The Eternal Fallacy
Existentialism is a philosophy which encompasses the belief that eternal repetition is the only way for something to have meaning, to have a purpose in the world. Thus, typical existentialists would believe that the Eternal Return is the path to meaning. However, they do not realize that they only find meaning in the Eternal Return because they are looking for meaning in the Eternal Return. In the existentialist play, Waiting for Godot, the author, Samuel Beckett, explores how pursuing the existence of meaning through an existentialist lens ultimately leads to nothing. The existence of meaning in Waiting for Godot constantly changes from character to character to portray the existentialist idea of Eternal Return and the meaninglessness of a person’s search for meaning.
Eternal Return greatly contributes to the manipulation of meaning through the novel because according to Eternal Return, meaning becomes increasingly significant after each consecutive cycle. Beckett implements eternally recurring dialogues and actions in the novel to portray the change in meaning each time a dialogue or action is repeated. In one instance in Act 1, the two protagonists, Vladimir and Estragon, are waiting for Godot and Estragon falls asleep. Meanwhile, a boy arrives and tells Vladimir that Godot will not be coming. When the boy asks Vladimir what he should say to Godot, Vladimir replies, “Tell him you saw us. You did see us didn’t you?” In Act 2, the sequence is repeated, although with slightly altered dialogue and actions. In the instance in Act 2, Estragon is asleep while the boy confronts Vladimir, but when the boy asks what he should say to Godot, Vladimir replies “Tell him you saw me and that… that you saw me… (With sudden violence) You’re sure you saw me, you won’t come and tell me to-morrow that you never saw me!” (Beckett 59). “Tell him that you saw me [us]” was repeated more times in Act 2 than it was in Act 1 when the boy comes. The second time the dialogue was mentioned, the dialogue was much more emotional and meaningful. Beckett attempts to portray to the reader that after the Eternal Return has occurred, the repeated dialogue will only continue to increase in meaning. Another phrase that Vladimir consistently mentions eternally is “We’re waiting for Godot” (Beckett 10), which is mentioned for the first time on page 10. The phrase, “waiting for Godot”, is repeated numerous times throughout the novel, which, in Eternal Return, yields a greater meaning each consecutive time the phrase is presented. Beckett does not tell, but show the reader the concept of Eternal Return through the repetition of the text. When the reader sees the phrase for the first time, the reader does not try to find significance and meaning because the phrase has only occurred once. After the simple phrase, “waiting for Godot”, is repeated numerous times, the reader begins to pursue meaning of the phrase and after each consecutive time the reader sees the phrase, the reader sees more meaning in the phrase. Thus, Beckett implies that once the cycle of Eternal Return begins, the existence of meaning associated with the Eternal Return will only become more evident.
However, the lack of meaning also manipulates the existence of meaning in Waiting for Godot in that the lack of meaning suggests anticipation for greater meaning. Beckett uses the lack of meaning in the novel to imply that the characters expect to find and receive meaning in dialogue and actions which are typically considered meaningful to humans. In Act 1, a slave-like character named Lucky speaks a lengthy monologue, “Given the existence… quaquaquaqua… Essy-in-Possy… so calm… Cunard… unfinished” (Beckett 28-29). Monologues are typically among the most meaningful and personal aspects within a play. Lucky is the only one to speak a monologue throughout the entire play and his speech was filled with nonsense words, such as “quaquaquaqua”. In addition, the monologue is a run-on sentence for almost 3 full pages without punctuation and ironically ends with the word “unfinished”. Beckett throws in the immense monologue to demonstrate to the reader the lack of meaning in the dialogue, not only by contrasting the one-time incident to the concept of Eternal Return, but also by creating a sense of unfamiliar confusion and irrelevance. There is only one such monologue within the entire novel, which in Eternal Return would be next to meaningless due to lack of repetition. However, Beckett challenges the reader to find meaning within the text because of its uniqueness even though the text may not actually contain the significance the reader pursues. A second example where Beckett indicates meaningless is in Act 2, when Vladimir attempts to remember what he and Estragon did the day before and what has changed. Vladimir thinks aloud “Wait… we embraced… ah! The tree!” (Beckett 42). Beckett uses ellipsis to portray a progression of events with missing segments. The missing segments represent the events which Vladimir deems meaningless as he does not remember. “The tree!” ends the dialogue as Vladimir has finally arrived at something meaningful, something portraying purpose. After Vladimir and Estragon have exhausted a topic, Vladimir tries to recall an event so that they may proceed from that point and find meaning. Beckett indicates several breaks in Vladimir’s thought process because Vladimir struggles to recall events. Vladimir attempts to find meaning in something that does not require meaning to understand because he presumes that a prior event must have meaning. Thus, Beckett criticizes humans who try to understand things by finding meaning, when in reality, understanding requires a lack of meaning.
From the beginning to the end of the novel, Beckett implies that the existentialist ideas themselves lack the existence of meaning in human life because he believes meaning only exists once one gives something meaning. Typical existentialists would believe in the concepts of existentialism, such as Eternal Return and meaninglessness in existence, but typical existentialists might not think to apply the concepts to their own existentialist philosophy. Beckett exemplifies this implication when Vladimir claims that he and Estragon are in the exact same place they were at the previous day and Estragon replying “I tell you [Vladimir] we weren’t here yesterday. Another of your nightmares” (Beckett 42). In the text, the word, “Another”, implies that Vladimir has dreamt in previous times but throughout the novel, the only person the reader sees dreaming is Estragon. If the Eternal Recurrence were to happen, then readers should see that Vladimir was dreaming as well. Beckett never reveals Estragon’s dreams to the reader because Beckett uses Vladimir to block realization of meaninglessness in existentialism. According to the selection, Vladimir is the one who seemingly dreams a lot and Estragon identifies the instances when Vladimir comes to a nonsensical or meaningless conclusion; yet, to the average reader, Vladimir seems to be the more logical and critical of the two protagonists. At one point in the Waiting for Godot, Estragon suggests, “And if we dropped him [Godot]? If we dropped him?” to which Vladimir replies, “He’d [Godot] punish us. Everything’s dead but the tree.” (Beckett 59). “Everything’s dead” portrays the existentialist belief in Eternal Return as all the deadness represents repetition and “the tree” portrays change, which would represent meaninglessness according to Eternal Return. Vladimir tries to bring attention and meaning to the tree several times although in existentialist belief, the tree would be considered meaningless. Beckett uses Vladimir to demonstrate knowledge of flaws within existentialism, but incapability to understand the flaws of existentialism. Estragon suggests that he and Vladimir stop waiting for Godot, but Vladimir understands that they cannot because Godot would punish t hem otherwise. However, throughout the novel, Vladimir seems to be the only on conscious of repetition and meaning. Beckett ultimately implies that once one enters the cycle of Eternal Return, it would be implausible, in not impossible, to escape the cycle and that Eternal Return limits on from manipulating meaning.
In Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett displays a very controversial and highly interpretive realm to existentialism. He often leaves readers dumbfounded or sophomoric in their pursuit to find meaning in Beckett’s novel, readers including myself. However, the success of Waiting for Godot as “…one of the most noble and moving plays of our generation” - The London Times, is due to Beckett’s person understanding, and perhaps bias, of extreme existentialist belief, using existentialist concepts such as Eternal Return and the meaningless of existence to dispute the concepts of Eternal Return and the meaningless of existence themselves. Beckett, with his mindset, creates a book where readers become highly involved in the novel without knowing that they are involved. Ultimately, Samuel Beckett creates a play where the audience becomes part of the play and becomes entranced through an eternal cycle of misunderstanding alongside the story characters.
WORD COUNT: 1,457
Beckett, Samuel. Waiting for Godot: Tragicomedy in 2 Acts. New York: Grove, 1954. Print.