Is Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot" a criticism of Christianity?

Essay, 2015

11 Pages, Grade: 1,7

Johannes Viertel (Author)


Table of content

1. Samuel Beckett’s „Waiting for Godot“ – A short introduction

2. References and criticisms of Christianity

3. Role-analysis of Pozzo and Lucky

4. Conclusion

1. Samuel Beckett’s „Waiting for Godot“ – A short introduction

The play “Waiting for Godot” premiered 1953 and was written by the Irish novelist Samuel Beckett. It is divided into two acts and the main characters, two old men called Vladimir and Estragon, wait on a lonely country road for a man called Mr. Godot. While waiting they are talking, one could say speculate, about that person, contemplate suicide several times, talk about religion and meet several characters but neither of these is Mr. Godot. (Lawley, 2008: 3). This was just a very simple representation of events, another response of what happens might be “it depends what you mean by “happen”” (Lawley, 2008: 4).

In the fifty years since the plays publication many authors have tried to determine the meaning of this play. It seems like there is no specific meaning behind the text and that a new meaning is created each time the text is read. Therefor the text invites the reader to search for an interpretation, a meaning, a sense or message, even though it is not immediately visible. One thus has to accept that there is no right or wrong, only an assumption. (Maiorino, 2013: 143). Or to put it in other words:

A critic might demonstrate the internal cohesion of the play, showing how one detail echoes another, how one gesture mirrors another, how each part relates non-narratively to every other part; how, that is, the imaginative matrix of the play is fully open to scrutiny – rather like music (Lawley, 2008: 5).

With this knowledge it is possible to examine the text at various levels, such as political, religious, biographical, psychoanalytical or even existential. In this essay care is taken specifically to the role and the criticism of Christianity. Since many studies came to the conclusion that the piece deals mainly with the topic of Christianity, with large influxes of philosophy and existential questions, a broad range of theories and conjectures has developed in this regard. In the course of this work I will first give a general overview of the most important references and criticisms of Christianity, oriented to the text, will then have a closer look at the role of Pozzo and Lucky and will present my conclusion at the end.

2. References and criticisms of Christianity

Already entitled the supposed religious allusion is clearly, since the utterance of “Godot” brings God to mind and thanks to enough evidences throughout the text it is a valid path to follow. So the “waiting for God” seems to be the task or seek by Vladimir and Estragon and after this realization by the title, umpteen questions raises.

The nondescript tree could be the next Christian allusion. A possible interpretation could be that the tree represents Christ’s cross. The bald tree stands on a barren landscape, just as the setting of Christ’s crucifixion. Additional the play’s setting does not give any hints on place and time, so that this undefined beginning could again be an allusion of Christ’s crucifixion (Pattie, 2001: 77 ff). An alternative interpretation is that the road could represent the journey from Christ’s birth to his death or even from the beginning of the human struggle to its final salvation (Maiorino, 2013: 147). Already here it becomes clear how diverse the interpretive approaches can be, even in the topic of Christianity.

The opening conversation between Vladimir and Estragon proves that the allusion to God through Godot is not unreasonable. Vladimir immediately drives the conversation towards religion and the Bible. He reminds Estragon of “one of the thieves we saved” (9) and explains that only one of the four Gospels portrays the thief as being saved and that nowadays most people follow that version. So why do people believe the individual and ignore the other three Gospels? It is still the beginning of the play but it seems that this could be the first criticism on the part of Beckett (Salisbury, 2012: 223). This thesis is supported by Estragons statement “People are bloody ignorant apes” (9). A first cautious judgment after the first pages is the cynical or sarcastic approach to religion.

There is a strong connection between the word “waiting” in that play and the general human faith, even though the latter is not immediately visible. In Christianity the waiting for the human God, Jesus Christ, is fundamental and ubiquitous because there is the belief that Christ will return but at an unknown time. The early dialogue between Vladimir and Estragon kind of represents this idea of the wait of the salvation. When Estragon asks Vladimir to leave, Vladimir replies that they have to wait for Godot, so they can not leave. Further in the text it gets clear that both of them wait endlessly and in vain for Mr. Godot. This returning and endless waiting is the identifying image of Vladimir and Estragon and after some thought, a point Beckett seems to parody heavily. Sentences like “let’s wait and see what he says”, “nothing to be done” or “Don’t let’s do nothing. It’s safer” (12) imply the weakness and greenness of all believers and these two characters are representative for the laziness and inaction of the human race (Lawley, 2008: 68-69).

Similar sarcastic allusions to the wait can be found when Estragon describes his supplication to Godot as "a kind of prayer", Vladimir asks "And what did he reply?" to which Estragon must answer, "That he'd see." (13). Once again it seems that Beckett criticizes indeterminacy of faith and the idea of the endless waiting and all these unanswered questions.

Another daring thesis would be the commentary of confession and absolution. In the first pages of the play Estragon tries to share his dream to Vladimir and thus hopes for the exemption from it but Vladimir refuses to listen to him. Anew we find a parody of faith and sanctity when Vladimir says, "You'd make me laugh if it wasn't prohibited" (13) (Pattie, 2001: 73).

Noticeable is that there are also multiple religious references without a satirical/cynical background. They seem to be meant at least neutral, if not slightly laudable and positively. One example is the scene where Vladimir feeds Estragon with leftovers and tells him, "Make it last, that's the end of them"(14), reminiscent of Christ’s feeding thousands of people with just five loafs and two fishes (Tophoven, 1971: 52). Estragons comment "Looks to me more like a bush" (10) is probably representative for the scene of Moses talking to the bush on Mt. Sinai (Tophoven, 1971: 48). Again there is no deeper meaning or criticism recognizable, at least not yet.

The second act begins with the arrival of Pozzo and Lucky and the religious reference is again immediately striking. During the first encounter with Pozzo the words “Adam” (25), “crucify” (23) and “angel” (23) drop. Although the terms initially have no deeper meaning and are at no context, they contribute the continuation of religious thoughts. After Pozzos appears he presents himself as a prophet, “"made in God's image" (15). However, this inspires the image of a "false prophet", because it seems pretentious and self-confident and usually prophets are rather modest (Salisbury, 2012: 167). Estragon and Vladimir first even belief that Pozzo is Godot who came.

The next pages deal with Lucky's domination by Pozzo and the reader easily gets the idea of slavery or captivity. Pozzo himself raises this assumption with his actions and statements, as for example “"The Net. He thinks he's entangled in a net" (27). The term net is easy to understand as captivity of religion and faith. In addition Pozzo whips Lucky, loads him with sandbags, tells him when to act and leads Pozzo by a rope. These facts support the image of religious captivity. Besides, Lucky is only allowed to speak when Pozzo gives him his hat and Vladimir and Estragon strengthen this enslavement saying "Curse me! ...Tell me to think...Tell me to dance" (47). Pozzo as well as Vladimir and Estragon could stand for the controlling nature of the church or religion in general.

The following scene with the boy as a messenger reiterates, once again, strong Christian references. One might think that Godot sends the boy, just like God sent his son Jesus Christ and both were treated inappropriately by the people, here represented by Estragon and Vladimir statements like “What do you want?” and “Will you approach!” (100). Furthermore the boy affirms the two to wait with the promise that Godot will come the next day for sure, like Christ promised his followers and humanity to return one day. It is clear now why Vladimir and Estragon wait day after day and are not willing to go. The allusion to an important element of Christianity, the waiting, is again apparently criticized by Beckett. The ultimate proof and climax of this is the almost exact same plot in two acts. To some extent it can be seen as a waste of lifetime and the waiting for something that will never happen. Apparently, Estragon and Vladimir are aware of this, since they mostly see themselves no hope. "He's thinking of the days when he was happy" (55) and "indescribable. It's like nothing. There's nothing" (55). These two examples illustrate, on the one hand, that both are aware of their situation, looked in that way they are caught in a vicious circle. Otherwise, however, the question arises where they take the courage and faith to continue to wait for Mr. Godot.

There are several signs that indicate Christ-like actions and patterns, although they are indicated by different characters. On the one hand Pozzo represents Christ in his dying moments, since he is blind and sort of helpless, and must be supported and lifted by Vladimir and Estragon (Tophoven, 1971: 53 ff). On the other hand Estragon actions relegate to the last earthly days of Christ. At the beginning he talks about spending the night in a ditch which can be understood as a metaphor for the cave Christ was after his death. In addition, Vladimir says “I’m glad to see you back. I thought you were gone for ever.” (1). Estragons spanking and Vladimirs adoption of Veronicas person and the subsequent hug are also signs of the last days of Christ (Pattie, 2001: 127-128). Afterwards Vladimir plays the spiritual Peter asserts that he has never left his side. It escalates even further when Estragon rises from sleep and Pozzo analyzes the cut on his leg. This scene has clear parallels with the Apostle's inspection of Christ's wounds after his rising (Tophoven, 1971: 76).

It gives the impression as if Beckett repeatedly illustrates religion or faith in a positive light only to mock it in turn. After Pozzo’s first appearance he assures Vladimir and Erstragon that it is definitely worth waiting for Godot, “If I had an appointment with a Godin...Godet...Godot...I'd wait till it was black night before I gave up" (24). As we see it continuously this is what they do all the time. However, we know that they do not know how he looks like (compare p. 3) as, for example, Estragon confesses "Personally I wouldn't even know him if I saw him" (16) and sets later the question "Are you sure it wasn't him?" (58). This can be seen as pure mockery by Beckett because humanity bears down on such an unknown faith/end (Tophoven, 1971: 42).

It is stunningly that Beckett indeed seems to criticize many Christian elements and also religion as such but not as ridiculous, funny or offensive, instead he hides it in sadness. The many irritations of Estragon and Vladimir, and the talking about suicide that fill Vladimir's and Estragon's waiting can be interpreted as such. Statements like “The tears of the world are a constant quantity"(22), "This is becoming really insignificant"(44), or "We always find something, eh Didi, to give us the impression that we exist?" (44) illustrate this presumption. Even the main characters themselves, who are waiting so eagerly for Mr. Godot, embody the mental/psychological pain, such as in (27) “"Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes, it's awful!". Only through this grief Beckett’s criticism is most clearly (Salisbury, 2012: 230 ff).

After this analysis of the play not all questions are answered and we do not know for sure whether Beckett's work is criticism of religion or Christianity, indeed many arguments and views support that idea.


Excerpt out of 11 pages


Is Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot" a criticism of Christianity?
University of Hildesheim  (Institut für englische Sprache und Literatur)
Literature - From Modernism to Postmodernism
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
literature, modernism, postmodernism, samuel beckett, waiting for godot, english literature, criticism, christianity
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Johannes Viertel (Author), 2015, Is Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot" a criticism of Christianity?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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