Dichotomy In Samuel Beckett's Waiting For Godot

1923 Words 8 Pages
Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett is a modernist play that is often used as a prime example of theatre of absurd. The absurd within theatrical literature is defined by themes of purposelessness and bewilderment, with limited characterization seen and a disjointed, incomprehensible plot. In the article Waiting is All by Ruby Cohn, she explains how Beckett uses these absurdist values to create dramatic tension, without having noteworthy characters or any semblance of a progressive story. Cohn argues that “the impression of stasis is achieved by two techniques, repetition and symmetry” (162). Both absurdist techniques are seen constantly throughout the play. Beckett’s work is written in only two acts, straying from the common Aristotelian method …show more content…
Ruby Cohn remarks in her article about how “within each pair, too, a carefully symmetrical dichotomy is set up” (162). The comparison that is drawn between the two pairs is of the slave-master relationship of Pozzo and Lucky contrasting with the friend-friend relationship of Vladimir and Estragon. Cohn describes the dichotomy between the master-slave relationship as a physical one, observing how “Pozzo is blustering, red-faced, and bald; whereas Lucky is emaciated, pale, and shaggy-haired” (162). Alternatively, she describes the relationship between Vladimir and Estragon as “one that may be summarized as physical vs. mental man” (163). Cohn elaborates on this by stating how Vladimir represents the realm of the mind, while Estragon represents the realm of the body, and that each has a prop to signify this. Vladimir is shown constantly playing with his hat, as seen throughout the play when he repeatedly “takes off his hat, peers inside of it, feels about inside it, shakes it, knocks on the crown, puts it on again“(F.2677). In contrast, Estragon complains about his boots, frequently attempting to take them off with little success. Cohn theorizes that the props used are symbolic not only of the difference in characters but of man. Vladimir’s prop is placed on his head and is the more intellectual of the two as he ponders spiritual …show more content…
Cohn makes the point that during the entirety of Waiting for Godot “Not only are the events under constant re-examination and dependent upon the viewer, but the very names of the characters are mutable and shifting” (164). Estragon also goes by “Adam”, Vladimir identifies as “Mr. Albert”, and even Pozzo answers to both Cain and Abel during the second act of the play. Cohn adds that this is purposeful, saying “…there can be no doubt that Beckett is insisting upon the absurdity of subsuming man’s character or essence under a name” (164). I believe that this notion is expressed even more overtly during the notable hat-switching scene that takes place in the second act. The reader establishes in the first half that the props that each character possesses are symbolic of their personality in some way. The audience recognizes Vladimir as the more intellectual of the pair through the observations and actions previously noted. Coming into the second act, the audience is given an impression of how each character may act and react to various situations, as is often the case in literature. Beckett instead sets out to destroy the very symmetry he used to define the characters and their relationships. Again, there is the obvious physical change in the master-slave relationship, as the rope is shorter and

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