Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The theme that introduces the bizarre events of “A Riddle” is the narrator’s ennui. He states: “I had come to a standstill; I was stuck in a morass of boredom, in the lethargic mood of a man who is no longer very young, but completely an adult, who is simply waiting for life.” This boredom explains why he changes his mind about the countess. He ignores her plea until the count offers to pay him off; then the challenge stirs him to action. That he later yearns for the romance and excitement of his trip in the Bugatti becomes clear in his ad about the lost elephant, but he is left with only his memories.

It is his dream of Miriam that prompts him to tell his story to Monsieur at the bar. He dreams of Miriam walking along an imaginary beach at Biarritz, and he realizes, “with the unsurprised amazement of a dream,” that Miriam is dead. Dreams provide us “a plausible solution,” he remarks, something that reason with its complexity cannot offer. Tomorrow, he hopes, he may dream that Miriam is alive and that they have kept their appointment. The narrator opens his boozy reminiscence with a brief monologue on dreams, and he ends it with another on the same subject: “Sometimes, when you’ve drunk a bit, reality is simplified; the gaps between one thing and another are closed, everything hangs together and you say to yourself: I’ve got it. Just like a dream.” The narrator winds down by asking the man at the bar why he wants to hear other...

(The entire section is 454 words.)