How does Beckett use repetition in Waiting for Godot? Why does it matter?

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Jane Ames eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As in a number of his other plays, Beckett attempts to sketch and pace a play which emulates the ebb and flow of life itself. Waiting for Godot is rife with false starts, false hopes, uncertainty, boredom, and the deep tenderness of friendship. The use of repetition plays a role in this allegorical depiction of everyday life and the human experience.

Early in the play, we see the following pieces of dialogue twice, absolutely identical, nearly back-to-back:

VLADIMIR: It hurts?

ESTRAGON: (angrily). Hurts! He wants to know if it hurts!

The text is the same, yet a line later the roles are reversed. It is Estragon who says "It hurts?" Why does Beckett subject his audience to this nonsensical repetition between Vladimir and Estragon? Didi and Gogo's relationship serves as a sounding board for a wide range of human interactions and feelings: they are married, they are brothers, they are rivals and friends. This repetitive dialogue reflects the sometimes redundant nature of close relationships, such as marriages or close friendships. You switch roles; in one moment one is indignant at the other, and then it changes, but somehow the relationship remains at an even keel. It's an observation on human relationships, namely that we tend to fall into the same little arguments time and again.

There is also, of course, the repetition of each day in Vladimir and Estragon's world: waiting for Godot. Each day they wait, and each day Godot does not arrive. Godot may represent many things: God, death, some kind of transformative change which may never arrive. This repetitive waiting mirrors the audience's everyday life. Our days often look like one another until some kind of large change impacts us, and then we must adapt. This incessant waiting, the daily questions of "What am I waiting for, and why?" exist in life just as they do in the play.