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The purpose of human life is an unanswerable question. It seems
impossible to find an answer because we don’t know where to begin looking
or whom to ask. Existence, to us, seems to be something imposed upon us by
an unknown force. There is no apparent meaning to it, and yet we suffer
as a result of it. The world seems utterly chaotic. We therefore try to
impose meaning on it through pattern and fabricated purposes to distract
ourselves from the fact that our situation is hopelessly unfathomable.
“Waiting for Godot” is a play that captures this feeling and view of the
world, and characterizes it with archetypes that symbolize humanity and its
behaviour when faced with this knowledge. According to the play, a human
being’s life is totally dependant on chance, and, by extension, time is
meaningless; therefore, a human+s life is also meaningless, and the
realization of this drives humans to rely on nebulous, outside forces,
which may be real or not, for order and direction.

The basic premise of the play is that chance is the underlying factor
behind existence. Therefore human life is determined by chance. This is
established very early on, when Vladimir mentions the parable of the two
thieves from the Bible. “One of the thieves was saved. It’s a reasonable
percentage” (Beckett, 8). The idea of “percentage” is important because
this represents how the fate of humanity is determined; it is random, and
there is a percentage chance that a person will be saved or damned.
Vladimir continues by citing the disconcordance of the Gospels on the story
of the two thieves. “And yet…how is it – this is not boring you I hope
– how is it that of the four Evangelists only one speaks of a thief being
saved. The four of them were there – or thereabouts – and only one speaks
of a thief being saved” (Beckett, 9). Beckett makes an important point
with this example of how chance is woven into even the most sacred of texts
that is supposed to hold ultimate truth for humanity. All four disciples
of Chirst are supposed to have been present during his crucifixion and
witnessed the two thieves, crucified with Jesus, being saved or damned
depending on their treatment of him in these final hours. Of the four,
only two report anything peculiar happening with the thieves. Of the two
that report it, only one says that a thief was saved while the other says
that both were damned. Thus, the percentages go from 100%, to 50%, to a
25% chance for salvation. This whole matter of percentages symbolizes how
chance is the determining factor of existence, and Beckett used the Bible
to prove this because that is the text that humanity has looked to for
meaning for millenia. Even the Bible reduces human life to a matter of
chance. On any given day there is a certain percent chance that one will
be saved as opposed to damned, and that person is powerless to affect the
decision. “The fate of the thieves, one of whom was saved and the other
damned according to the one of the four accounts that everybody believes,
becomes as the play progresses a symbol of the condition of man in an
unpredictable and arbitrary universe” (Webb, 32).

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God, if he exists, contributes to the chaos by his silence. The very
fact that God allows such an arbitrary system to continue makes him an
accomplice. The French philosopher Pascal noted the arbitrariness of life
and that the universe worked on the basis of percentages. He advocated
using such arbitrariness to one’s advantage, including believing in God
because, if he doesn’t exist, nobody would care in the end, but if he does,
one was on the safe side all along, so one can’t lose. It is the same
reasoning that Vladimir uses in his remark quoted above, “It’s a reasonable
percentage.” But it is God’s silence throughout all this that causes the
real hopelessness, and this is what makes “Waiting for Godot” a tragedy
amidst all the comical actions of its characters: the silent plea to God
for meaning, for answers, which symbolizes the plea of all humanity, and
God’s silence in response. “The recourse to bookkeeping by the philosopher
Pascal no less than the clownish tramp shows how helpless we are with
respect to God+s silence” (Astro, 121). Either God does not exist, or he
does not care. Whichever is the case, chance and arbitrariness determine
human life in the absence of divine involvement.

The world of “Waiting for Godot” is one without any meaningful
pattern, which symbolizes chaos as the dominating force in the world.
There is no orderly sequence of events. A tree which was barren one day
is covered with leaves the next. The two tramps return to the same place
every day to wait for Godot. No one can remember exactly what happened the
day before. Night falls instantly, and Godot never comes. The entire
setting of the play is meant to demonstrate that time is based on chance,
and therefore human life is based on chance.

Time is meaningless as a direct result of chance being the underlying
factor of existence. Hence there is a cyclic, albeit indefinite, pattern
to events in “Waiting for Godot.” Vladimir and Estragon return to the same
place each day to wait for Godot and experience the same general events
with variations each time. It is not known for how long in the past they
have been doing this, or for how long they will continue to do it, but
since time is meaningless in this play, it is assumed that past, present,
and future mean nothing. Time, essentially is a mess. “One of the
seemingly most stable of the patterns that give shape to experience, and
one of the most disturbing to see crumble, is that of time” (Webb, 34-35).
The ramifications of this on human existence are symbolized by the
difference between Pozzo and Lucky in Act I and in Act II. Because time
is based on chance and is therefore meaningless, human life is treated
arbitrarily and in an almost ruthless manner, and is also meaningless. In
Act I Pozzo is travelling to the market to sell Lucky, his slave. Pozzo
is healthy as can be, and there seems to be nothing wrong. Lucky used to
be such a pleasant slave to have around, but he
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