To a certain extent, Beckett has deliberately discarded or parodied such conventions. There is double-structure in “Waiting for Godot” linear and cynical. The structural devices can be seen in dialogues, characterization and bringing out of the themes. In cyclical structure, there is no change, no movement, development, nothing happens but linear things have their ways of changing.

The major structural devices are parallels. The two acts are bold experiments in use of parallelism, which is saved from the monotony by an admixture of contrast in it. Repetition or paradigm is primarily dominant in the play. In each act Vladimir asks Estragon how he spent the night, in each act Vladimir offers to embrace Estragon and latter does not, at first, kindly take this gesture.

Every now and then, Estragon says:

Let’s go.

Vladimir patiently says:

We can’t.

Estragon wants to know why not, and Vladimir replies that:

We’re waiting for Godot.

This is followed every time by a sigh of Estragon. In each act Estragon wants to be allowed to sleep. In each act when they were at the ends of their wit, they indulge in meaningless trivialities. By the arrival of Lucky and Pozzo, in both the acts the tramps are helped at a particularly tedious moment. When they feel that their situation is absolutely unbearable, they toy with the idea of committing suicide, but in each case there is a major hurdle in their way. Each time they console themselves with a thought that they will bring a piece of rope next day with which they would commit suicide.
Recognition and forgetfulness also act as structural principles in both the acts. In both the acts the tramps take the arrival of somebody else to be that of Godot. The wait is terminated in both the acts by the arrival of a messenger. Before going away, they together think of suicide. In each act, they say that they are leaving and do not leave the place.
The conversation itself takes a rhythmic course. In Act-I Vladimir asks Estragon about his foot and Estragon in return asks Vladimir about his kidney trouble. Vladimir wants to relate to Estragon an incident in the New Testament and Estragon in return wants to relate an anecdote about an Englishman, but both are not ready to hear each other. Vladimir requests Estragon to take interest in his conversation. Similarly Pozzo asks Vladimir and estragon to give ear to his speech.
In both acts Vladimir asks Estragon whether he recognizes the place, each time Estragon’s memory fails, similar is the case with Pozzo. In Act II Pozzo is unable to collect that he met Estragon and Vladimir on the previous day. Likewise Estragon and Pozzo also disbelieves the common notion of time and place in both the acts Estragon sleeps soundly and meanwhile Vladimir feels boredom. Estragon is woke up by Vladimir. Estragon has nightmare every time to tell to Vladimir but Vladimir is not interested to hear it.

Act I:
Estragon: I had a dream.
Vladimir: Don’t tell me.
Estragon: I dreamt that.
Vladimir: Don’t tell me.

Act II.
Estragon: I was falling …
Vladimir: It’s all over, it’s all over.
Estragon: I was on the top of a …
Vladimir: Don’t tell me.

Both the acts end with the same pair of dialogues:

Estragon: Let’s go.
Vladimir: We can’t.
Estragon: Why not?
Vladimir: We are waiting for Godot.

The play gains a structural cohesion because the rhythmic repetition of certain themes, incidents and situations.
There is a parallelism and contrast even in characters. Estragon and Vladimir are both tramps who are facing a common situation of bored waiting. But Estragon is weaker and more temperamental whereas Vladimir is strong, protective and clear-headed. At crucial times Estragon goes to sleep. Estragon always blames Vladimir for troubles but Vladimir is much tolerated. Vladimir has greater control on himself than Estragon. There are parallels and contrasts in Lucky and Pozzo also.

The structure of “Waiting for Godot” is unique. Nevertheless there are important modifications in Act II which makes us pronounce that the pattern outside Estragon and Vladimir’s world is linear. The tree in Act II shows sign of growth as four or five leaves have sprout on the dead branches of it. Lucky and Pozzo do arrive as in act I but now in Act II Pozzo has become blind and Lucky dumb. The messenger boy of Act I look after Godot’s goats whereas the messenger boy of Act II looks after his sheep. In Act II Lucky does not deliver a tirade.
“Waiting for Godot” on philosophical level maintains a close relationship with the philosophy of Hera-Clatus who is of the view that “change is the crux of life”. But Samuel Beckett presents an opposite situation where he depicts “nothing happens twice”. There are anecdotes, incidents, agreements, conversations, contradictions, questions and meaningless answers. The play seems like sympathy of ‘Mozart’.