Dante and the Lobster Summary
by Samuel Beckett

Start Your Free Trial

Download Dante and the Lobster Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Dante and the Lobster Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

As the story begins, Belacqua Shuah, the protagonist, is reading canto 2 of Dante’s Paradiso and having difficulty understanding it. At noon, he lays his task aside and considers his schedule for the day, consisting of lunch, picking up a lobster for his aunt, and his Italian lesson. The preparations for his lunch are strange. First, he toasts bread, which must be blackened through and through to suit him. He succeeds in achieving the desired glassy texture, but he burns his wall in the process. He then applies a thick paste of Savora, salt, and cayenne, wraps the “burnt offering” in paper, and goes out to buy cheese. Nothing would do but “a good green stenching rotten lump of Gorgonzola cheese.” Warning the grocer that if he does not come up with rottener cheese in the future, he will take his business elsewhere, Belacqua, with his now completed Gorgonzola sandwich in hand, heads for the public bar for his daily two pints of stout, looking forward to his lesson with his Italian teacher, Signorina Adriana Ottolenghi, whom he idolizes.

Belacqua then goes to school, lunch having been “a notable success,” far better than he had anticipated. The “pale soapy piece of cheese” had proved strong, and the toast had had the texture of glass: “His teeth and jaws had been in heaven, splinters of vanquished toast spraying forth at each gnash.” His mouth still burning and aching from his lunch, he then goes to pick up the lobster, which he believes to be freshly killed, and proceeds to his Italian lesson. While he is with the signorina, a cat attacks his parcel, which has been left out in the hall, but the French instructress rescues the lobster before any harm is done. The lesson continues. When it is over, Belacqua takes the lobster to his aunt’s house, where he is horrified to learn that the lobster is not yet dead and will have to be boiled alive. He comforts himself that at least it will be a quick death. The last line of the story is, “It is not.”


(Short Stories for Students)

The story opens with Belacqua Shuah, the protagonist, studying the ‘‘canti of the moon’’ of the Paradiso of Dante Alighieri. He is confused by the text and becomes bored with it. Frustrated, he slams the book shut and thinks about what he has to do with the rest of the day. ‘‘First lunch,’’ he thinks, ‘‘then the lobster, then the Italian lesson.’’ To prepare lunch, he spreads out a newspaper on the table and then goes over and lights the gas burner on the stove. He takes out the toaster and thinks about the proper way to make toast. Slicing some bread, he carefully and methodically toasts it. Coating the toast with mustard, hot pepper and salt, he prepares to eat it, then thinks better of it. He wraps the toast in newspaper and leaves his apartment.

Keeping his head down so as not to be bothered as he walks the streets of Dublin, Belacqua goes quickly to the cheese shop where, he knows, the proprietor has a slab of Gorgonzola waiting for him. But when Belacqua arrives at the cheese shop, he refuses to take the cheese; it is not rotten enough for him. However, he relents, and cursing Angelo, he nonetheless takes the cheese and leaves without paying. Leaving the cheese shop, he reconsiders his schedule. He thinks that he can probably spend his money on beer and drink it while he waits for the fishmonger’s shop to open in the afternoon.

As Belacqua nears the...

(The entire section is 902 words.)