If readers expect the contemporary short story to concentrate on a “slice of life,” it must be said that Samuel Beckett is inclined to take his cut at the far end of the loaf. “The End” is a good example of the subject on which he has concentrated in much of his work: the gritty, sometimes offensive experience of the last days of an old man, struggling to survive and, at the same time, willing to die.
There are no tricks, no sophisticated twists and turns in this story. It is simply the tale of an old, unnamed man, thrown out of some kind of public institution (probably a charitable hospital) with a bit of money and not much else. He has, however, a peculiarity that makes him more than a repulsive, stinking bag of bones; he has the capacity to survive, despite crippling physical limitations, a lively curiosity especially about himself, and (like many of Beckett’s tramps) something that is often not seen quickly enough: a first-class, witty intelligence and the ability to talk well, if sometimes disgustingly, about his experiences.
This old man goes from pillar to post, leaving the institution reluctantly, being rebuffed in his attempts to find shelter, finally getting himself a basement room from which he is soon evicted after being cheated out of his money. On the streets again in a town that seems to be his home, he passes his son, who tips his hat to him and goes on his way. It is just as well because the old man despises him....
(The entire section is 569 words.)