In the Basement Summary

Summary (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The narrator and protagonist of the story is a lonely and fanciful boy from a poor and odd Jewish family living in a basement. The reader learns about the boy’s imaginative and artistic powers and his artistic method at the beginning of the story. In the first scene, the narrator overhears his rich classmate, Mark Borgman, telling the other boys about the Spanish Inquisition. Having just read a book on Baruch Spinoza, and disappointed with the lack of poetry in Mark’s narration, the protagonist gives a brilliant picture of old Amsterdam, the philosophers who cut diamonds, and the death of Spinoza. The bookish child, whose imagination is always working overtime, attracts his classmate with his fantastic tales, and they become friends. Mark is a top student, and the narrator, who is too engaged in reading fiction, gets a pass because the teachers cannot bring themselves to give him a grade of very poor.

Mark invites the boy to the family villa. Mark’s father, the manager of the Russian Bank for Foreign Trade, has risen so high that he refuses to speak Russian, preferring the coarse, fragmentary English language. The narrator is flabbergasted by the riches of the Borgmans. Everything is excessive in the home of these Jewish parvenus, including their guests, especially the women: “Drops of the sunset sparkled in diamonds—diamonds disposed in every possible place: in the profundities of splayed bosoms, in painted ears, on puffy bluish she-animal fingers.”

The narrator, on the other hand, lives in poor and queer surroundings. His grandfather Leive-Itzhok, a former rabbi, was expelled from his town...

(The entire section is 666 words.)