Beckett's play is filled with a great deal of physical, mental, and emotional suffering. Vladimir and Estragon (especially Estragon) are starved for food, in physical pain, and "bored to death." Both fear an anonymous "they" who threaten to beat them at night, and are frequently unable to move of their own accord. Estragon mentions "billions of others," who have been killed, but does not elaborate. Lucky, meanwhile, is treated horribly, pulled about by a rope tied around his neck, beaten by Pozzo, and kicked repeatedly by Estragon. All of this suffering has a dehumanizing effect, and robs characters of their dignity. Lucky, for example, is addressed by Pozzo as "pig," and treated like a pack animal. Estragon is reduced to sucking on Pozzo's leftover chicken bones pathetically. And even Pozzo, who imposes suffering on Lucky, is unable to get up from the ground when he falls in act two.
Amid all this, Vladimir and Estragon desperately seek two things throughout the play: some recognition of their humanity, and companionship. When the boy asks Vladimir what message he would like to send to Godot, he simply asks the boy to tell Godot that he saw Vladimir. In other words, Vladimir wants to be acknowledged as a person. This is particularly important to him because the other characters in the play forget and mix up their identities. Pozzo and Lucky don't recognize Estragon and Vladimir in act two, whereas Estragon forgets about Lucky and Pozzo. In this environment where people are so easily forgotten, Vladimir wants some confirmation of his own identity and humanity. Beyond this, Vladimir and Estragon also desire companionship. Although Estragon repeatedly suggests that they go their separate ways, the two stay together out of a mutual fear of loneliness. When Estragon momentarily leaves the stage, Vladimir panics and becomes immediately lonely. And Estragon needs Vladimir as well—whether to have someone to talk to and ask questions of, or to help him put on his boots.
Nonetheless, even as Vladimir and Estragon seek some kind of dignity and companionship in the face of suffering, they are remarkably indifferent to the suffering of others. Vladimir is at first outraged at Pozzo's treatment of Lucky, but soon gets used to it and even encourages Estragon to kick him. Vladimir and Estragon converse nonchalantly while Pozzo is stuck on the ground and crying for help in act two, and they first scheme how they might take advantage of him rather than help him. Vladimir and Estragon value their own relationship, but generally fail to sympathize with Pozzo and Lucky as other potential companions. Beckett suggests that this kind of indifference to the pain of others is what allows the vicious cycle of suffering to continue on indefinitely, as it does in the play.
Humanity, Companionship, Suffering, and Dignity ThemeTracker
Humanity, Companionship, Suffering, and Dignity Quotes in Waiting for Godot
I'm glad to see you back. I thought you were gone forever.
When I think of it... all these years... but for me... where would you be... (Decisively.) You'd be nothing more than a little heap of bones at the present minute, no doubt about it.
I was asleep! (Despairingly.) Why will you never let me sleep?
I felt lonely.
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!
Er... you've finished with the... er... you don't need the... er... bones, Sir?
To treat a man... (gesture towards Lucky)... like that... I think that... no... a human being... no... it's a scandal!
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.
Old dogs have more dignity.
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.
After having sucked all the good out of him you chuck him away like a... like a banana skin. Really...
(to Lucky.) How dare you! It's abominable! Such a good master! Crucify him like that! After so many years! Really!
Do I look like a man that can be made to suffer?
So that I ask myself is there anything I can do in my turn for these honest fellows who are having such a dull, dull time.
Even ten francs would be a help.
We are not beggars!
We know them, I tell you. You forget everything. (Pause. To himself.) Unless they're not the same...
Why didn't they recognize us then?
That means nothing. I too pretended not to recognize them. And then nobody every recognizes us.
You don't know me?
It wasn't you came yesterday?
This is your first time?
The best thing would be to kill me, like the other.
What other? (Pause.) What other?
Like billions of others.
No, the best would be to take advantage of Pozzo's calling for help.
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!