If we understand this play to be about existential despair, then this repeated line makes perfect sense as an illustration of the play's theme. Existentialism arose most vigorously after World War II (notably, the play was written in 1948) to express the senselessness of a world that seemed without purpose and without God as Europeans in particular coped with what seemed like senseless destruction and carnage. In this play, the phrase "nothing to be done" expresses the hopelessness of action—and the senseless ways action sometimes succeeds. It is the first line of the play; Estragon uses this expression, which we tend to interpret as very grand and universal, about a banal action that, as Vladimir says, is done every day: taking off a boot. Despite the simplicity of the act, at first Estragon fails. Later in Act I, Vladimir says "nothing to be done" as Estragon continues struggling to get his boot off. Rather than helping Estragon, he is musing about hope deferred and says the line right before Estragon does finally get his boot off. This points to the absurdity of utterance, for just as Vladimir makes this hopeless statement, Estragon succeeds with the boot. The phrase shows up again as Vladimir and Estragon discuss Jesus and then that "the essential doesn't change." In Act II, as they are waiting for Godot, Vladimir says a variant of the this: "There's nothing we can do." We can do nothing, except perhaps wait, because we are all trapped in a universe that doesn't make sense.