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ACT SUMMARIES WITH NOTES - Waiting for Godot
The setting of the play creates the absurdist mood. A desolate country road, a ditch, and a leafless tree make up the barren, otherworldly landscape whose only occupants are two homeless men who bumble and shuffle in a vaudevillian manner. They are in rags, bowler hats, and apparently oversized boots--a very comic introduction to a very bizarre play.
The characters continue this bizarre introduction--each with his own consistent quirks. Estragon reveals himself to be obsessed with his predicament in the most immediate and physical way; his foot hurts and he cannot get his boot off. For some reason, Estragon is consistently beaten, and he accepts this fact without malice. He is simply resigned to his place in the world. Vladimir, on the other hand, is more practical and less content. His concern is with their constant predicament; they are homeless and plagued by life.
Vladimir is the philosopher, the intellectual (if that word is appropriate for either man). When his partner obsesses about their immediate physical needs, Vladimir frets about their spiritual and emotional state. Vladimir appears to have an upper hand in intelligence. He makes many incomplete and vague references to the Bible; he starts conversations about many things, but Estragon is always unable to continue the talk or return the dialogue. At one point, Vladimir even yells "Come one...return the ball", meaning he wants Estragon to respond to something, anything, he has said. More than once he points out that without him Estragon would be "nothing more than a little heap of bones."
Both men, despite their differences in temperament, are trapped in much the same way in this bleak landscape. At least three times in the opening the phrase "Nothing to be done" is uttered. They decide to move, to leave this desolate world, but they do not go. They are waiting for someone they do not remember, someone they cannot describe. They do not know what they are waiting for, or when and if this Godot will come to them. Vladimir, true to his nature, paces about in nervousness, but Estragon falls asleep.
There is a surplus of symbolism and thematic suggestion in this act. The landscape is a symbol of a barren and fruitless civilization or life. There is nothing to be done and there appears to be no place better to depart. The tree, usually a symbol of life with its blossoms and fruit or its suggestion of spring, is apparently dead and lifeless. But it is also the place to which they believe this Godot has asked them to come. This could mean Godot wants the men to feel the infertility of their life. At the same time, it could simply mean they have found the wrong tree.
This paradox is common in absurdist plays, of which Waiting for Godot is the first; about the time the audience is certain they understand the meaning of something, they are reminded of the possibility that there is no point whatsoever. Throughout the act, there seems to be an attempt to create or discover something out of nothing. The constant peering into the boots and hats are indications of this theme. The two men are doubtful of their meeting place and time. It appears to be a mundane job for them to wait almost everyday. Hence, it is of little importance as to which day it is, for it could be any day. This theme--that life is stagnant and unexceptional--is also a recurring one in the play.