Term Paper: Characters Represent Archetypes of Humans in Waiting for Godot

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Godot Archetype

Man and Everyman in the Theatre of the Absurd: Human Archetypes in Beckett's Waiting for Godot

There are many characters that are common to stories of almost every culture, sharing personality traits and plot characteristics in their appearances despite many seemingly-large cultural barriers and differences. Joseph Campbell, in his studies of mythology and literature, identified many of these archetypes and explained their placement and interactions in the grouping of other archetypes; Carl Jung began an examination of archetypes and a common collective unconsciousness from whence these figures sprang even earlier than Campbell began his work. The figures, such as the wise mentor, the gatekeeper, the hero, the healer, and many others play highly important roles in many individual myths and works of art and literature, and are also highly important to world society and culture generally through the commonality and prevalence of their appearance.

Though these figures are generally presented in a common light, however, it is also possible for the very commonality of these archetypes and the roles that they play in various stories and myths in which they play prominent parts to be warped and adjusted to make new and often very powerful statements. That is, by creating figures that are at once recognizable as archetypes yet differ from these archetypes in the mode of their presentation, authors can create startling new interpretations not only of the characters themselves, but of humanity as a whole. This is precisely what much modern and post-modern literature has done.

Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot, often considered the essential masterpiece of the Theatre of the Absurd genre, is largely built on just such a reimagining of many fairly standard archetypes. Each of the characters that appears in the play, however briefly, is recognizable as one of the human archetypes that are so common to people of almost all cultures. At the same time, none of these characters fully and truly lives up to the stature of their respective archetype in full; the world that Beckett has created in Waiting for Godot is largely devoid of meaning, and as such the ultimate and essential meanings that are associated with each archetypes must also necessarily suffer and diminish. In this post-modern world, each of the archetypes is shown to essentially fail at the basic tasks and roles that they would be traditionally expected to fulfill, and show some signs of working towards in the play.

Archetypes Gone Wrong

Vladimir is a fairly clear father figure; he is by far the more active of the two primary characters of the play, initiating most of the conversations and taking control of the situation -- or at least of Estragon, as much as he is able -- when Pozzo enters the scene. He attempts to be a strong and wise leader, but he is ultimately ineffectual and leads the pair of companions absolutely nowhere. He remembers more, pontificates more, and seems to spout more wisdom, all of which are traditional elements of the father figure archetype in literature, but all of his "wisdom" is ultimately worthless, and none of his proposed and "well-reasoned" (at times) actions are ever actually put into place, creating a static rather than a dynamic father figure.

Estragon is equally static and ultimately unfulfilling in his role as the Innocent, another archetype that is often -- though not always -- represented by a child. The Innocent has essentially done no wrong, and is not even capable of doing wrong in a conscious and purposeful manner, and yet often suffers the evils or simply uncaring nature of the world in spite of or as a direct result of this innocence. Estragon's extreme forgetfulness and apparently total dependence on Vladimir as a decision-making source are both evocative of this innocent quality, yet at the same time it is impossible to see this character as pure and fully deserving of pity. His innocence -- insofar as it is represented by his ignorance and his freedom from moral quandaries -- seems almost willful, rather than a natural result of age or natural ability, and it makes his character somewhat less archetypal but all the more complex for it.

Pozzo might initially appear to be a sort of Devil figure, but… [END OF PREVIEW]

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