Waiting for Godot - An Optimistic Play Through Vladimir’s Cognizance
Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot discusses the optimism of awareness through Vladimir’s memory. Memory is a person’s power to remember things from the past. It arranges our understanding of the world and time. Memory can change the shape of a room, and can change the color of a tree. But memories can be distorted. They are an interpretation of our past, not a record. Therefore, our lives find significance through what we remember and how we perceive it. This conscious awareness through memory separates a world of meaning from one without. Waiting for Godot presents a world were society and environment are stripped of its meaning, importance, beauty, and sense. A simplistic tree and grey colored atmosphere envelope the setting. Only commonplace clothing with dull colors is ever worn. There is no diversity in the sexes. There is simplistic ground foods with little appeal. A goal is never reached. A nihilistic presentation, Beckett drew out two characters who were locked in this senseless circle of basic animalistic drives and purposeless speech awaiting for the infamous Godot. These two are Vladimir and Estragon. For the most part, they have forgotten why they wait for Godot, and simply exist without purpose. The world Beckett portrayed had no patience for significant revelations, for new beginnings, and for things that took place beyond the realm of the character’s immediate vision. Still, the play portrayed an optimistic outlook, because Vladimir showed himself to become self-aware of his world of nothingness, and showed hope for something more. Through Vladimir we see the possibility of empathy or feelings, and the cognizance of the natural world. He keeps his memories and uses them to perceive the world with a possibility of meanings and purpose. This representation of Vladimir reveals Waiting for Godot as an optimistic play.
Unlike the other tangible characters, Vladimir felt genuine sentimentality toward the situation of others. This is first seen in his emotion Pozzo’s treatment of Lucky in the first act. Vladimir remarked, “It’s a scandal! (stutteringly resolute) To treat a man ... (gesture towards Lucky) ... like that ... I think that ... no ... a human being ... no ... it’s a scandal!” Because of the stage direction we can see that Vladimir is being genuine in his worry and outrage. Although we do see Estragon comment, “A disgrace!” in relation to the same treatment of Lucky, it is accompanied before by a (not to be outdone) stage direction, and it showed that he was trying to compete with Vladimir, but felt no concern for Lucky. Later, Vladimir continued in his disgust of Lucky’s treatment with “(vehemently) Let’s go!”This showed that he wanted to leave Pozzo because he felt distain for his character and partial empathy of Lucky. He furthered his trouble for Lucky by responding, “You’ll kill him!” to Pozzo kicking Lucky to get up. Again we see his sympathy toward Lucky when he repeated four times, “You want to get rid of him?” and added, And now you turn him away? Such an old and faithful servant. After having sucked all the good out of him you chuck him away like a... like a banana skin. Really...” He question Pozzo’s treatment of Lucky and showed a compassion that Estragon, Pozzo, and even Lucky were too blind to have. Quite conversely he showed the same compassion or concern toward Pozzo when he complained on how he toiled for Lucky, and commented to Lucky, “How dare you! It’s abominable! Such a good master! Crucify him like that! After so many years! Really!” This uncovered that although he was sincere, his empathy was quick to change and could have been entirely forgotten. What is optimistic however, is that Vladimir showed interest in his sincerity for reasons other than his own benefit, and therefore gave the possibility of empathy. These emotions were probably attributed to by past memories of Vladimir and his experiences that caused him to feel distraught in Lucky’s situation. Vladimir’s soft-heartedness subjectively influences the audience into searching for the hope of a successful outcome for the story.
Vladimir is also the only character to show true cognizance of his surroundings in relation to his subjective experiences. In Waiting for Godot, cognizance is represented by memory. Throughout the play, similar events and environments are presented in order to convey a sense of uniformity and repetition of daily life. The fact that these characters couldn’t clearly remember events and surroundings showed they lacked importance to them, and in essence exposed the triviality of life. Throughout the play Pozzo and Estragon comment on this triviality of life and present a nihilistic world. Estragon commented in the second act, “I sometimes wonder if we wouldn't have been better off alone, each one for himself. (He crosses the stage and sits down on the mound.) We weren't made for the same road.” Vladimir replied, “It’s not certain.” to which Estragon concluded, “No, nothing is certain.” A lack of certainty argued for a lack of reason. If nothing can have the quality of being reliably true, then there is no evidence for justification or cause behind it, because that itself can’t be reliably true. Pozzo furthered this argument of nihilism with his own reflection, “The tears of the world are a constant quantity. For each one who begins to weep somewhere else another stops. The same is true of the laugh. Let us not then speak ill of our generation, it is not any unhappier than its predecessors. Let us not speak well of it either. Let us not speak of it at all,” The world, represented by “our generation” bares no change or difference from its past or future. This is not for lack of evolution, but for the world’s lack of interest or lack of substance from its observers. This is further doted on by Pozzo’s commentary of the night,
“Ah yes! The night. But be a little more attentive, for pity's sake, otherwise we'll never get anywhere. Look! Will you look at the sky, pig! Good, that's enough. What is there so extraordinary about it? Qua sky. It is pale and luminous like any sky at this hour of the day. In these latitudes. When the weather is fine. An hour ago roughly after having poured forth even since say ten o'clock in the morning tirelessly torrents of red and white light it begins to lose its effulgence, to grow pale pale, ever a little paler, a little paler until pppfff! finished! it comes to rest. But– but behind this veil of gentleness and peace, night is charging and will burst upon us, pop! like that! Just when we least expect it. That's how it is on this bitch of an earth.”
Night in this context can be alluded to the idea of death, while the day, life. Life passes in an instant like the day, and then there is death, ominous and unexpected like the night. Life, compared to one day, comes and goes without notice. This is a presentation of the world full of hopelessness and indifference. The play then presumed to acknowledge the idea of life without meaning. While the play continued to not offer any sign for meaning, it continued to show us hope in Vladimir’s memories of prior events. This subjectively gives the audience hope in Vladimir’s own possible awareness of his surroundings. Vladimir retorted at one point, “How they've changed!” After an exchange, Vladimir continued, “We know them, I tell you. You forget everything. (Pause. To himself.) Unless they're not the same...” He repeated this phrase, “unless they’re not the same,” various times to convey his questioning of the world around him and the possibility of change from a repetitious life. Estragon does not remember anyone who crossed their path and neither do any of those who come to cross their path again. Vladimir was unsettled by this, and was sure that he remembered certain individuals. He began to use logic and pointed out evidence such as Estragon’s boot and Lucky’s hat to proof that certain events had occurred before, and therefore subconsciously posed a significance on them because he remembered them. Vladimir became completely in tune to his surroundings and his life with his final reflection,
“Was I sleeping, while the others suffered? Am I sleeping now? Tomorrow, when I wake, or think I do, what shall I say of today? That with Estragon my friend, at this place, until the fall of night, I waited for Godot? That Pozzo passed, with his carrier, and that he spoke to us? Probably. But in all that what truth will there be? He'll know nothing. He'll tell me about the blows he received and I'll give him a carrot. Astride of a grave and a difficult birth. Down in the hole, lingeringly, the grave digger puts on the forceps. We have time to grow old. The air is full of our cries. But habit is a great deadener. At me too someone is looking, of me too someone is saying, He is sleeping, he knows nothing, let him sleep on. I can't go on! What have I said?”
This final remark is his testimony to his own understanding of the mundane repetition that has occurred throughout his life. For that small moment he discovered how events had repeated events over and over in his life. This subjectively calls for the audience to question what was the meaning of it all is. Because there is no meaning to these events, the audience is left to look for something more basic, more distinctive of hopefulness. The play is optimistic because Vladimir and the audience questioned their existence, not because there is a meaning for that existence, but because of they have the ability to question their memory of it.