Dante and the Lobster Style and Technique

Samuel Beckett

Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Much of the conceptual dimension of “Dante and the Lobster” is borne out by the story’s stylistic variety. Beckett’s later stylistic virtuosity may be seen in embryo here. The story’s preoccupation with disruption, discontinuity, interruption, and reversal is given its primary salience in the author’s language. Veering from the mandarin to the demonic, from the platitudinous to the rarefied, from the language of Dublin to the language of Dante, Beckett provides a telling form of dramatic validation for Belacqua’s experiences of finality and indeterminacy. The oscillations of style occur unpredictably, devoid of a sense of pattern or overall objective. Their reality, like that of everything else in the story, is ratified by Belacqua’s failure to rise above them.

Supplementing the story’s plethora of styles is an equally wide and unpredictable range of literary allusions. In addition to Dante, a greater influence on Beckett—James Joyce—subtly pervades the story. A reader gains an interesting perspective on Belacqua through noting his fear (mentioned on two different occasions) of “some brisk tattler . . . bouncing in now with a big idea or petition”; fear, that is, of a confrontation dramatized in Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916). Similarly, it is amusing to compare the fitful Belacqua’s lunchtime with that of steady Leopold Bloom in Ulysses (1922): Bloom lunches on Gorgonzola and...

(The entire section is 457 words.)