Compatibility between Setting and Semantic: A Study of Becket’s Waiting for Godot

The aim of this paper is to analyze the issue that how the specific setting in a play reflects the semantic aspect of the drama. Technically, the playwright employs the certain kinds of scenarios and the places in the play, which implicitly bear the essence of the whole play. For instance, Waiting for Godot is an exemplary narrative in which the author intentionally chooses a very bizarre setting to exhibit the predicament of the modern human world and the people live in it. Becket implies very gloomy, full of rubble, and forlorn place in his play that lets the reader/audience ponder on the thought why he opted such kind of place in his drama. In other words, such a setting is pivotal that uncovers the dark side of the human beings and the world we live in where the meaning of life has no meaning at all. Thereby, the paper endeavors how the setting and the theme of the play go together in Samuel Becket’s play that unveils the bitter reality of the human beings.

The play contains the two acts. In the very beginning of the first act, we can see the two men; one is unsuccessfully trying to take off his boots and another one is restlessly gazing at the distant. They are waiting for the anonymous figure to approach but he never does so. As the play, progresses Didi and Gogo involve in various activities that do not make any sense. The place they (Vladimir and Estragon) appear at is anonymous with the country road and a tree nearby it. And the time is evening. However, the landscape is very barren. It seems like the place is utterly alienated from the outer world where the presence of the people can rarely be seen. Actually, the place is full of debris that seems like something destructive had taken place. Likewise, the road is there but it does not seem to lead anywhere. It just lies there as if it is there to witness the suffering and agony of the people. Furthermore, the tree upon the small mound seems like it has been there since an eon but has lost its greenery. It is wilted in the first act, however, in the next act, a couple of leaves are sprouted out of the blue. Besides, the time is not certain. We cannot precisely claim the exact time that the clock strikes in the play. It is the evening that where everything takes place. Symbolically, an evening may refer to the lives of the characters. Apparently, the evening is the end of the day. Thus, the playwright uses the characters in the drama who are at the height of their age.

Undoubtedly, the setting is an integral ingredient of the play. There is no debate that the setting determines the theme of the play. David Rush in his book A Student Guide to Play Analysis writes: “A playwright is usually as careful about where she places her characters as she is about what kind of people they are./ The environment in which the story takes place has a great influence on its meaning (p 8).”Indeed the selection of the setting matters because as Rush says the place resembles the semantic aspect of the play. For instance, in the play Waiting For Godot Beckett employs awfully barren place which almost reveals everything about the meaning of the play. Although, meaning might differ individually, however, this play and the setting it has used exhibit how meaningless an absurd life we are living where the essence of living does not make any sense. The characters, scruffy tramps, in the play have lost the will to live. Estragon who is one of them, at the very beginning, speaks to himself: “Nothing to be done (line 1).” He utters the sentence in a way that sounds like he is badly defeated soldier in a war. Similarly, Vladimir also expresses his inner conscience: “In an instant, all will vanish and we’ll be alone once more, in the midst of nothingness (682-3).” This saying of Vladimir vividly unfolds the essence of the place that is applied in the play. Indeed we are destined to have vanished in the world where living a life has no meaning at all because the end is certain. However, in the second act, we can see a couple of leaves sprouted in the tree. Samuel Beckett, through the help of the green leaves, is trying to show that no matter how hard the life is but there is always a dim hope that provides us the reason for living. Thereby, the sprouting of the leaves in the dead-like tree at the very bizarre place is like the oasis in the midst of the desert.

Compatibility between Setting and Semantic: A Study of Becket’s Waiting for Godot

Likewise, many people have talked about the setting of Waiting for Godot and one of them is J. Kelly Nestruck. She writes a theatre review in The Globe and Mail. She asserts:“Waiting for Godot‘s setting is, famously, described in Beckett’s text with just five words: “A country road. A tree.” /This is where a pair of tramps named Vladimir and Estragon find various ways to pass the time as they wait for a mysterious man named Godot (N/P).” She is right; there is nothing novel about the place. It is very common. However, the significance of this trivial place is what the playwright is trying to put on the surface. Moreover, the audiences or readers have often asked what does Estragon and Vladimir’s waiting suggest. What does it signify? Nobody knows who Godot is and whether he shall arrive or not, however, they seem to wait until it comes no matter how long they are bound to wait. Peter Marks, a theatre critic in The Washington Post writes an article titled “If you’re waiting for a new take on Waiting for Godot, you’ll wait some more” in which he says:

What is it they’re waiting for? Redemption? Reward? An explanation? You can’t, it seems, count on anything in this life, even for someone to tell you why you’re living it. So Vladi­mir and Estragon cling to one another, alone together, seeing what turns up. What alternative do they have, in this tragedy tied up in the ridiculous, other than to go find that rope they keep threatening to retrieve, to hang themselves from that one sad tree, itself barely eking out an existence?

Godot is an abstract figure around which the play evolves. His appearance makes a huge difference in the lives of the two hobos; however, he just makes a promise to visit them but never appears in front of them. Godot, this researcher thinks, is the messiah for these old fellows who are satiated from living the same life for a long time. They are so helpless and dependent. Thus, they are waiting for Godot to arrive and make their lives worth living. Similarly, Wilbourn Hampton in The New York Times makes a review on the play, which is titled as THEATRE REVIEW; Celebrating With ‘Waiting For Godot’. In the article he writes:

“What does it mean?” is usually the primary question from anyone who sees the play for the first or dozenth time. The truth is that it can mean pretty much what you find in it. Some see in its poetic absurdities and blind resilience a thread of hope; others hear quite the opposite, more a dirge of despair. Certainly one will find, as Eric Bentley put it, “the quintessence of existentialism.”

No one can exactly tell what the play is all about. People make their own assumption about the drama and the title character but nobody can deliver the concrete idea. Hampton has well said that the truth might differ and some shall find a beam of dim hope whereas in the play while others will get nothing more than the despair and degradation of human beings.

However, Beckett has confronted the traditional plot structure and its representation. Plays, prior to Waiting for Godot, were written in a chronological order and tried to represent the life as it is. Nonetheless, Beckett has transcended the concept of representation and the meaning of life within the meaninglessness. Basically, this play is known for its meaninglessness and repetitiveness. Characters in the play do not do anything but wait for the anonymous figure until the end of the play but he never arrives. So, to kill the time they make themselves busy by being engaged in many futile activities. In the second act, Estragon says to Vladimir: “We always find something, eh Didi, to give us the impression we exist? (359)” Besides, they involve in rubbish activities such as ruthless gossip, exchange of the hat and so forth. Actually, it is an epitome of Theatre of the Absurd. The phrase was coined by Martin Esslin in 1962. The prominent attribute of the absurdist play consulted to Wikipedia: “The Absurd in the play takes the form of man’s reaction to a world apparently without meaning, and/or man as a puppet controlled or menaced by invisible outside forces.” This is what happening in the play. The characters in the play seem to be manipulated by outer force that the audience cannot see or feel but it exists anyway.

To wind up, after having analyzed the setting and the semantic of the play Waiting for Godot this researcher comes to the point that the setting is the spirit of the play that makes the play worth watching. Ergo, the place that is applied in the play signifies the crux of the play. For instance, the use of the shaggy men as the characters and the place where nothing can be seen except the road full of rubbles and a tree, probably a willow that signifies the woe and grief, showcase how the world has lost is aura where the people seem to forget the true meaning of living. Since the play is a perfect example of Theatre of the Absurd, Samuel Beckett, through the implication of such setting and the characters is trying to unveil the truth that being born in this wretched world is a great mistake in life because the ultimate result of being born is a death. Thereby, because of the death/end whatever we do or wherever we go does not make any sense.

Works Cited

Beckett, Samuel. Waiting for Godot: Tragicomedy in 2 Acts. New York: Grove Press, 2008. Print.

Hampton, Wilborn. “THEATER REVIEW; Celebrating With ‘Waiting for Godot’.” The New York Times, [New York], 4 Oct. 1995,


Marks, Peter. “Review | If You’re Waiting for a New Take on ‘Waiting for Godot,’ You’ll Wait Some More.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 25 Apr. 2018,

“Review: Aloof Production of Waiting for Godot Marks Significant Moment for Toronto’s Soulpepper.” The Globe and Mail, 19 Sept. 2017,

Rush, David. A Student Guide to Play Analysis. Southern Illinois UP, 2005.

“Theatre of the Absurd.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, 16 Apr. 2018, Accessed 16 June 2018.


By Ganesh Rai







1 Comment

  1. I wonder since when did Nepali University begin to offer creative writing as a separate program. Good job though, good to see literary articles written by Nepali friends!

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