This paper aims to explore the theme of masculinity in Beckett's Waiting for Godot. The main objective of this paper is to identify the experiences of male characters through which they try to keep their masculinity alive in Beckett's play. It is quite clear that male characters are constantly dominant in the plot structure of the play without any female character. Beckett has politically highlighted masculinity in his play while making the women absent and through other different traits.
Although, there are many male characters but the proper hegemonic masculinity is clearly presented by only one male character, Godot. Because, we find that people are waiting for Godot to help them and the depiction of Godot's physical appearance by boy also gives us the hint of Godot's hegemonic masculinity. We also find male characters who are submissive.
So, we can say that masculinity is a dominant theme of this play. But there are different kinds of masculinity such as hegemonic masculinity, submissive masculinity, immature masculinity and beside all this lost of masculinity is also cut and clear in Beckett's Waiting for Godot.
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Before starting an analysis of this topic, masculinity requires definition. According to OED, masculinity is defined as "having the quality of being masculine" and OED defines "masculine" as "having the qualities or appearance considered to be typical of men." In the same book, the word "strong" is used for masculine and according to my point of view this word "strong" is suitable here for masculinity. Because, I want to explore masculinity in the sense of "power" as well as "strongness" in "Waiting for Godot."
All the characters of Beckett's play are male and they are having the quality of being masculine. So, in this context we can say that there is an obvious theme of masculinity in Beckett's "Waiting for Godot." But when we try to analyse Beckett's male characters from the percpective of aforementioned word "strongness" then we find confusion. Because, we can say that all his characters in "Waiting for Godot" are masculine but we cannot say that all the male characters are powerful. So, here we find "masculinity" of this play divided into two traits which are "hegemonic masculinity" and "submissive or immature masculinity."
First of all, I would like to discuss "hegemonic masculinity" in this play while analysing different characters such as Godot and Pozzo in the play, who possess hegemonic masculinity. According to R.W. Connell's gender order theory, hegemonic masculinity is defined as practice that legitimizes men's dominant position in society. (Connell). Godot is a hegemonic masulinity in the play though it is a fact that Godot remains abscent throughout the play but still we can say that he is a powerful male being. As we see that the two characters Vladimir and Estragon constantly wait for the arrival of Godot as he is someone who would help them to come out of their difficulities.
Estragon: Let's go.
Vladimir: We cannot.
Estragon: Why not?
Vladimir: We are waiting for Godot. (Beckett, 66-68)
These same dialogues are repeated by these two characters time and again. Their wait for Godot and the qualities of Godot gives us the hint of Godot's hegemonic masculinity.
Estragon: What do we do now?
Vladimir: Wait for Godot. (Beckett, 63)
And this is their routine though they know that Godot doesn't come at the end but still they are bound to wait for him. It seems that they are unable to leave without meeting Godot. Estragon and Vladimir wait for Godot daily at a specific place but for the whole day and this thing gives us the sense to precieve Godot as an authoritative figure.
Vladimir: How do you mean tied?
Vladimir: But to whom. By whom?
Estragon:To your man.
Vladimir:To Godot? Tied to Godot?
What an idea! No question of it. For the moment. (Beckett, 20-22)
In Act 2, Beckett has given the description of Godot's physical appearance by the boy. Godot's physical appearance also shows his hegemonic masculinity as we are told that Godot is a character with white beard and this gives us the peculiar essence of an authoritative figure.
Vladimir: Has he beard, Mr. Godot?
Boy: Yes, sir.
Vladimir: Fair or ...(he hesitates)... or black?
Boy: I think it's white, sir.
Although, it is a fact that Godot does not arrive in the play and many critiques argued his abscene as a lost masculinity. Jeffers in his article " Lost Masculinity in Waiting for Godot and Endgame" claimed:
"Godot's constant absence shows the impossibility of a return of the masculine authoritative tradition." (Jeffers, 95-96)
Although with this fact of Godot's constant absence, we cannot compeletly claim that Godot is not an authoritative figure and still this is a fact that Godot is a hegemonic masculinity.
We have another character who tries to show his hegemonic masculinity and to some extent he is successful in presenting himself as a powerful figure. Pozzo is the master of Lucky, he is a landowner and the way he treats his slave shows his power. In this play, it is Pozzo who has things to eat and in the very first act he ate chicken and then threw its bone.
When Estragon asked him to have that bone just to lick, Pozzo says that Estragon should ask it to Lucky because it is Lucky's right to have the bones of Pozzo. He is trying to impose himself as God and Pozzo tries to show his superiority in different ways, when lucky refused to have bones, he says:
Pozzo: I don't like it. I've never known him refuse a bone before.
While talking with Estragon and Vladimir, Pozzo talks about his superiority and according to him he is "made in God's image"(23). At one place, Pozzo asked them if they want money from him. So, all these traits present him as a hegemonic masculinity or an authoritative figure, he shows a natural sense of authority and he considers everybody his subordinates.
" As he comes on stage for the very first time, Pozzo exudes the natural sense of authority that puts all other characters on stage in a subordinate position to him."
But as the play moves on, we see Pozzo as a "blind" character in act 2. With this sudden blindness, he has the sense of authority as we see that even after his blindness he mal-treats Lucky as well as his language with Lucky. Pozzo's sudden blindness also gives us the hint of his immature masculinity.
" Though emulating a Godot-like authority, Pozzo's masculinity ultimately fails to maintain a consistent hegemonic status because of the matrix of power that forces all within it beneath Godot in a hierarchy."
We cannot totally disagree with this statement because what Wright has said is truth. Although, Godot and Pozzo are shown as powerful figure but the unstable power of Godot appears with his constant absence and Pozzo's sudden blindness. I am not completely agreed with the aforementioned statement because even with their defects still they have the aura of authoritative figures which remain throughout the play.
As in this part I am discussing hegemonic masculinity in Beckett's "Waiting for Godot." So, I would also like to analyse Vladimir and Estragon's character in this context. It is clear that the other characters do not share the sense of proper hegemonic masculinity but still at some places we observe that Estragon and Vladimir control eachother just to get the sense of hegemonic masculinity.
Vladimir is a male figure who tries to consolidate his hegemonic masculinity while controling Estragon whereas Estragon can only show his power over the boy. This mutual dependency and to control eachother is just to get the sense of hegemony which gives us to the sense of immature masculinity of the characters.
As there is hegemonic masculinity in the play so we also find dominant theme of immature masculinity through different characters in this play. According to Oxford Dictionary dictionary, the word "immature" suggests "to behave in a way that is not sensible and is typical of people who are much younger"(Pg 761).
Estragon and Vladimir's characters are best examples of this immature masculinity. Their constant wait for saviour in the shape of Godot shows their immature masculinity. Both these characters wait for Godot without any given reason and they do not give up even with Godot's constant absence from the stage. Their inaction and inability to do anything put a stuff to the immature masculinity that they are male or masculine and he is considered the symbol of power but these two characters are powerless and inactive.
Vladimir: We are waiting for Godot.
Estragon:Ah! what'll we do, what'll we do!
Vladimir: There is nothing we can do.
They themselves are unable to do anything but they are in vain hope to get help from Godot. Side by side this vain hope for saviour, they are mutually dependent on eachother and they could leave or live alone. Even, these characters themselves do not know why don't they live without eachother. It is their weird attitude which makes them insensible. In the first act, Vladimir says Estragon that he could not defend himself that's why he does not live away from him.
Estragon: You see, you feel worse when i'm with you. I feel
better alone, too.
Vladimir :Then why do you always come crawling back?
Estragon: I do not know.
According to Wright in his article "Gender and Power in Waiting for Godot":
"Each character is unable to maintain a dominant power-position, masculinity throughout this play is atrophied and impotent--- and thus each character's position within a larger framework of gender and power is consistently unstable."
To some extent, he is quite right in his statement because the unstable and immature masculinity of some characters is quite clear. Estragon and Vladimir have submissive masculinity with insensibility. One of the critic argued:
" As two main characters like Vladimir and Estragon useful purpose in their lives and their conversation to each other is purposeless and their conversation have no positive meaning."
(Bari, Mansoor, Alia, 312-315)
Estragon is a male figure who is more submissive than that of Vladimir because it is Estragon who picks up the chicken ones to lick which are thrown by Pozzo and he is even ready to take money from pozzo. Whereas, Vladimir is also submissive as we see that he submits his masculinity infront of Godot's character and remains inactive throughout the play.
Their weird attitudes and absurd discussion show their immaturity in the play. Even the boy who was sent by Godot was also submissive in front of Estragon and Vladimir. Lucky is also a clear example of submissive character. When Estragon asked about Lucky's not putting the bag down, Pozzo said:
" Has he not the right to? Certainly he has. It follows that he doesn't want to. There is reasoning for you."
The element of homosexuality in the play also throws an ample light on the submissiveness of characters. We can precieve Vladimir as a male character while on the other hand Estragon as an effiminate character. Their relationship seems to be the relationship of husband, wife. Both these characters are almost submissive and dependent on eacother.
Immature masculinity at once becomes very clear when both Estragon and Vladimir start playing like children. At one place, Vladimir suggests Estragon to mimic Pozzo and Lucky and all these habits are quite childish of younger persons. The sudden defects of characters show the immaturity of male figures, as Pozzo was blind in second act and Lucky was dumb without any provided reason.
The absurd way both the characters talk to eachother as well as we observe throughout the play that Estragon and Vladimir are in the habbit of forgetting things. This habit is more clear in Estragon's character, the uncertainity and delibrate forgetfullness. It seems that Estragon himself doesn't want to remember things as Estragon says time and again " I don't Know"(66).
There is some sort of paradox in this play as well. Man who is considered to be a powerful and strong figure, here we see him as a fearful, afraid and coward being. Both Estragon and Vladimir could not live alone without eachother. They are so afraid of living alone that they could not live even they want to. Neither of them actually wishing to be apart from eachother. They are men but they are behaving like little chickenhearted children. Even there are dialogues which give us hint that they try to drift apart but they are actually unable to do so.
Vladimir :I am glad to see you back. I thought you were gone
Estragon :Me too.
Masculinity is also present in the shape of violence and this is the isolation that whenever one tries to go near somebody else, he is violently treated by the other. And this thing is quite clear where Lucky hits Estragon. When Estragon goes near Lucky, it is Lucky who violently push him away.
" Here Estragon approaches Lucky and makes to wipe his eyes. Lucky kicks him violently in the shins. Estragon drops the handkerchief, recoils, staggers about the stage howling with pain."
We can associate this submissive masculinity with the life of Beckett. Beckett was an Anglo-Irish and the people had to submit their masculinity infront of the British. Jennifer M. Jeffers wrote in "Traumatized Masculinity and Beckett's Return" that:
"The Ireland that Beckett knew as a boy had vanished and the only return possible was through his writing."
In this play, Beckett's main male characters are submissive and inactive and the reason behind this is the history which Beckett has tried to present in his play. As the masculine figures of Ireland had to submit their masculinity in the hands of the British. And it was the lost masculinity in Ireland, Beckett who was an Anglo-Irish, presented this hegemonic masculinity, lost masculinity and submissive masculinity in his play "Waiting for Godot."
"My argument from chapter to chapter is that Beckett texts are grounded in his personal experience of what was literally erased from "official" historical record."
Through these arguments it is clear that Beckett has presented different types of masculinity in this play while presenting six male characters without any female character.Many feminist critiques argued that there is politics of beckett behind not presenting female characters. Masculinity is so strong in his play that he even didn't use the word of woman or female for a single time.
So, we can say that masculinity is the dominant theme of this play with only male characters. Thus, the aforementioned arguments clearly show us that masculinity is present but in different traits as hegemonic masculinity, submissive masculinity, immature masulinity, lost of masculinity as well as homosexuality in masculinity and all these types of masculinities are shown by six male characters who are in relationship with eachother in different ways. It can be also said that Beckett had tried to present history of Anglo-Irish males who were dominated by the British during colonization.
" Beckett's waiting for Godot stage Western masculinity in order to enact the failure of Western patriarchy."
- Beckett, Samuel. (1956). Waiting for Godot. faber and faber limited. Pp: 9-94.
- Jeffers, Jennifer M. (2009). "Traumatized Masculinity and Beckett's Return." Beckett's Masculinity. St. Martin's Press LLC, New York. Pp: 9-37.
- Wright, Ryan. (2016). "Gender and Power in Waiting for Godot." The Oswald Review: An International Journal of Undergraduate Research and Criticism in the Discipline of English. vol. 18: iss. 1, Article. 3. Pp: 5-28.
- Khan, Abdul Bari, Hafiza Sana Mansoor,; Huma Alia. (2015). "The Impact of Absurdism in Waiting for Godot." International Journal of Multidisciplinary Research and Modern Education. vol. 1, iss 2. Pp: 312-315.
- Jeffers, Jennifer M. (2009). "Embodying Lost Masculinity in Waiting for Godot." Beckett's Masculinity. St. Martin's Press LLC, New York. Pp: 95-118.
- Hancock, Mark, Michael Ashby. (2015). Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary. Oxford University Press. ed. 9. Pp: 1-930.
Beckett, Samuel. (1982). Waiting for Godot. Grove Press, New York. print.
on Masculinity in waiting for Godot Critical Essay
Waiting for Godot is an absurdist play by Samuel Beckett, it is a parable about a senseless man and his meaningless existence. Estragon and Vladimir are living without a purpose. Their lives are pointless. They live just because they are there. You can’t even say that those two are waiting for something concrete.
Who, or what is Godot is a pointless question. Godot is nothing else but a title for the fact that life is misunderstood for expecting something to happen.
In “Waiting for Godot”, Estragon is playing a game that repeats: “taking off his shoes, putting on his shoes” not just to show himself as a fool, but just like when you look in the mirror, to see that every day is repeating.
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