Waiting for Godot

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Themes and Colors
Humor and the Absurd Theme Icon
Waiting, Boredom, and Nihilism Theme Icon
Modernism and Postmodernism Theme Icon
Time Theme Icon
Humanity, Companionship, Suffering, and Dignity Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Waiting for Godot, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Humor and the Absurd Theme Icon

Waiting for Godot is a prime example of what has come to be known as the theater of the absurd. The play is filled with nonsensical lines, wordplay, meaningless dialogue, and characters who abruptly shift emotions and forget everything, ranging from their own identities to what happened yesterday. All of this contributes to an absurdist humor throughout the play. However, this humor is often uncomfortably mixed together with tragic or serious content to make a darker kind of comedy. Estragon refers to "billions of others," who have been killed, and describes being beaten by an anonymous "they." Lucky (whose ill-fitting name is itself darkly comic) is treated horribly and physically abused on-stage. And Vladimir and Estragon talk nonchalantly and pleasantly about suicide. All this has a discomforting effect on the audience, who is not sure how to react to this absurd mixture of comedy and tragedy, seriousness and playfulness. In act one, Vladimir says, "one daren't even laugh any more," and his comment could apply well to the audience of Beckett's play, who don't know whether to laugh or to cringe at the events on-stage. The absurdity caused by the seeming mismatch between characters' tones and the content of their speech can be seen as a reaction to a world emptied of meaning and significance. If the world is meaningless, it makes no sense to see it as comic or tragic, good or bad. Beckett thus presents an eerie play that sits uneasily on the border between tragedy and comedy, in territory one can only call the absurd.

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Humor and the Absurd ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Humor and the Absurd appears in each act of Waiting for Godot. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Humor and the Absurd Quotes in Waiting for Godot

Below you will find the important quotes in Waiting for Godot related to the theme of Humor and the Absurd.
Act 1 Quotes

One daren't even laugh any more.
Dreadful privation.
Merely smile. (He smiles suddenly from ear to ear, keeps smiling, ceases as suddenly.) It's not the same thing. Nothing to be done.

Related Characters: Estragon (speaker), Vladimir (speaker)
Page Number: 5
Explanation and Analysis:

These lines follow Vladimir’s laughter at the suggestion that the two repent being born, perhaps as if doing so would allow them to escape their horrible predicament. Vladimir first denies the validity of that laughter, then tries to mimic its feeling with a smile, before rapidly denying the smile’s efficacy.

Rejecting the value of humor, even dark humor, helps clarify the depths of nihilism in which the play exists. Though Vladimir has a natural impulse to laugh at the joke, he self-censors—as if something about the environment renders any levity entirely unacceptable. Then he tries to artificially perform a similar smile, but that attempt results in a repetition of the play’s opening denial line. "Nothing to be done," then, refers also to the loss of certain human emotions and the inability for Vladimir to recover joy or laughter in the current situation.

Yet this is not to say that Waiting for Godot as a work of art is entirely devoid of humor. Beckett deemed it a tragicomedy, implying that it was supposed to create at least a partially humorous effect for the reader. And Estragon’s line about “dreadful privation” is rather ironically funny: His high-flung vocabulary strikes as intentionally out of place and out of character. It is a humorous line for the audience even if it can only create a failed false smile for Vladimir.


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What do we do now?
Yes, but while waiting.
What about hanging ourselves?
Hmm. It'd give us an erection.

Related Characters: Estragon (speaker), Vladimir (speaker)
Page Number: 12
Explanation and Analysis:

This exchange takes place after a brief silence during which Estragon gazes at the tree—one of the only elements of the stage’s set. The two express the desperation induced by the prolonged wait for Godot, and the desolation of the environment surrounding them, as well as the tragic humor lying within that horror.

That Estragon and Vladimir cannot propose anything to do except “wait” recalls the opening line about “Nothing to be done.” It is characteristic in this play for any moment of silence to be followed by Estragon’s asking what the two should do next. But Vladimir’s answer is generally to continue waiting, and his more active suggestions are never acted upon. Here, for instance, suicide is not presented so much as a weighty decision, but rather a flippant reference that they forget about moments later.

It is notable that “hanging ourselves” is not actually suggested as a response to sadness, but rather to boredom. Beckett implies that the most torturous part of the characters’ existence is not active pain but rather the lack of motion. The idea that suicide could cause some kind of stimulation through an “erection” gives great excitement to Estragon: He is not enticed by death itself, but just the fact that suicide bestows on him greater agency in dictating his reality. Thus Beckett uses these lines to show how deeply one’s perceptions and ideas can be warped by the simple process of waiting. It bestows a passivity that leads the characters to crave action in any way possible, even if that way requires death.

To Godot? Tied to Godot! What an idea! No question of it. (Pause.) For the moment.

Related Characters: Vladimir (speaker), Godot
Page Number: 17
Explanation and Analysis:

Vladimir responds, here, to Estragon asking if they are currently tied to Godot. He explains that such an idea would be ridiculous, but then implies that it might be possible and even desirable in the future.

One of the beauties of the play is that “Godot” can be taken as a symbol for many different things: God, a bond to civilization, a rescuer, etc. In the broadest sense, he offers some kind of redemptive alternative to the desperate, unmoored characters. Currently the two remain, without question, not “tied to Godot,” for they have not yet made a social connection with them. But whereas Estragon continues to see that lack of being tied as positive, Vladimir implies with the artful pause and line “For the moment” that they may indeed want to be. Perhaps, after all, escaping the scene would mean becoming “tied” to Godot. On one level, this might simply mean having forged a social connection that requires humane treatment and gives emotional support. On another level, it might mean using Godot to reconnect themselves to a society with rights and social norms.

You are human beings none the less. (He puts on his glasses.) As far as one can see. (He takes off his glasses.) of the same species as myself. (He bursts into an enormous laugh.) Of the same species as Pozzo! Made in God's image!

Related Characters: Pozzo (speaker), Estragon, Vladimir
Page Number: 19
Explanation and Analysis:

During the first moments of their conversation, Estragon tells Pozzo they they are not from this area. In response, Pozzo makes this odd appeal to their common humanity, stressing how the characters are all fundamentally the same, in particular through their connection to God.

Pozzo focuses on visual consistencies. Beckett signals this emphasis through the stage direction of putting on and removing glasses. And he indicates that the assertion that they are “human beings” must be confirmed by visual data. Pozzo then moves first into a scientific register of speech with the repetition of “species” and then swaps in religious language with “God’s image.” This appeal to God would presumably define a social bond between the three of them, but Pozzo speaks the lines mockingly.

The fact that he cites a universal humanity is particularly empty considering his inhumane treatment of Lucky. Taking the two actions together would imply either that Lucky is not human, or that the way Pozzo treats Lucky could be applied to any human—based on their commonality as the “same species.” And in the nihilistic setting of the play, in which both God and society seem to have vanished, neither the religious nor the Enlightenment ideal of common humanity has many practical consequences.

Why he doesn't make himself comfortable? Let's try and get this clear. Has he not the right to? Certainly he has. It follows that he doesn't want to. There's reasoning for you.

Related Characters: Pozzo (speaker), Lucky
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:

After a series of confused attempts to ask Pozzo why Lucky continues to carry so many bags, Vladimir and Estragon are finally able to communicate their question. In response, Pozzo gives this strange definition of his human autonomy, claiming that Lucky is indeed able to rest.

Pozzo elevates the status of his statement with the phrases “Let’s try and get this clear” and “There’s reasoning for you.” He implies that other dialogue was perhaps not so lucid, and that he will be able to offer a more direct and useful understanding of their dynamics. Between these two phrases lies a distorted proof. Pozzo claims that Lucky is indeed fully autonomous, and that therefore each action he performs is out of complete volition. But, of course, the audience and other characters remain skeptical, for Lucky does not in fact seem to have this professed agency. Pozzo articulates a common despotic or slaveholding justification, in which people with power claim that others could do anything—whereas in reality they are trapped by their circumstance. Beckett seems to showcase the emptiness inherent in forms of human agency: A presumed ability to act only reveals how social forces keep one entrapped.

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. (He laughs.) Let us not then speak ill of our generation, it is not unhappier than its predecessors. (Pause.) Let us not speak well of it either. (Pause.) Let us not speak of it at all.

Related Characters: Pozzo (speaker), Lucky
Page Number: 32
Explanation and Analysis:

Pozzo offers this theory of world suffering because Estragon has begun to cry after Lucky kicks him in the shins. Previously Lucky shed tears, and Pozzo thus interprets the tears' transfer from Lucky to Estragon as proof that happiness in the world is constant.

To construct this theory, Pozzo begins with the physical detail he has just observed: “quantity” is “constant” because when Lucky stopped crying, Estragon started. Applying the same idea to laughter casts Vladimir’s earlier insistence that he not laugh in an intriguing light: It is as if Vladimir was generously leaving the laughter with others, whereas Pozzo steals it without a second thought. And from these two principles on crying and laughing, Pozzo concludes that no evaluative assessment can be made of any “generation,” for all eras have a consistent distribution of joy.

The philosophical underpinning of this relativism is that happiness and sadness are constantly being redistributed. Yet two sub-interpretations of this philosophy are possible: Either this is a pseudo-spiritual model in which happiness is regulated by a universal (perhaps divine) force, or it is a model in which human agents themselves change quantities of happiness by taking it away from others. In the second option, Lucky stopped crying only because he harmed Estragon. Beckett puts emphasis on this distinction by making Pozzo a slave-owner: He has profited from Lucky’s misery and thus has more resources than Estragon or Vladimir, who have a more equitable relationship. After all, it's to Pozzo's advantage to have formulated a theory that justifies his spiteful and selfish behaviors.

(to Lucky.) How dare you! It's abominable! Such a good master! Crucify him like that! After so many years! Really!

Related Characters: Vladimir (speaker), Pozzo, Lucky
Page Number: 34
Explanation and Analysis:

Only moments after Vladimir accuses Pozzo of having treated Lucky like a banana, he switches his perspective entirely. At the mere suggestion from Pozzo that he has been indirectly abused by Lucky, Vladimir immediately becomes sympathetic to the slaveholder and chastises Lucky instead.

These lines clarify the nature of the flippancy in Vladimir’s character. As we have already noted, Vladimir often makes comments in protest but never follows them with action. Here the reason is not cowardice but rather distraction. Just a single comment from Pozzo immediately makes Vladimir consider Lucky’s actions “abominable” and presents Pozzo as both “master” and martyr through the term “crucify.” This shift demonstrates that human moral codes are weak not necessarily because a character or person is evil, but simply because of how fickle human memory and attention are. Vladimir is generally presented as more attentive and aware than Estragon, but even here he cannot maintain a logical train of thought.

He thinks?
Certainly. Aloud. He even used to think very prettily once, I could listen to him for hours. Now... (he shudders).

Related Characters: Vladimir (speaker), Pozzo (speaker)
Page Number: 41
Explanation and Analysis:

As Pozzo prepares to have Lucky perform for Vladimir and Estragon, he notes that one option is for Lucky to “think.” Vladimir is naturally taken aback, considering that Lucky has not yet produced a single real utterance, and Pozzo asserts he can, but also indicates this behavior is now somewhat horrifying.

We see here a crucial revision to Lucky’s character. He is not, as we might think, inherently silent or disabled. Rather he used to be highly capable and has only recently descended into his current maligned state. The lines also clarify why Pozzo may now find him torturous to be around—for the way he performs is frightening instead of enjoyable.

“Thinking” is also presented here as a pragmatic action: It is not just a natural process that humans do, but something that can be cultivated and performed for others. Furthermore, Pozzo’s use of the term “prettily” implies that thinking quality can be assessed on some kind of scale. There are better and worse thinkers; ones that are beautiful and ones that make one shudder. Beckett may be making a snide comment here about the class of intellectuals who presume themselves to be above other entertainers, when in reality what they do is just another type of performance art.

He used to dance the farandole, the fling, the brawl, the jig, the fandango, and even the hornpipe. He capered. For joy. Now that's the best he can do. Do you know what he calls it?
The Scapegoat's Agony.
The Hard Stool.
The Net. He thinks he's entangled in a net.

Related Characters: Estragon (speaker), Vladimir (speaker), Pozzo (speaker), Lucky
Page Number: 42
Explanation and Analysis:

After Lucky performs, Pozzo observes sadly that he used to be far better. He lists the previous more artful dances Lucky once knew, and then asks Estragon and Vladimir to guess at the name of the recent one.

Most simply, these lines reconfirm that Lucky has degenerated from a previous more talented condition. But the more interesting side of the passages lies in how Estragon, Vladimir, and Pozzo describe the dance. The potential titles from each describe a state of hopelessness: Estragon points at how Lucky is a scapegoat for Pozzo’s hatred; Vladimir puns on stool to mean both an immobile seat and a painful bowel movement; and Pozzo describes the dance as expressing entrapment. Beckett implies that Lucky’s previous talents have—perhaps due to Pozzo, perhaps due to other forces—been reduced to a constant sense of being stuck and punished. Even a talent defined by movement is reduced to a lack of movement.

It is notable, too, that whereas the other dances are all recognizable forms and thus are lowercase, non-proper nouns, the actual dance has a unique title. Beckett seems to present it as an experimental form of art, more an expression of the self than a routine performance of previously-designed steps. This may be a subtle reference to twentieth-century modern dance, which deviates from pre-established form to such an extent that the motion often becomes grotesque.

Then adieu.
Silence. No one moves.

Related Characters: Estragon (speaker), Vladimir (speaker), Pozzo (speaker)
Page Number: 50
Explanation and Analysis:

This tragicomic scene of failed goodbyes comes after Pozzo observes how badly Estrange and Vladimir smell. He says he must leave, but the characters seem somehow unable to part.

The exchange reiterates the lack of mobility and agency. But more specifically, it shows how an expressed wish to perform an action does not cause that action to take place. Pozzo conveys a motivation for leaving and goes through the necessary social code to depart, yet even after saying the right words he remains rooted to the ground. Indeed, the group tries twice to complete this simple social gesture, demonstrating that their entanglement in Lucky’s metaphorical dance-net is so tight that they cannot correctly execute the most basic of interactions.

That “Adieu” translates to French literally as “to God” offers one potential explanation. If we take Godot as a metaphor or stand-in for God, then going toward God would actually imply staying stationary in order for Godot to appear. Furthermore, this interoperation would show how the logic of waiting and apathy have so deeply invaded the characters’ minds that their very phrases fail to operate. The word “Adieu” itself has taken on a new meaning in a world where God is absent and constantly delayed.

Let's go.
We can't.
Why not?
We're waiting for Godot.

Related Characters: Estragon (speaker), Vladimir (speaker), Godot
Page Number: 51
Explanation and Analysis:

After Pozzo and Lucky depart, Estragon immediately becomes bored once more and recommends that he and Vladimir leave as well. Vladimir reproaches him again, reminding the forgetful Estragon of their reason for staying in the same spot.

The lines reiterate the fickleness of Estragon’s memory; his mind immediately resets after every interaction, as if each moment is the beginning to a new play. In this way, he is much like a child who cannot track the progress of time or link earlier events to previous ones. He lives purely and perpetually in the present. Before, we might have believed in Vladimir as a voice of authority through his ability to form narratives and recall events. But by now the pointlessness of waiting has begun to seep in. The audience begins to wonder whether Estragon is perhaps correct in wishing to abandon their quest of waiting, and whether an eternal present might actually be a better response to a world without meaning. Beckett, then, has set up a scenario to call into question our presumptions about who holds authority in a situation of desperation. He demands that we be more skeptical of those who promise a future spiritual salvation, though Beckett never offers a clear alternative.

Mr. Godot told me to tell you he won't come this evening but surely tomorrow.

Related Characters: Boy (speaker), Godot
Page Number: 55
Explanation and Analysis:

After the interrogation from Vladimir and Estragon, the Boy finally gives his message. But that memo does not convey much real meaning, and rather serves to revert the characters to their bored state of waiting.

This rhetoric of expected arrival further casts Godot as a religious symbol. Though he is presumed to offer some kind of eternal salvation for the characters, his presence is constantly delayed and merely promised by others. At this point in the play, the emptiness of these words is not quite clear, for the Boy has only appeared once. But already Vladimir’s comments on how events and people seem to be repeating themselves indicate that the Boy may have said these words before. That is to say, perhaps the lengthy, nihilism-induced wait for Godot has been caused by a series of forgotten “but surely tomorrow”s.

Tell him... (he hesitates)... tell him you saw us. (Pause.) You did see us, didn't you?

Related Characters: Vladimir (speaker), Godot, Boy
Page Number: 56
Explanation and Analysis:

As the Boy leaves, Vladimir makes this desperate appeal to human recognition. He first asks the Boy to represent them to Godot, but more simply just asks to have been seen.

Recognition is, by now, one of Vladimir’s fixations. He has repeatedly claimed to recall and identify other characters, but they refuse to affirm him in return. And, as a result, Vladimir has begun to doubt his own mental capacities. Thus for the boy to see them and tell Godot about them would signal far more than just conveying simple information. For Vladimir, it would imply that they have been remembered—and that they are significant and meaningful human beings. Beneath this appeal also lies a deep skepticism in even the most simple of human processes: vision. Considering the twilight setting and the motif of blindness in the second act, Vladimir becomes concerned that his existential worries are perhaps the result of the most simple misrecognition: an inability to even see other people.

Well, shall we go?
Yes, let's go.
They do not move.

Related Characters: Estragon (speaker), Vladimir (speaker)
Page Number: 59
Explanation and Analysis:

These final lines of the first act come after Estragon and Vladimir debate separating, decide not to, and then propose to move on together. But instead of actually departing, they just verbally suggest it and remain immobile.

Once more, this exchange shows the depth of the stagnancy of the characters. They start with the most radical proposal—to separate—then reduce it to moving together, and yet they cannot even accomplish that. As with the “Adieu” sequence, the two perform the requisite speech acts of “Yes, let’s go,” but they cannot transfer language into action. Indeed, this distinction is one of the key themes in Beckett’s works, for action certainly lies within language for the audience, and at times for the characters when they are able to make conversation. But at other times, language is shown to directly contrast with action, when it functions as a delay mechanism or explicitly fails to perform its proper purpose.

The placement of these lines just at the end of the first act returns us to the play's beginning. Nothing was to be done, we were told, and here we see, indeed, nothing being done. Beckett, however, stresses not the necessary nihilism of the play, but rather the specific lack of agency or energy in each of the characters. Nothing can be done here because no one causes anything to be done, even when they might wish it to be different.

Act 2 Quotes

Say, I am happy.
I am happy.
So am I.
So am I.
We are happy.
We are happy. (Silence.) What do we do now, now that we are happy?
Wait for Godot.

Related Characters: Estragon (speaker), Vladimir (speaker)
Page Number: 66
Explanation and Analysis:

As act two begins, Vladimir and Estragon seem to undergo a radical emotional shift. With no real pretense, both claim to be happy, yet when they wonder what to do with this new good mood, they can come up with no suggestion besides waiting once more for Godot.

The way the two profess their happiness merits some skepticism. After all, no events have transpired to change their lives from the previous day. And rather than offer any rational basis for being in a good mood, the two will themselves into the state by verbally exclaiming its existence. Vladimir commands Estragon not to be happy but to “say” that he is happy, and this indicates that the next series of comments might be untruthful speech acts instead of honest descriptions of their mental states. The sing-song rhythm created by the repeated phrases also casts it more as a ritual than an earnest expression—and makes the entire endeavor seem cynical.

That this supposed happiness will not do anything to change the men's actual actions speaks to the division between language and behavior that pervades this play. Though Vladimir and Estragon claim to have acquired a new disposition, they are no more active than before. Thus happiness is not taken as a way to fight back against boredom and nihilism, but rather as a temporary, even false, distraction.

The best thing would be to kill me, like the other.
What other? (Pause.) What other?
Like billions of others.

Related Characters: Estragon (speaker), Vladimir (speaker)
Page Number: 68
Explanation and Analysis:

Estragon makes this allusion to human suffering after suggesting that he and Vladimir part ways. Vladimir points out that Estragon often makes similar grandiose statements without ever following through, which causes Estragon to take the more radical position that he should die.

Beneath this seemingly insensible statement lie a serious of complex references to other parts in the play. Estragon’s suggestion that death would be preferable to the dullness of their interaction recalls the earlier suggestion that they hang themselves to relieve boredom. But “the other” more likely refers to Lucky, for Pozzo had suggested killing him in order to be relieved of the burden. Thus while Estragon may not explicitly remember the events of the day before, they seem to have infiltrated his subconscious, causing him to see his relationship with Vladimir as analogous to that of Lucky and Pozzo. Vladimir is notably uncomfortable here, repeating the same question with a pause in the middle. Perhaps he is concerned about Estragon’s sanity, or perhaps he recognizes the reference to Lucky—and is horrified at the implicit comparison of himself to Pozzo.

The reference to “billions of others,” however, displaces that one-to-one connection to Lucky. Instead of focusing on a single human story, Estragon justifies his own killing based on the deaths of other humans. In a sense, the phrase is grandiose and frightening, but also slightly ridiculous—for billions have not been killed for the reason of “the best thing.” But it also shows the extent of the nihilism pervading the play. Perhaps billions have indeed died, or at least Estragon feels their deaths would be reasonable considering the hopelessness of his world.

Suppose we got up to begin with?
No harm trying.
They get up.
Child's play.
Simple question of will-power.

Related Characters: Estragon (speaker), Vladimir (speaker)
Page Number: 96
Explanation and Analysis:

Pozzo, Vladimir, and Estragon have all by now fallen on the floor and seem unable to rise. Yet after waiting for a bit and expressing a new wave of boredom, they suddenly stand up, self-congratulate, and render it an act of will.

These lines are quite humorous, for their simplicity directly contrasts with the earlier empty discussion about standing up. Whereas before words could not translate into action, here action takes place when there is a void of words. The characters may consider this an act of “will-power,” but it seems far more to be a factor of them having had no other task. After all, that standing is considered “child’s play” only serves to reiterate the ridiculousness of their previous immobility. It is deeply infantile, the act of a child, to be so obstinately apathetic—but it is also a reality of their world. Are we to take “will-power” then as earnest or ironic? Certainly, we laugh at the way these characters use the phrase, but Beckett also seems honestly invested in the value of the will. Instead of waiting, the three have actually accomplished something minuscule by standing up, seeming to indicate that a set of similar actions could potentially produce some personal benefit.

Well? Shall we go?
Yes, let's go.
They do not move.

Related Characters: Estragon (speaker), Vladimir (speaker)
Page Number: 109
Explanation and Analysis:

These are the final lines of the play. Vladimir suggests they depart and Estragon affirms the choice, but the two remain just as immobile as ever.

By finishing the work here, Beckett returns the action back to two earlier moments in the text: The first is an almost identical set of lines at the end of act one. The second is the opening sequence in which it was immediately established that nothing was to be done. This invites a first reading that the text moves nowhere and serves to argue that the characters will wait in boredom and nihilism forever. Yet a few key changes from act one should be noted.

Whereas at the end of act one, Estragon was the first to suggest leaving, at the end of act two, it is Vladimir who first says, “Well? Shall we go?” Beckett also breaks up the line “Well, shall we go?” into two separate questions. Vladimir’s sentences thus seems more pointed—less a casual expression reached from boredom and more an explicit wish to change. And, indeed, this decision is significant coming from his character, for Vladimir has previously demanded the two must remain still to wait for Godot. Perhaps the skepticism he has expressed at the mission of waiting for Godot has finally led Vladimir to abandon the quest—which may give rise to increased agency and movement.

The final stage direction, however, undermines any such idea. Even, it seems, if the two wish to depart, they remain caught in the game of language over action, of expressing a desire without actually bringing it to fruition. Beckett ends the text on an appropriately divisive note: the stagnancy is devoid of meaning for the characters, but within that stagnancy lies a world of meaning for the audience.