Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

None of the characters in Sawomir Mroek’s allegory have real names, yet their positions on the giant chessboard provide clues to what their lives may mean. The narrator, who substitutes as the white Bishop, is a basically decent man, trying to eke out a living at a series of insignificant jobs. Like his hypochondriac friend, he is only a human who must live, so he hopes for as pleasant a job as possible even though he is at the mercy of changing circumstances. Human chess pieces who care about the game do not last long; only the regulars who work for pay survive long. Their workplace, like chess, is not an egalitarian structure. With time and effort, some can rise in status, even if their lack of intrinsic value is betrayed by the vulgarity of their papier-mâché costumes and the shabbiness of their footwear. Even more important, might makes right in this society. The black Rook is reincarnated in all levels of society, from schoolyard bullies to totalitarian rulers. Nameless individuals can survive in such settings but rarely with their dignity intact, as seen by the demeaning tricks they must perform just to eat and smoke. Even the dignity that might come from helping fellow humans is corrupted by a system that encourages its playing pieces merely to go along. The Knight sympathizes with the Bishop’s plans but does not want to jeopardize his job. In the end, the Bishop outwits the evil Rook; spurred by fear and cunning, he escapes from the game. He earns his...

(The entire section is 531 words.)