Friday, June 14, 2013

Waiting, With Questions

“Waiting for Godot,” by the absurdist Samuel Beckett, is my favorite play. Exactly why this is may favorite is difficult to explain as the the play itself is difficult to explain; however, the explanation can be as simple as the play is simple. One must experience Beckett’s work here to fully appreciate this perspective. The play is absurd and it is simple. The play makes no sense, yet plunges deep with its themes into meaning, an agenda is clear.

Beckett’s main character is an “invisible center” as in both acts (there are only two) two men pass the time in waiting for him. The main character never appears, is never heard and nearly nothing is known about him--even by Valadamir (Didi) and Estragon (Gogo) who wait for him for reasons unknown. Yet, they must wait. Other characters appear with their time on the stage: Pozzo with loyal Lucky (who, incidentally, delivers a fine-hatted speech) and a boy.

Didi and Gogo are children at heart. They do what they are told, without question. They are told to wait and so they do. While they wait they ask questions in and of themselves and the moment they seem to reach a point of understanding, all meaning suddenly gives way and collapses into despair. They return to their starting point: waiting.

One reason why this play is so appealing to me is how it reminds me of my childhood. One scene comes to mind: I am five years old and riding in the back of the car. Since seat belts were not an issue in those days of thost steel-bodied road-boats we called “cars”, I was probably riding up in the rear window of the car, laying in the space up above the back seats. My father was driving and talking with mother. I don’t recall what they talked about, but I never questioned my father. One never questioned. One simply did as he was told. If I gave the slightest hint I did in fact follow the conversation between them, it quickly fractured into spelled words and meaning slipped my mental grasp. I was shut out and left to my own questions.

Never question. Just do as you are told. Wait for Godot, no matter how long it takes--even if he never comes. So what, exactly, is a child to do? 

Didi and Gogo show the disaster of not asking questions, of asking the right questions to the wrong person, or asking the wrong questions altogether with no direction, correction or instruction. Left to their own devices, they stand at the threshold of despair. The heart is deceitfully wicked--who can know it? They explore reality and come very near shaping one of their own understanding and have no discernment to see reality as it should be. The boy at the end of both scenes may be their only key to the real world, showing them that things are not what they seem.

The most intriguing portion of the play occurs early in the first act where Didi asks Gogo concerning the Gospel. Everyone’s heard it and behind it all, there is the question of paradise, reality. While they wait and discuss the heavenly realm, they wrestle with what is real: pain, hunger, cold, harsh landscape, life and death. These lead to questions, less “why” but “for what purpose.” Beckett takes us very close to the spiritual realm and there must be a way to make sense of it and to do so, one must ask questions. The best one to ask is the Architect of paradise. Even a child knows this.

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