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.
Time Theme Icon

Closely related to the Modernist and Postmodernist aspects of Beckett's play is its conception of time, an issue of fascination to Modernists and Postmodernists alike. Perhaps the most important thing about time in the play is that it is uncertain. All of the characters (and thus the audience, as well) are unsure of exactly when the play is taking place. The time period of the play is unclear, as is the relative chronology of the play's events. Vladimir is rather sure that act two is one day after act one, but all the other characters disagree. Moreover, everyone except for Vladimir seems to have forgotten the events of act one by the time act two begins. In act two, Vladimir and Estragon even disagree over what time of day it is.

Amid all this uncertainty, the one thing that seems certain is that time is recursive in Waiting for Godot. That is, the same events occur again and again, while characters also repeat themselves. As Pozzo and Estragon forget their immediate past, they end up repeating much of act one in act two. Vladimir and Estragon wait in the same place, where the same two people (Lucky and Pozzo) encounter them, and where a boy delivers the same message from Godot. Vladimir himself wonders to what degree the events of act two are an exact repetition of those in act one, as he asks whether Lucky and Pozzo are the same characters from the previous day, and whether it is the same young boy, or a different one. The boy claims to be a different boy from that of act one, and Pozzo does not remember Vladimir or Estragon, but given all of the forgetfulness in the play, Vladimir's questions remain unanswered.

With this strangely repetitive temporal structure, the characters of Waiting for Godot are trapped within an infinite present time. "Time has stopped," says Vladimir in act one. Indeed, the ending of the play seems somewhat arbitrary. It could have continued on for however many acts, endlessly repeating, as Vladimir and Estragon endlessly await the arrival of the mysterious Mr. Godot. Moreover, it is not clear that the beginning of the play was really the beginning of this story. How many days did Estragon and Vladimir come to the same part of the road and have essentially the same conversation before the day of act one?

Time ThemeTracker

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

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

I'm glad to see you back. I thought you were gone forever.

Related Characters: Vladimir (speaker), Estragon
Page Number: 2
Explanation and Analysis:

Vladimir says this to Estragon the moment he arrives in the scene. Estragon questions whether he is indeed there again, and in response Vladimir repeats how much he appreciates Estragon’s presence.

These lines introduce the skepticism of change and development that will preoccupy the characters throughout the play. Estragon is soon revealed to have a terrible memory, often forgetting if he has even been in a certain location. But Vladimir’s relatively stronger conviction in his memory is also repeatedly undermined throughout the play. When read with these themes in mind, the beginning of the text poses an odd question: Has Vladimir actually been gone long from Estragon’s side? Perhaps he has been there almost the entire time, and his sense of “forever” has just been deeply warped—as time is often warped in the play. The term “back” is similarly perplexing, for the characters constantly repeat themselves, seeming to exist in a series of constant returns in which they reiterate their lives, always coming “back.”

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You're sure it was this evening?
What?
That we were to wait.
He said Saturday. (Pause.) I think

Related Characters: Estragon (speaker), Vladimir (speaker), Godot
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

The two speak here about their anticipation for the play’s titular “Godot.” Yet instead of expressing confidence in his arrival, they reveal a complete lack of certainty.

The vagueness of their knowledge parallels the earlier stage direction which specified only “evening” with no indication as to day or era. That choice left the viewer or reader untethered to time, and these lines shows that the characters exist in a corresponding state. (It is always important, with Beckett, to distinguish when certain confusions or clarities are inherent to the world of the text and thus experienced by the characters, or whether they stem from the audience’s distance from the world.) Here, the play’s bizarre, timeless space is a common feature between audience and character. In particular, Estragon and Vladimir are deeply challenged by the simple activity of arranging a meeting. In their their reality, time cannot be tracked, so even the most basic social functions break down.

But what Saturday? And is it Saturday? Is it not rather Sunday? (Pause.) Or Monday? (Pause.) Or Friday?

Related Characters: Estragon (speaker)
Page Number: 10
Explanation and Analysis:

Estragon presses Vladimir on the specifics of the day of the meeting. First he points out that “Saturday” alone does not specify a certain date, and then he goes on to question whether it is even a Saturday at all.

The “I think” of the previous statement, here, grows into a series of frantic days, and it becomes evident that the two cannot at all temporally locate themselves. Estragon’s entire faith in the calendar has broken down. Though Vladimir, as the more "sane" character, tries to reassure him, there is a growing sense that neither can make statements with much conviction. As a result, there is no clear indication that the two are in the right spot or at all close to the right time. Already, Beckett implies that their entire waiting experience may be foolhardy. For though they may be performing the correct action—waiting—their inability to keep track of time or track narratives undermines any chance at actually meeting Godot.

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.

Act 2 Quotes

It must be the Spring.
But in a single night!
I tell you we weren't here yesterday. Another of your nightmares.

Related Characters: Estragon (speaker), Vladimir (speaker)
Page Number: 73
Explanation and Analysis:

Estragon and Vladimir try to make sense of their environment’s first real change: The tree has grown leaves. For Estragon, this is proof that their life is not repeating, whereas Vladimir wonders whether the seasons have shifted in a day.

This passage presents two models of time and implies that each model bestows a different type of significance on the characters. Vladimir relies on his memory that they were in the same place the night before and that the tree had no leaves—but now the tree has leaves, so spring must have arrived in a single night. He takes two perceptual pieces of information, believes in their connection, and arrives at a daring conclusion. Estragon, on the other hand, lacks a memory and therefore presumes that spring could not have come so rapidly. He takes the logical end result and extrapolates backwards to assume that Vladimir’s information must be the result only of “nightmares.”

Thus we have two different options for the reality of the play: Either we accept that the normal logic of the seasons is perverted, but concede that Vladimir’s perceptions are generally correct, or we deny his claims as mere nightmare and affirm the eternal present as experienced by Estragon. This passage serves to further undermine Vladimir’s authority in the relationship and to show how fickle our adherence can be to time models: They can be abandoned with the sight of one blooming tree.

We came too soon.
It's always at nightfall.
But night doesn't fall.
It'll fall all of a sudden, like yesterday.
Then it'll be night.
And we can go.
Then it'll be day again.

Related Characters: Estragon (speaker), Vladimir (speaker)
Page Number: 80
Explanation and Analysis:

After Estragon once more suggests leaving, Vladimir must remind him that they have not moved in order to wait for Godot. This disagreement causes them to reflect on the specific way time is repeating.

Estragon’s position can be summarized, here, as rejecting the linear development of time toward an expected goal: the arrival of Godot. He denies that they have arrived at the right moment, then rejects the imminent arrival of that correct moment: when night will fall. What Estragon is taking issue with here is not exactly time as such, but rather the progressive motion between different moments in time. Rejecting the dynamic process of night falling, he instead repeats the model of the eternal present in which it is night at one moment, day in another. Nothing, in this account, would ever occur that would allow them to “go.”

Vladimir, on the other hand, defends the potential for change to take place if they continue waiting for Godot. From his certainty in the way twilight fell yesterday, he extrapolates that a similar change will take place—and that another change will allow them to be finally mobile and “go” once Godot arrives. In this way, Beckett seems to present faith (in Godot or in any sort of redemption) as an indicator of one’s specific belief in time: the anticipation of future events based on past ones is deemed necessary to belief in or hope for a savior.

Have you not done tormenting me with your accursed time! It's abominable! When! When! One day, is that not enough for you, one day he went dumb, one day I went blind, one day we'll go deaf, one day we were born, one day we shall die, the same day, the same second, is that not enough for you?

Related Characters: Pozzo (speaker), Estragon, Vladimir, Lucky
Page Number: 103
Explanation and Analysis:

As Lucky and Pozzo prepare to leave, Vladimir requests a second performance of singing or recitation from Lucky. Pozzo responds that he is mute and, after Vladimir protests, he makes this final outburst against Vladimir’s insistence on tracking the progression of time.

Pozzo finally vocalizes what Estragon has hinted at and what the audience may have been skeptical about for some time: that Vladimir’s insistence on linking past events to present ones is ultimately unhelpful. Time, for Pozzo, is deemed inherently “accursed” and “abominable” simply because it forces him to reflect on previous experiences and compare them to current reality. Perhaps he finds this particularly agonizing because he wishes for a time when he could see and Lucky could speak, sing, and think. Pozzo quickly extrapolates from his individual dynamic, however, into a broader theory. He zooms out from “I went blind” to “we’ll go deaf,” thus including all the characters in his fate. Then he zooms out further to describe with a flippant tone how all are born and die on “one day.”

This idea is a form of the eternal present similar to that experienced by Estragon. By this model, it does not matter which events occurred at which time, but simply that they take place eventually and at some point in history. Yet Pozzo’s argument is even more radical in a way. For he puns on “one” to mean both a specific day and an identical day for many people—which would imply that all are born and all die in “the same second.” Of course, he does not mean this literally, but rather uses it to contextualize the relative brevity of human life as a mere second in history—and as ultimately so meaningless that trying to form a time scale and narrative like Vladimir’s is pointless.

Tell him... (he hesitates)... tell him you saw me and that... (he hesitates)... that you saw me. (Pause. Vladimir advances, the Boy recoils. Vladimir halts, the Boy halts. With sudden violence.) You're sure you saw me, you won't come and tell me tomorrow that you never saw me!

Related Characters: Vladimir (speaker), Pozzo, Boy
Page Number: 106
Explanation and Analysis:

As the Boy departs again, having promised that Godot will come the next day, Vladimir grows increasingly desperate. He insists that the Boy inform Godot of their interaction and once more appeals to the idea that the Boy has recognized him.

These lines replay the interaction between Vladimir and the Boy that transpired in the first act. Except here, Vladimir’s tone and stage directions are marked by uncertainty and rashness. Twice, “he hesitates,” unsure whether to say the same lines he knows he is repeating. And it is presumably his horror at having become repetitive that causes him to react with such anger to the Boy. Vladimir’s frustration, then, is directed both externally and internally: both toward those who seem to be duping him into believing these events have not already transpired, and toward himself for potentially believing too much in his conviction that they have.

What was before a question to the Boy—“You did see us, didn't you?” thus becomes a demand. Beckett demonstrates how the environment of the play, in which characters negate Vladimir’s memory and sense perceptions, could very well cause someone to grow irrational. His character becomes a case study on the value of remembering, for his insistence brings nothing but vexation.