We as people do not take comfort in the strange and forbidding. Because of this, we try to find explanations or personal connections to everything in our experiences. It thus follows that any theatregoer will make an attempt to put the work in front of him or her into familiar terms, much to the dismay of a one Samuel Beckett. His attitude towards critics who attempt to impose values and ideas onto his work (on of utter contempt) is well documented. But he seems to give us no other choice by providing us with very strange and forbidding environments in his theatrical works.
Each of these works has a few generally accepted “explanations,” none endorsed by Beckett himself. Many critics say that Waiting for Godot (the only one of his theatrical works that I have seen in production, and therefore the only one I am qualified in the least bit to comment on) is wrought with Christian symbolism, especially symbols for a dying Christ. One such symbol is the character of Lucky. Lucky enters the world of Godot on a leash, held and followed by his master, Pozzo.
Lucky carries Pozzo’s luggage and acts as his slave, completely subservient and sedate, save when he violently lashes out against an attempt to comfort and when he is ordered, by Pozzo, to think. He is the subject of much discussion by two of the other characters in the play, a pair of Buster Keaton/Charlie Chaplin-type tramps by the names of Vladimir and Estragon. His arrival in each act is the first possible reference to Lucky as a saviour. Throughout the play the two tramps, Vladimir and Estragon, refer to Godot, the man for whom they wait. They cannot leave until he comes, for fear of punishment.
This is popularly compared to waiting for rapture or the coming of God. Thus, when Lucky enters in the first act, seemingly alone due to the immense length of his leash, the first assumption by the two tramps is that this is the man they have been waiting for; this is Godot. This notion is soon smashed when Pozzo enters, as he is obviously Lucky’s master. This excitement and confusion is repeated (along with many other elements) in the second act. This time Lucky wears a much shorter leash so as to accommodate Pozzo’s blindness (blind faith? ).
And although these two enter together, and are obviously not Godot (to one of the tramps in any case), the two tramps trumpet their salvation from the desolate boredom of waiting, which may be a metaphor for existence itself. Thus we may be able to say that the salvation or rapture (escape from boredom) that Vladimir and Estragon are waiting for does indeed arrive, but it soon becomes as tedious as their previous situation and is only short-lived. Lucky’s stage presence in the first act bears a striking similarity to the story of the crucifixion of Jesus. Just as Lucky enters bound and enslaved, so was Jesus a prisoner of the Romans.
Pozzo carries a whip, used on stage only to frighten Lucky, but the story goes that the Romans whipped Jesus while he was their captive. Lucky is beaten, cursed and spat upon by Estragon, just as the Romans did to Jesus before they put him up on the cross. Lucky carries Pozzo’s bags to the market where he is be sold, a sort of final humiliation. Jesus was paraded through the streets, carrying his own cross on the way to the hill where he was crucified. During this trip, Jesus fell three times under the weight of his cross, and in Godot Lucky repeatedly falls under the weight of Pozzo’s bags.
Finally, Estragon wipes Lucky’s eyes (Jesus’ face was wiped by Veronica) so he will “feel less forsaken”; Jesus cried from the cross “God, why have you forsaken me? ” Most of these points are not very memorable when compared to Lucky’s one opportunity to speak. Pozzo, in an attempt to impress and entertain Vladimir and Estragon, orders Lucky to think, aloud. Lucky then begins a lengthy tirade that makes little sense as far as the English language goes, but can be made clear by the actor’s emphasis on certain images, words and ideas and the audiences’ connection from these ideas to their own ideas.
An excerpt from this speech: “That is to say blast hell to heaven so blue still and calm, so calm with a calm that even thought intermittent is better than nothing. ” As for the words themselves, obviously we hear the “hell,” and the “heaven,” but we also may take specific note of the repeated “calm,” and eventually “nothing. ” Thus before we even connect the sentence together, we are faced with agony (”hell”), ecstasy (”heaven”), a decrescendo (”calm calm calm”) and an expiration (”nothing”).
This series of events is repeated many times (as well as the reverse) throughout the play by most of the characters and has often been said to have sexual connotations. In this quote we are also faced with a complex set of images. “Hell,” and “heaven,” together conjure up some kind of conflicting image in most western people, “blue still and calm,” seems to suggest a still ocean, an image that is almost the complete opposite of the war and violent imagery of “hell” and “heaven”. These Christian images and juxtapositions are common throughout Lucky’s entire speech, and may be said to be it’s entire content.
If we view Lucky as a Christ-symbol then his speech can be seen as a summary of the teachings of Christ. But if the teaching of Lucky states that we are to “blast hell to heaven,” then heaven should be no prize for the good, but rather a place not at all unlike earth, a mixture of the tolerable and the torturous. Thus salvation is no great prize. And if salvation is no great prize, then why do we hold our Christian beliefs? Is Christ not dead? Lucky therefore seems to make a strong, but depressing, Christ symbol.
This dying Christ (and by inference, dying Christianity) is very much in line with Beckett’s existential beliefs. The two tramps are lost only because they are waiting for Godot, but Godot never comes. If they were each to take his own existence into his own hands and make something of it, both of them would be able to lead a normal life, but instead they both put their lives in the hands of Godot. Beckett himself was raised a devout Christian, but gave it up after an intense examination of all the implications that such an affiliation had (the Second World War, for example).