Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Beckett was always interested in problems of existence, particularly the simple fact that human beings have no certainty that anything or anyone exists outside their own consciousness. Beckett’s characters, therefore, are battling against the nightmare of solipsism. He often expresses the battle to discover existence in stories about characters who try to give themselves life by contemplating existence in invented stories. There is something appropriate, if maddeningly circular, in the idea of Beckett writing about characters who are trying to confirm their existence by writing about making up stories about themselves.

In this story, the narrative voice goes quickly to the problem as if one were writing a story, choosing a character, a plot, a setting, and a time frame. There is some specificity in the naming of two characters, and the suggestion that the story is taking place in Dublin. For example, the reference to “the Green” may mean St. Stephen’s Green, a park in the center of Dublin. There is also specificity in various graphic descriptions of the physical states of the narrator and his friend Vincent.

The story may be seen as a metaphor for the human condition, which Beckett always views with considerable pessimism as physically difficult at best, psychologically not worth the bother, and, ultimately, impossible to make any sense of, however hard one tries. For Beckett’s characters, life is also difficult to prove. The philosopher René Descartes was assured by the proposition “I think, therefore I am.” Beckett, by contrast, seems to think that the idea would be more accurately expressed as, “I think, but I am not so sure that I exist, and thinking does not necessarily clear up the problem or make things any better.”

The story may be taken also as a metaphor for the difficulty of artistic creation—a frequent theme with Beckett narrators, who often weave it into their attempts to discover who and where they are. Beckett is called an “absurdist” because his stories are absurd in the sense of seeming to be meaningless, and they are absurd in the sense of reflecting his belief that life has no meaning.