Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway And Samuel Beckett's Waiting For Godot

2498 words - 10 pages

Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway and Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot are representative works of two separate movements in literature: Modernism and Post-Modernism. Defining both movements in their entirety, or arguing whether either work is truly representative of the classifications of Modernism and Post-Modernism, is not the purpose of this paper; rather, the purpose is to carefully evaluate how both works, in the context of both works being representative of their respective traditions, employ the use of symbolism and allusion. Beckett’s play uses “semantic association” in order to convey meaning in its use of symbolism; Woolf’s novel employs a more traditional mode of conveying meaning in its own use: that is, the meaning of symbols in Mrs. Dalloway is found within the text itself. Woolf’s novel exists as its own entity, with the reader using the text as the only tool in uncovering any symbolic meaning, while Beckett’s play stimulates the audience in such a way that the audience projects their own meaning in the symbols presented.

“Semantic association” is the term used by Dina Sherzer in her essay describing how Beckett uses dialogue to “devaluate language [in order to form] a linguistic construction which animates the play while expressing the absurd” (Sherzer 145). Sherzer states that Beckett’s use of language is associative; that is, the audience comprehends dialogue and symbolism on their practical level and their metaphysical levels. When Estragon complains, while attempting to take off his boot and failing, that there is “Nothing to be done,” Vladimir replies: “I’m beginning to come round to that opinion. All my life I’ve tried to put it from me, saying, Vladimir, be reasonable, you haven’t yet tried everything. And I resumed the struggle” (Beckett 2). In this dialogue, the two characters are discussing the boot Estragon cannot get off his foot; the audience understands this on the “practical” level: Estragon’s complaint on how his boot cannot come off and Vladimir’s explanation of how there may be other ways to find success (taking the boot off). However, the audience also construes this exchange as “a general statement about life” (Sherzer 133). Perhaps the audience sees this event as symbolic of life’s difficulties: that sometimes, when one figures overcoming a problem is impossible, other avenues can be tried in order to find peace, salvation, success, etc. Beckett creates dialogue that, on the surface, can be read as mundane, daily descriptions of life; while at the same time the dialogue can be read as profound commentaries.

It is the audience, though, that projects meaning onto the dialogue; Beckett himself gives no indication that Estragon or Vladimir are in fact attempting to convey anything profound. This is of course not to say that there is no authorial technique in the play or text itself. As Sherzer states, “Speech is the animating principle of Waiting for Godot” (Sherzer 129). What is meant is...

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