Set during the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939, “The Wall” sets forth the predicament of three men who are taken prisoner without warning or explanation by Falangist forces operating under General Francisco Franco; the story is narrated in the first person by Pablo Ibbieta, an erstwhile political activist who considers himself the most lucid of the trio, no doubt with good reason.
After a summary interrogation, the three captives are sentenced to death by firing squad. As they begin to confront their fate, Pablo finds himself increasingly preoccupied with the reactions of his fellow prisoners, implicitly comparing their behavior to his own. Tom Steinbock, a former comrade-in-arms, betrays his nervousness by talking too much; the third man, hardly more than a boy, is one Juan Mirbal, who repeatedly protests his innocence, claiming that the Falangists have mistaken him for an anarchist brother.
Throughout the long night preceding their planned execution at sunrise, the three men continue to respond in different manners as a Belgian doctor, ostensibly sent in to comfort them, records their behavior with a clinically observant eye. Pablo, meanwhile, is watching also, observing the doctor. Gradually it occurs to Pablo that the physician, not affected by the death sentence that hangs over the prisoners, in fact belongs to a different order of being; unlike them, he is sensitive to cold, and to hunger, no doubt because he can look forward to “tomorrow.” The captives, slowly but surely, are losing touch with their bodies, with a loss of control that goes well beyond simple fear. Pablo, in moments of total recall, revisits the small pleasures of his life and political career, only to note that such...
(The entire section is 704 words.)