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Dark Humour in Samuel Beckett's 'Waiting For Godot'

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1279 words Published: 27th Aug 2021

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Many writers have significantly utilized dark humor or black humor across various genres and time. Dark humor in Metamorphosis and Waiting For Godot have not only revealed to us through its various moments, ideas and issues that appeal to an audience at that time, but it also revealed to the readers and audience the nature of its characters. Although Vladimir, Estragon, Pozzo and Lucky have been created almost like stock characters, we seem to understand through Samuel Beckett’s use of dark humor moments of Pathos, meaninglessness and stagnancy in their lives. Franz Kafka on the other hand creates a transformation in his main character, Gregor Samsa, by turning him into a mere insect and watching not only Samsa’s family but his reading audience react to it.

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The opening scene of Waiting For Godot is a country road setting with a single tree, and we find Estragon trying to remove his boots with both his hands. After much struggle, he says “Nothing to be done ” as if removing his shoes was such a profound thing to be doing and therefore nothing could be done about his inability to remove his boots. A little later, as through out the play, each of them exchange dialogues that do not correspond or even connect to each other in any way.

“Estragon: Ah, stop blathering and help me off with this bloody thing”

“Vladimir: handing hand from the top of Eiffel tower, among the first. We were presentable in those days. Now it’s too late. They wouldn’t even let us up.”

All of these dialogues would have sent the audience into splits but they also resound with the inability of Vladimir and Estragon living a full and meaning life.

Another example of black humor in this play is the part where Estragon talks about the Dead Sea and how the very thought of it made him thirsty. This creates a roar of laughter amongst the audience as Estragon talks about the Dead Sea in context to the Gospels. But, the reality is that the water form the Dead Sea will quench no thirst, as it is highly saline. This brings out Estragon’s naive character as he talks about the Dead Sea in comparison to the Gospels “Estragon: The Dead Sea was pale blue. The very look of it made me thirsty”.

The entrance of Pozzo and Lucky on stage undoubtedly thrives on dark humor. Lucky is being led by a rope tied to his neck and pozzo says, “Lets say no more. Up pig! Every time he falls, he falls asleep. Up hog! Back! Stop! Turn!” These staccato instructions, almost army style, seem to evoke a laugh or at least smile amongst the audience or readers. However, the slavish Lucky seems to be put into a demeaning situation, which doesn’t fail to catch the audience’s attention. The return of Pozzo held by Lucky on a rope seems to create a reverse image of the earlier situation. This image brings a certain satisfaction to the audience, a laugh no doubt, and yet makes the audience aware of how fortune is fickle and can change with such a strong impact.

The technique of contrast used by Beckett in Waiting For Godot is another attempt to bring out humor and reveal character. Estragon’s constant worry of who Godot is and when he will come and Vladimir’s attempt to constantly calm his nerves,

“Vladimir: He said Saturday. I think.

Estragon: You think.”

Pozzo’s initial arrogance and later his dependence on Lucky while he crawls onto stage are humorous ways of representing the characters.

Beckett’s constant use of repetition of language and actions are humorous but stagnant. This is further intensified when Vladimir and Estragon have nothing to eat but a single carrot and a rotten turnip,

“Estragon” I’m hungry

Vladimir: Do you want a carrot?

Estragon: Is that all there is?

Vladimir: I might have some turnips”

They seem to be holding on to their dignity later in the play when they meet Lucky and Pozzo. They do not show their hunger nor do they ask for food. But the moment Pozzo and Lucky leave the stage, Estragon picks up the eaten chicken bones, trying to get some sustenance out of it, “Estragon makes a dart at the bones, picks them up and begins to gnaw on them”. All these action and dialogues used by Beckett derive a sense of black humor but reveal to us simultaneously the sterile, meaningless and unfulfilled life of its characters.

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“When Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from troubled dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a monstrous insect.” The very opening lines of The Metamorphosis stated in this casual style does not fail to bring a smile to the readers. For who can wake up and find themselves transformed into an insect and not panic. Strangely, Gregor seems unaffected by this transformation, assuming life would go on with his spindly legs and squeaky voice.

Kafka describes Gregor as this ‘thing’ with a ‘monstrous’ body and spindly legs. He has legs that don’t seem to support him and neither is he aware how to use them. Kafka’s humorous description of Gregor Samsa trying to get on those legs and out of the door and back to work, “Groping for support, he fell down with a little cry on his numerous legs” brings out a roar of laughter as he falls back on his back and cries out in a squeaky voice for help. “Gregor gave a start when he heard his voice… irrepressible, painful squeaky…” The use of humor here reveals to us the helpless situation Samsa is trapped in and we as readers sympathize with this character.

Later on in the book, Kafka describes how Samsa’s embarrassed father throws an apple at Gregor’s back and the apple sticks in the insect’s body:

“It was an apple. Immediately, a second one flew after it. Gregor stood still in fright.”

“Gregor’s serious wound, from which he suffered for over a month -since no one ventured to remove the apple, it remained in his flesh as a visible reminder.”

Although this seems visually funny, it draws upon the readers’ sympathy and empathy with Gregor. From this moment on G regor seems to deteriorate psychologically and physically and dies in a heap of dust, to be swept out and thrown into the trash by the Charwoman.

At the end of The Metamorphosis Gregor Samsa is seen for the last time when he hears his sister playing the violin. He sneaks out of his room unaware that his current image not only frightened his family but also the lodgers who had come to stay as paying guests. “Gregor attracted by playing……….” This episode not only reveals to us almost like children playing Peek-a-boo, a child like humor, but we readers have become pained at such a transformation of Gregor. We have also unmistakably recognized that his family members have transformed too into selfish, heartless human beings who refuse to call the ‘insect’ their son or brother (in the sister’s case):

“I will not utter my brother’s name in front of this monster”

Thus, through the examination of the two books, Waiting For Godot and The Metamorphosis, it can be concluded that it is through dark humor that the authors have brought out the respective characteristics of the individuals depicted. For example, the blunt Estragon, the clam Vladimir, the dominant Pozzo, the slavish Lucky or the tragic Samsa, all of these characteristics are brought out through the help of dark humor. We have encountered them all through humorous events, descriptions and pictures.


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