Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Beckett’s fiction looks much more difficult than it actually is, but it does require careful attention, almost word to word, and certainly sentence to sentence because his narrators are constantly changing their minds. Beckett’s strength lies not in telling the usual narrative with a beginning, middle, and end, although there is a rudimentary structure of such in this tale, but in the texture of his monologues. His characters (if they can be called such) may be down and out, both physically and socially, but that is sometimes taken to suggest that they are stupid—which they are not. His is a plain, oral style, but the content and manner of his expression are often highly intelligent.

From early in Beckett’s career, he was interested in the nature of human existence. By the time he got to this kind of work, he was almost exclusively concerned with the question of how one knows things, and particularly, with how one exists within one’s own mind. This story is best read in the context of the other tales in Stories and Texts for Nothing (Nouvelles et textes pour rien, 1955; English translation, 1967) because, as a group, they form a kind of tone poem of musings, sometimes poignant, sometimes angry, sometimes self-pitying, about the nature of living at the lowest level of self-perception, cut off from most normal social connection, and living a bare-bones existence.

The story can also be read by itself, with the...

(The entire section is 548 words.)