Discuss the dramatic effects [meaning: plot, character, dialogue, language, stage directions]* of the passage [ refer to your photocopied text Start- pg 16. Estragon: (Violently. ) I’m hungry. / End pg 18. Estragon: Nothing to be done. (He proffers the remains of the carrot to Vladimir. ) Like to finish it? ] and how it reflects the concerns in Waiting for Godot. Waiting for Godot presents a bleak caricature of the human condition in order to examine more closely the key theme of existentialism.
This short passage is symptomatic of the rest of the play, effectively condensing its concerns about human existence in several very poignant moments and metaphors. Central to the passage is the carrot, which acts as a physical and visual metaphor for life itself, and the disappointment that it brings. The fact that the carrot has a deeper meaning is not immediately evident. Initially, Beckett’s choice of food gives us an insight into his thematic concern. Carrots and turnips are a peasant’s food.
They taste dull and insipid, and no one but the desperately poor would even contend to eat them day after day “make it last, that’s the last of them”. The initial dialogue (regarding the carrot) between Estragon and Vladimir further builds on our understanding, with Estragon’s weary question “Is that all there is? ” finally revealing Beckett’s axiom; that hunger, hardship and (most importantly) disappointment are the unalterable laws of life. Beckett builds on this point by showing man’s eternal struggle to make something of his life via the stage directions given “Vladimir rummages… e rummages again”. The word “rummages” suggests a blind fumbling, while “again” suggests repetition. When put together, and repeated several times in that scene, the physical search for a carrot, but finding only turnips “Give me a carrot. … [Angrily. ] It’s a turnip! “, is emblematic of the wider struggle that all humans face against hardship, but also against false hope. In particular, the curt stage directions given to Estragon [Angrily. ] suggest a sudden explosion of frustration the instant he realises he has bitten down on a turnip instead of a carrot.
The intensity and immediacy of the raw emotion demonstrate the potency of disappointment that we experience because of false hope. The conversation that follows reinforces this. Interestingly enough, at the start the conversation raises our hopes that Vladimir will provide a more positive perspective “Funny, the more you eat, the worse it gets” is followed by “For me it’s just the opposite” and “in other words? “. The intuitive opposite of “the more you eat, the worse it gets” is perhaps the more you eat, the better it gets.
However, our expectations, much like Estragon’s earlier are let down when Vladimir wryly remarks “I get used to the muck as I go along”. All of this combined highlights Beckett’s position regarding Man’s existence, and how it is merely a continuous, unceasing Sisyphean struggle. Besides the carrot, the short reference to Godot is also significant because of the uncertainty that it induces, which is symptomatic of the uncertainty that envelopes our own existence. The conversation between Estragon and Vladimir is peppered with questions, some of which are answered in turn by another question “Did you reply” is followed by “”How’s the carrot”.
This appears to be an attempt to divert attention away from uncomfortable areas, but by doing so creates a measure of uncertainty and confusion over the motivations for doing so. Vladimir’s overly innocent “Tied? ” is sarcastically challenged by Estragon’s “ti-ed”. Estragon drags out the word in an attempt to deliberately over exaggerate it, mocking Vladimir. In this case, it almost appears as though Vladimir suffers from selective deafness, and creates further uncertainty as to his motives.
When it finally becomes apparent that Vladimir was avoiding the question because he too was uncertain, it generates even more confusion among the audience. Vladimir’s own uncertainty is demonstrated in the way he categorically states “To Godot? Tied to Godot? What an idea! No question of it! [Pause] For the moment”. The pause before he adds a caveat to his originally (seemingly) unshakable belief shows the flimsiness of his own knowledge. Estragon’s follow up question “His name is Godot” further confuses the audience. If Estragon did not know who he was waiting for, then why wait in the first place?
The confusion evoked by this scene is the intended effect Beckett desired. The confusion and uncertainty that characterises his dream-like dystopia is supposedly the same kind of uncertainty that we encounter in our own existence. Beckett then ends off on a heavy, cynical note, a slightly detached continuation from the carrot metaphor to drive home his final point that for all the disappointment and uncertainty that we face, there is “nothing to be done”. This phrase is unique for its passivity. It passively accepts without challenging, quietly but willingly resigning oneself to one’s fate.
Interestingly, “No use struggling” and “No use wriggling” initially provide a contrasting picture of action but is temp ered by the passivity of “one is what one is”. Furthermore, the use of the word “No use” again has an undertone of resignation. Amidst this tragic message about the human condition that Beckett tries to put forth, is also a mixture of humour. The carrot remains, now relegated to the role of a physical prop. The stage directions, “He proffers the carrot” and “Sucks on the end of it meditatively” provide an atmosphere of nonchalance that conflicts with the tension and seriousness of the message that is being delivered.
This tension between humour and the sadness of the human condition is Beckett’s final message to the audience; that while the human condition is inherently sad, it is not monolithic. Humour does exist even in the bleakest of situations and times. Ultimately, this passage conveys successfully Beckett’s views on existence and the human condition. While his views are primarily bleak here, as with the rest of the play, it is also poignant, for the incorporation of humour into the bleak world of Estragon and Vladimir somehow makes their burden simultaneously heavier and lighter. Sheldon Lim 12A13
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