Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, and literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.


At the play's start and end, Ben expresses outrage at an article in the newspaper while Gus sympathizes. Similar repetitions mark the action throughout the play. Early on, Gus bemoans the dull sleep-and-work routine of his life, and various repetitive actions—from Gus's tendency to run out matches to his recurring trips to the bathroom—emerge as the basis of this cyclical fatigue. Language, however, is where Pinter's use of repetition points to violence and the nearness of death. Gus almost always has to repeat and rephrase his important questions to Ben, questions that touch upon darker issues Ben does not wish to reveal. Ben's mechanical instructions to Gus on how to execute their murder are repeated by Gus with similar detachment, and when Ben echoes through the speaking tube his own mission to kill Gus, it likewise echoes the previous interaction with Gus. Pinter has compared echoes to silence, and if one views the silences in his plays as indications of violence, then linguistic echoes and repetitive actions suggest violence as well.