Suddenly and without warning, as in the first act, Pozzo and Lucky come back on stage. Their arrival puts an end to Vladimir and Estragon's games. Things have changed significantly for Pozzo and Lucky. The long rope which bound them together is now much shorter, binding them closer together and suggesting that however much man might consider himself to be different from others, ultimately he is drawn or bound closer and closer. Furthermore, Pozzo and Lucky are physically changed: Pozzo is blind and Lucky is dumb (i.e., mute). But the entire scene is played without the audience's knowing that Lucky is now dumb. As they enter, staggering under their load, Lucky now carries suitcases filled with sand (symbolically, perhaps, the sands of time). Lucky falls and drags Pozzo down with him.
With the arrival of Pozzo and Lucky, Vladimir and Estragon think that help ("reinforcements") have arrived from Godot. But they soon realize that it is just Pozzo and Lucky. Estragon wants to leave then, but Vladimir must remind him once again that they cannot go; they are "waiting for Godot." After some consideration, Vladimir decides that they should help Pozzo and Lucky get up. But Estragon wants to consider an alternative plan. After all, he was wounded by Lucky the day before. Vladimir reminds him, however, that "it is not everyday that we are needed." This is one of the most profound comments of the drama. Vladimir realizes that Pozzo's cries for help were addressed to "all of mankind," and "at this place, at this moment of time, all mankind is us, whether we like it or not." This statement certainly clarifies the idea that Vladimir and Estragon represent all mankind in its relationship to God (Godot). Realizing this, Vladimir also realizes that man's fate is to be a part of "the foul brood to which a cruel fate consigned us."
Instead of Hamlet's "To be or not to be, that is the question," Vladimir asks, "What are we doing here, that is the question." Again, his problem is more akin to the dilemma of T. S. Eliot's Prufrock (who is also faced with an "overwhelming question": should he marry or not?) than it is to the predicament of Shakespeare's Hamlet. Vladimir concludes: "We [all mankind] are waiting for Godot to come." Hamlet's metaphysical question about existence is reduced to a Prufrockian decision to do nothing but wait.
At the end of Vladimir's speech, Pozzo's call for help loses importance as Vladimir once again asserts his pride in the fact that they have at least kept their appointment to meet Godot; not all people can make such a boast. Vladimir's confusing the metaphysical with the practical anticipates the confused actions that are to immediately follow — that is, Vladimir decides that they should help Pozzo and Lucky get up, and the result is that all four of the men ultimately end up on the ground. Thus their cries for help fall on deaf ears.
The entire scene in which the two tramps try to help two equally distraught figures get up returns the drama to the burlesque house. The scene is a parody of many similar types of scenes found in burlesque theaters, thus emphasizing again the absurdity of man's actions, or in the words of Estragon: "We are all born mad. Some remain so."
Immediately after the above statement, Estragon leaves off with philosophy and becomes very practical; he wants to know how much Pozzo is willing to pay to be extricated from his position. Meanwhile, Vladimir is concerned with finding something to do to pass the time: "We are bored to death"; he begins his efforts to help Pozzo, but, as noted above, they all end up in a heap on the ground, and Pozzo, in fear, "extricates himself," then crawls away. This incident also serves as a contrast to Pozzo's actions in the first act; there, he was proud and disdainful and asserted himself with aloofness and superiority. Now he has lost all his previous qualities and is simply a pathetic, blind figure crawling about on the ground. Like Job or Sophocles' blind Oedipus, Pozzo seems to suggest that no man's life can be secure since tomorrow might bring incalculable catastrophes.
Lying on the ground, Vladimir and Estragon try to call to Pozzo, who doesn't answer. Then Estragon decides to call him by some other name:
ESTRAGON: . . . try [calling] him with other names . . . . It'd pass the time. And we'd be bound to hit on the right one sooner or later.
VLADIMIR: I tell you his name is Pozzo.
ESTRAGON: We'll soon see. (He reflects.) Abel! Abel!
ESTRAGON: Got it in one!
VLADIMIR: I begin to weary of this motif.
ESTRAGON: Perhaps the other is called Cain. Cain! Cain!
ESTRAGON: He's all humanity.
Beckett's use of the names of Abel and Cain stresses the universality of the characters since Pozzo answers to both names. According to some interpretations of the scriptures, all of mankind carries with it both the mark of Cain and the mark of Abel; thus Pozzo can answer to both names because "He's all humanity! "
To pass the time, Estragon suggests that they stand up. They do. Then Estragon suggests once again, "Let's go," only to be reminded once again that they must remain because "we're waiting for Godot."
Since there is nothing else to do, Vladimir and Estragon help Pozzo get up. It is then that they discover that he is blind. In contrast to the Pozzo of the first act, we now see a pathetic figure leaning on the two tramps for physical support and pleading for help because he is blind. For Estragon, there is hope in Pozzo's blindness because the prophets of old, such as the Greek Tiresias, were often blind but could "see into the future," exactly what Estragon hopes Pozzo can do. But there is no hope for Vladimir and Estragon. Carrying through with the Greek imagery, Estragon tires of holding Pozzo, especially since he can't prophesy for them. Pozzo wants to drop him since he and Vladimir "are not caryatids" (caryatids were statues of Greek goddesses used to hold up temples; why Estragon uses this word instead of "telamons," the male equivalent, is confusing).
Because of his blindness, Pozzo has also lost all contact with time. He even refuses to answer questions about what happened yesterday: "The blind have no notion of time." This confusion over time is symptomatic of his changed condition; just as lie has lost all contact with life, so also has time lost all significance for him. When Vladimir hears that Lucky is dumb, he inquires, "Since when?" The question incenses Pozzo and causes him to violently reject Vladimir's concern with time: "Have you not done tormenting me with your accursed time! It's abominable! When! When! One day, is that not enough for you, one day he went dumb, one day I went blind, one day we'll go deaf, one day we were born, one day we shall die, the same day, the same second, is that not enough for you?" For Pozzo, one day at a time is enough for him to cope with. All he knows now and all that he "sees" now is the misery of life. Life itself is only a brief moment — that flash of light between the darkness of the womb and of the tomb. "They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it's night once more." Thus the grave-digger is the midwife of mankind. Ending on this note of utter despair, Pozzo arouses Lucky and they struggle off to continue on their journey.