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ACT SUMMARIES WITH NOTES - Waiting for Godot
In keeping with the absurdist bent of Waiting for Godot, Act II is almost a perfect parallel to Act I. The setting, characters, movement and plot are nearly identical from one act to the next. The first thing the audience sees is the solitary tree along the road. A relatively minor physical change in setting holds significant symbolic weight in that the once barren tree shows signs of growth and renewal in the outcropping of five or six leaves. Vladimir enters singing because he has slept all night and because his urinary tract infection is not troubling him any longer. The newfound fertility of the barren tree and the singing character in unusually good health might be symbolic of good times and plenty. Instead, the words to the song quickly undercut the positive symbols and set a darkening tone.
The song Vladimir sings is about a hungry dog that has been beaten by the cook for stealing bread. It turns out the song is an ominous precursor to the arrival of Estragon, who has also been beaten. The air of foreboding comes from the fact that in the song, the dog is beaten to death. The suggestion that Estragon's fate might also be death falls darkly on the opening notes of the scene. Further, Estragon claims that had Vladimir not been singing, he would have known Estragon was being beaten and he would have saved him. The apparently hopeful symbols in the opening of the play are twisted entirely into icons of black comedy-they are good signs with bad consequences. One final note about the opening concerns the repetition of the lines in Vladimir's song. The repetition of the same verse over and over again is indicative of the repetitious pattern of all events and characters in the play. Every aspect of life seems to be part of an endless cycle.
As in Act I, the tramps greet one another with hugs and affirmations of their affection. Vladimir is the first to notice the slight change in their environment, in keeping with his more observational nature. Estragon, for his part, is not sure they are even in the same place, or that the events of the day before actually took place only a day before. Estragon's relationship to time and place is confused and hesitant. Vladimir has to convince his friend by reminding him of Pozzo and Lucky and the wound he received. In the end, Estragon only faintly remembers the bone he was given. Everything else is a vague memory. Some critics have suggested that Estragon's only real relationship to time is measured in terms of his waiting for Godot. That time seems to have real meaning and impact on him. Concrete time is a blur.
Harvest and plenty are mentioned again, this time in reference to the past. Apparently Gogo and Did once worked in a vineyard picking grapes. But the coarse vegetables the two men now gnaw on and their shabby and unkempt stations in life undercut the memories of this time of plenty. Once again, Estragon's memory of that time is fuzzy. Eventually, after Vladimir presses him to remember, Estragon becomes angry and defiant, refusing to remember. This reflection draws attention to the present squalor of their lives and the fact that they did know a better time once.
The conversation immediately turns from a remembered time of harvest to the present time of darkness and death. The depressing conversation revolves around the falling leaves, the whispered "dead voices" in the trees, and skeletons. They talk among themselves that the whispers of the dead are similar to the noises of both wings and falling leaves. This part of the play is punctuated by scripted silences that indicate the two are having trouble talking about the darkness that surrounds them. It is ironic that only moments later, the revelation that the tree has leaves rekindles a discussion of spring and hope, only to be followed by confusion on how a tree could sprout leaves overnight. As well, the possibility that they are in the wrong place comes up (a possibility also discussed in Act I).
So many times in the play, a possibility is suggested then immediately undercut by its unhappy opposite. This technique is used by Beckett to relay his theme that life is uncertain and unpredictable at its best, unfortunate and unending at its worst. To further state this theme, Estragon asserts that "There's no lack of void" in life. It is actually of little importance where they were the previous day, as everywhere everyday the same empty vacuum envelops them.
The same hesitancy and uncertainty that is developed with regard to the tree is also assigned to the boots lying on the road. Estragon is missing his boots and a pair of boots are lying alongside the road. But for some inexplicable reason, Estragon cannot be sure those boots are his boots. Both the tree and the boots become symbols of man's search for proof of existence. Unfortunately, even cold hard proof like a pair of boots, a leafy tree, and a wounded leg cannot reassure the tramps of their place in life.