Samuel Beckett has
been considered an author influenced by the Existentialism, which is a
philosophical theory which emphasises the existence of the individual person
as a free and responsible agent. We can appreciate this undeniable influence
in all his works and with a critical attitude towards life. Maybe we can
see this fact more clearly in his plays, where the characters represent
the feelings and fears of Samuel Beckett himself.
Samuel Beckettís Waiting for Godot: "nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes, itís awful." When the play first opened, it was criticized for lacking meaning, structure, and common sense. These critics, however, failed to see that Beckett chose to have his play, Waiting for Godot, capture the feeling that the world has no apparent meaning. In this misunderstood masterpiece, Beckett asserts numerous existentialist themes. Beckett believed that existence is determined by chance. This basic existentialist tenet is first asserted in Vladimirís discussion of a parable from the Bible. Of the two thieves crucified at the same time as Christ, one was saved and one was damned. Given this knowledge, Vladimir ponders: "Öhow is itÖthat of the four Evangelists only one speaks of a thief being saved. The four of them were there - or thereabouts - and only one speaks of a thief being savedÖ.Of the other three, two donít mention any thieves at all and the third says that both of them abused [Christ]Ö.But all four were there." The reports of the Evangelists shows that probability determines human life. That each Evangelist speaks of a different fate for the thieves prove the role of chance in our existence. It is generally accepted that one thief was saved and another one damned, which further illustrates the probability of life. In addition, Beckett expands on this paradox by stating, "Do not despair; one of the thieves was saved. Do not presume; one of the thieves was damned." Because fate is determined by chance, there is nothing anyone can do to insure their savior. In the play, it is stated that Godot himself beats the minder of sheep but cherishes the minder of goats. The arbitrariness of Godotís decisions elude to the arbitrariness of life itself, raising questions over who will be saved and who will be damned. In the play, Pozzo remarks about his fate in comparison to Luckyís: "Remark that I might easily have been in his shoes and he in mine. If chance had not willed it otherwise." In Stoppardís play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern flip a coin that escapes the natural laws of reason. Here, the existentialist viewpoint focuses on refuting probability in favor of chance.
To many people, Godot symbolizes God. The name Godot even reflects an attenuated version of the word God. Godotís silence but ubiquitous presence resembles that of Godís, and Vladimir and Estragonís helplessness mirrors our own frailty. Vladimir and Estragon wait for Godot, hoping that he will give them meaning, help them find answers to their questions, and that he will save them from their situation. Many critics have argued that Godot does not necessarily symbolize God, merely "the objective of our waiting - an event, a thing, a person, a death."
Another basic existentialist tenet on which Beckett reflects is the meaninglessness of time. Because past, present, and future mean nothing, the play follows a cyclic pattern. Vladimir and Estragon return to the same place each day to wait for Godot and encounter the same basic people each day. Pozzo and Lucky pass by Vladimir and Estragon one day, both in healthy states, and return the next day, one blind and the other mute. Pozzo cannot recollect the previous meeting, and even claims that Lucky has always been mute. In changing Pozzo and Luckyís situation, Beckett shows that timeís meaninglessness degrades human life to the point of being equally unpurposed. Likewise, Godotís messenger does not recognize Vladimir and Estragon from day to day. This suggests that the people we meet today are not the same as they were yesterday and will not be the same tomorrow. Stoppard investigated this concept by confusing the identities of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. They often could not tell the difference between themselves, offering further evidence on the uncertainty of life.
Beckett also examines Sartreís description of "bad faith" self-deceptive attempts to dodge reality by making excuses for oneís actions. Vladimir and Estragon fool themselves by engaging in petty discourse that reflects the absurdity of life. They even contemplate suicide numerous times for numerous reasons, but ultimately persist in the futility of life. They choose to wait, just as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern submit to the futility of their own lives and merely await death.