As Beckett's title indicates, the central act of the play is waiting, and one of the most salient aspects of the play is that nothing really seems to happen. Vladimir and Estragon spend the entire play waiting for Godot, who never comes. Estragon repeatedly wants to leave, but Vladimir insists that they stay, in case Godot actually shows up. As a result of this endless waiting, both Vladimir and Estragon are "bored to death," as Vladimir himself puts it. Both Vladimir and Estragon repeat throughout the play that there is "nothing to be done" and "nothing to do." They struggle to find ways to pass the time, so they end up conversing back and forth about nothing at all—including talking about how they don't know what to talk about—simply to occupy themselves while waiting. The boredom of the characters on-stage mirrors the boredom of the audience. Beckett has deliberately constructed a play where not only his characters, but also his audience wait for something that never happens. Just like Estragon and Vladimir, the audience waits during the play for some major event or climax that never occurs. Audience members might at times feel uncomfortable and want, like Estragon, to leave, but are bound to stay, in case Godot should actually arrive later in the play.
All of this waiting for nothing, talking about nothing, and doing nothing contributes to a pervasive atmosphere of nihilism in the play. Broadly defined, nihilism is a denial of any significance or meaning in the world. Deriving from the Latin word for "nothing" (nihil), it is a worldview centered around negation, claiming that there is no truth, morality, value, or—in an extreme form—even reality. This seems to describe the world of the play, largely emptied out of meaning, emotion, and substance, leading to characters who blather on endlessly in insignificant conversation. Given the play's deep exploration of the absurd humor and feelings of alienation that arise from this nihilistic understanding of the world, one could say that Waiting for Godot is, at its core, about nothing.
Waiting, Boredom, and Nihilism ThemeTracker
Waiting, Boredom, and Nihilism Quotes in Waiting for Godot
Nothing to be done.
One daren't even laugh any more.
Merely smile. (He smiles suddenly from ear to ear, keeps smiling, ceases as suddenly.) It's not the same thing. Nothing to be done.
You're sure it was this evening?
That we were to wait.
He said Saturday. (Pause.) I think
What do we do now?
Yes, but while waiting.
What about hanging ourselves?
Hmm. It'd give us an erection.
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!
Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes, it's awful!
We're waiting for Godot.
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.
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.