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Road as a Distraction

"Every day they return to the same spot, hoping the unseen Godot will show up, but he never does, they never take the road, and the road never brings anything interesting their way. In some places writing something like that will get you a fifteen-yard penalty for improper use of a symbol."
--How to Read Literature Like a Professor, page 236

This quote interested me on a number of levels. First of all, I might argue that the road does bring something interesting their way, namely Pozzo, Lucky, and the Messengers. I don't know if Foster considers these characters interesting, but they certainly are something in a vast sea of nothing. I do recognize the wonderful irony of having a road that the main characters never travel on, but it is at least traveled. I'm not sure a two-act play can really sustain two hours of pure inaction, which is why this view of irony in the play is a little troublesome for me. Theatre practitioners are constantly looking for the action of the story, so just putting characters on a road and having them not do anything can be problematic. However, I definitely think there is action in Waiting for Godot--that's why it's a good play. Didi and Gogo are constantly wrestling over the decision to leave, but they constantly decide not to. The fact that there's still a hope they can leave creates the irony. We think the action is going to go forward in a straight line, but it ends up going in circles; our expectations are frustrated, and that's irony. It's not monotonous to watch them do this; sometimes the circles are more like ovals and seem to be going in a straight line for a second, then not.
I think all stories have to have action; it can be ironic to have a story with no action but it would probably make an awfully boring story. Where irony can come in is tricking the reader into thinking there will be one kind of througline of action and then giving them another one that they completely don't expect. It might seem that there is no action since it's not the one we expect, but we'll keep reading because there is constantly a tension between what we think might happen and what actually does.

Comments (1)

The road is also a wonderful piece of misdirection. Yes, the play has action, but it's not the action we expect.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on March 20, 2009 9:19 AM.

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