Significance and effect of Beckett’s use of repetition in Waiting for Godot

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Significance and Effect of Repetition in Waiting for Godot

Repetition plays a significant role in literature and is inevitable in our everyday language. Repetition intensifies the emotional effect of the importance of a written text. Conversations in a drama are often planned. When the characters repeat words or phrases out of the sub-conscious or by accident, the author usually has a reason for letting the characters repeat the exact words. Words used in a play have a very significant role in the formation of the audience's impressions of a particular character. Further, authors utilise repetition to conceal truths for comic relief and to pass the intended message across. The author of Waiting for Godot Samuel Beckett largely employs repetition in his play to convey the cyclical form of life that individuals are forced to go through every day. This essay focuses on the significance and effect of repetition in Waiting for Godot.

The Use of Repetition in the Play

Beckett's overall message is based on the cyclical element of life as well as the expectations that characters possess. The use of repetition in the play shows the uselessness and circularity of the existence of humankind. Beckett brings out the monotonous sameness of human actions in the play by use of repetition of different actions and words by the characters. In other words, everything ends the same way it begins. The two acts in the play start and end the same way, with a promise to continue the next day. Further, during Lucky's speech, for example, Lucky keeps repeating that everything happens for "reasons unknown," but at the same time keeps repeating "I resume" (Beckett 45-47). The repetition in Lucky's speech is an indication that human efforts are meaningless yet, they keep striving to attain something positive from the meaninglessness. The speech further indicates God's withdrawal from humanity, and the different ways that man has to struggle to understand who they are. As Yates notes, the repetition produces the inescapable unoriginality and dull life of the characters' life (441). This successfully shields them from the reality and desperation of their current circumstances. For example, when Estragon tries to tell Vladimir about his dream, the latter refuses to listen to the details about the dream. Vladimir refusal to listen to Estragon's dream may be his way of escaping the reality that might be present in the narration.

Repetitiveness as a Failure to Solve Dilemmas and Issues

Repetitiveness can further indicate the failure of the characters to solve dilemmas and issues. Sometimes, Beckett can use repetition as an indication that the characters are not only unable to solve their problems, but they are also unaware of their problems. At the start of Waiting for Godot, Estragon indicates that there is "Nothing to be done" (Beckett 2-5). While this might seem like just an ordinary phrase, when repeated severally indicates the lives of Estragon and Vladimir does not have intention and autonomy. İçöz notes that Beckett utilises the repetition of phrases such as "Nothing to be done" to intensify the meaning of an original phrase or word (283). Similarly, the repetition of "Waiting for Godot" may lead to the audience thinking that 'waiting' is just a game that the two characters are engaged in because they lack something better to do (İçöz 283). Through repetition, Beckett makes it clear that it is vital for the characters to stay occupied, and have something to look forward to because of their current status of lack of meaning and purpose. In this case, the characters look forward to the arrival of Godot, even though it is apparent he may never arrive.

Repetition for Psychological Action and Concealment of Truths

Authors further utilise repetitive language not for the informative exchange between the characters, but for the psychological action between them, which is vital in passing the message across. According to Yates, repetition, as used by Beckett, is an important element in preserving the friendship between Vladimir and Estragon, and shielding them from the reality (445). Even The repetition of a word or phrase can be an indication of what is going on in the character's mind. Alternatively, repetition of words can be a way of concealing whatever is going on inside a character. Repetition, in this case, helps the characters to conceal the truth that Godot may never come, and they cannot do without each despite them threatening to leave. Further, Yates argues that it shields the number of truths that might be there such as the arrival time of Godot (445).

Repetition as a Unifying Principle of Organization

İçöz argues that Beckett uses repetition in his work to create a unifying principle of organisation (286). The actions by the characters are cyclically, and their repetitive nature seems to go to perpetuity. This provides unity in the whole of the play. In both acts, Vladimir and Estragon undergo the same processes they do as the day before. They meet at the same point, meet the same people, engage in an almost similar dialogue, and perform a series of actions that help them pass the time. Both acts end with "Well? Shall we go?/ Yes, let's go. (They do not move)" (Beckett 59, 109). The audience is pulled towards the happenings of the previous day, and are made aware of what will happen the next day. In this way, Beckett successfully creates unity in his work by connecting the happenings of one act to the other.

Repetition for Comic Relief

İçöz notes that a stiff and recurring movement can lead to comic relief (287). Beckett uses his characters to bring comic relief to the audience through repetition of the particular actions by the characters. For example, how Lucky response to Pozzo's orders is very rigid, yet results in comic relief. Further, Vladimir repetitively "takes off his hat, peers inside it, feels about it inside, shakes it, put it on again" (Beckett 4-5). İçöz notes that Beckett utilises these repetitive actions by the characters to achieve comic relief among the audience. The comic relief is used as a means of neutralising the negative outlook that the characters may be undergoing at that moment (İçöz 287).

Repetition as an Expression of Meaninglessness

The characters in Beckett's play are in a stuck in a circular motion even though there are in constant search for closure (Yates 446). Even though the Vladimir and Estragon go through different situations on different days, their general actions are repetitive in both acts. They are always waiting for Godot, always missing one another and reuniting, fighting, and always thinking about what to do next. Beckett utilises this repetition of the characters' actions to pass his overall message of the meaninglessness of life. The wishes, horrors, dissatisfactions, and hopes of the characters are all expressed through repetition. The same things happen in act 1 and 2, and at the end of act two, the two characters promise to repeat the same things tomorrow. The audience can relate to the characters because of their daily repetitive lives. As human beings, we follow the same routine every day, somehow waiting for something that we cannot fully describe. The Beckett's characters' only way of escaping the misery of the world is to make sure that nothing ends. Estragon and Vladimir continue waiting for Godot, and while they wait, they pass the time using the same actions they use every day. In this way, they protect themselves from the nothingness that comes with life.

Works Cited

Beckett, Samuel. Waiting For Godot: A Tragicomedy in Two Acts. Grove Press, 2011.

İçöz, Nursel. "Repetition and difference in Beckett's works". Samuel Beckett Today / Aujourd'hui, vol 2, no. 1, 1993, pp. 281-288. Brill Academic Publishers, doi:10.1163/18757405-90000033.

Yates, Andrea L. "Abandoning the Empirical: Repetition and Homosociality in “Waiting for Godot.”". Samuel Beckett Today / Aujourd'hui, vol 14, no. 1, 2004, pp. 437-449. Brill Academic Publishers, doi:10.1163/18757405-014001031.

November 24, 2023




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