Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Beckett often uses solitary characters—nameless, wandering, talkative; they are often tramps. In this story, however, the man has a touch of the professional, the specialist, about him. He seems to be recording his comments, making a detailed report on this unusual discovery of isolated life. The determination to get the details right has a pseudo-scientific fastidiousness about it. If the story is read carefully, it will make sense physically; there is a clear picture of when and where everything happens. It is stylistically impersonal, often pedantically so. It is, in a way, simply a more artistically successful form of the overview of the story in this article. It is really a précis of a story—compressed, sticking doggedly to the facts.

It should be no surprise that it is a fragment of what was supposed to be, originally, a longer work. Beckett calls it, outrageously, a novel, and some critics see it as a plot for a novel. It does contain the structure of a short story. Framed by the elusive idea of the imagination fore and aft, it has a beginning, a middle, a slight touch of last-minute reversal, and a conclusion.

The remark about the imagination starts the whole sequence with the discovery of the rotunda (beginning). The narrator stays long enough to record the peculiar situation and the change from pattern to chaos (middle). At the last moment, he notices, possibly, a touch of feeling in the shudder caused by the human sigh, which is quickly suppressed (reversal). The narrator leaves, certain that in the great meaningless cosmos, it will be impossible to find that place ever again (end). It is all very cool, tonally indifferent.