Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The first-person narrator, whose chief function seems to be to talk to himself, in a prose version of the dramatic monologue, in order to cheer himself up and on—to give himself some identity in a world where he is often confined or in which he is so physically repellent that people avoid him (and he avoids them)—is a common character in Beckett’s later works. The reader must not confuse the physical or economic or social state of this narrator with a similar mental condition; he is not mentally destitute. He may not know his name or quite where he is, but he seems to have had an excellent education, and a taste for logic chopping. The casual reference to Arnold Geulincx, a seventeenth century philosopher concerned with the relation of mind and body, comes naturally to the old man in “The End” and is consistent with his attempts to make some sense of his physical degeneration by imposing a lively mind on the question. As a result, the basic vulgarity of a tramp’s life, the search for food and shelter, the disarray and mess of clothing and personal belongings, the awareness of the problem of personal hygiene, all the problems of hobo life are shot through with bits of scholarly knowledge, touches of obsessive rationalization, a lunatic sense of humor, and an occasional wide-eyed innocence about the way of the world.

The oral style is personal and unguarded, a constantly shifting mix of high, middle, and low in which defecation and epistemology...

(The entire section is 448 words.)