Vladimir and Estragon are the main protagonists of the play, Waiting for Godot. In hearing the play read, even the most experienced theater person will often confuse one of the characters for the other. Therefore, the similarities are as important as the differences between them.
Vladimir and Estragon are waiting for Godot: some indication that life is meaningful or an escape. Both are tramps dressed in costumes which could be interchanged - big boots which don't necessarily fit, big bowler hats, baggy and ill-fitting suits. Their costumes recall the type found in burlesque or vaudeville houses. The opening scene with Estragon struggling with his boots and Vladimir doffing and donning his hat to inspect it for lice could be a part of a burlesque routine. Such comic episodes continue until the characters — and the audiences — are bored with it.
Vladimir would be the equivalent of the straight man in burlesque comedy. He is also the intellectual who is concerned with a variety of ideas. Of the two, Vladimir makes the decisions and remembers significant aspects of their past. He is the one who constantly reminds Estragon that they must wait for Godot. Vladimir seems to know more about Godot. Vladimir often sees religious or philosophical implications in their discussions of events, and he interprets their actions in religious terms; for example, he is concerned about the religious implications in such stories as the two thieves who were crucified on either side of Jesus. Vladimir correlates some of their actions to the general concerns of mankind. In addition to the larger needs, Vladimir also looks after their physical needs.
In contrast, Estragon is concerned mainly with more mundane matters: He prefers a carrot to a radish or turnip, his feet hurt, and he blames his boots; he constantly wants to leave, and it must be drilled into him that he must wait for Godot. He remembers that he was beaten, but he sees no philosophical significance in the beating. He is willing to beg for money from a stranger (Pozzo), and he eats Pozzo's discarded chicken bones with no shame. Estragon, then, is the more basic of the two. He is not concerned with either religious or philosophical matters. First of all, he has never even heard of the two thieves who were crucified with Christ, and if the Gospels do disagree, then "that's all there is to it," and any further discussion is futile and absurd.
Estragon, however, is dependent upon Vladimir, and essentially he performs what Vladimir tells him to do. For example, Vladimir looks after Estragon's boots, he rations out the carrots, turnips, and radishes, he comforts Estragon's pain, and he reminds Estragon of their need to wait for Godot. Estragon does sometimes suggest that it would be better if they parted, but he never leaves Vladimir for long. Essentially, Estragon is the less intelligent one; he has to have everything explained to him, and he is essentially so bewildered by life that he has to have someone to look after him. Vladimir is more masculine and contemplative and Estragon is more feminine and emotion-driven of the duo.
The relationship of Vladimir and Estragon is contrasted with that of Pozzo and Lucky, who represent the antithesis of friendship. Theirs is also a relationship of intertwinement and dependence, but one of servitude, inequality, and dominance.
Worse than waiting is waiting alone, and loneliness is a form of blindness and invisibility, not seeing or being seen. The play emphasizes the fact that the minimal unit of the human is not the one, but the two, and though the picture is a bleak, unsettling, and painful meditation upon our shared loneliness in the absence of Godot, the fact that we share this loneliness, this eternal waiting, with our friend is what can possibly turn our cries into laughter and our ontological loneliness into love.