"The End" by Samuel Beckett is a short story which tracks a man's decline in physical and mental health from his release from an institution to his eventual lonely death.
The unnamed man is released from an institution and given clothes and money. It is clear that he does not want to leave the institution: he kicks a chair as they dismantle his bed and then pleads with the man discharging him to let him stay, promising to make himself "useful."
After the man is discharged, he walks into the city. He says that he does "not know the city very well," explaining, "I did not know where I was supposed to be going." The man walks around for days trying to find lodgings but is unsuccessful. He comments, "they usually slammed the door in my face, even when I showed my money and offered to pay a week in advance, or even two." The man finally finds a woman who will let him sleep in her basement. The man has a miserable but "comfortable enough" time living in this basement: he tries to grow a crocus, but it wilts and never flowers; he is visited by a policeman and a priest who disparage him; and he is vexed by the noise of the street outside his window. Finally, he is awoken one morning by the landlord and told to leave—the woman he paid rent to has left and taken his money with her.
Out on the streets again, the man wanders to the countryside. He encounters an old friend, also a tramp, and stays with him in his cave by the sea. The friend offers the man use of his cabin in the mountains, but the man refuses. Strangely, the next scene has the man moving into his friend's cabin. The cabin is in disrepair, the "floor strewn with excrements, both human and animal, with condoms and vomit." The man stays in this cabin and returns to the city to beg. He analyses the way that people "give alms" and devises a series of receptacles to get the most coins from passersby. The man observes his existence at the base of society and remarks on his deteriorating physical health.
The story ends with a stream of consciousness of the man's final days and hours. The man has built himself a bed out of an old rowing boat, but it also seems to be a tomb. The man observes rats and toads around him. He observes the sounds of the river nearby: water lapping and birds "screaming with hunger and fury." The man recalls standing "on a height" as a child with his father watching lightships. The man then details imagery which alludes to his suicide: a man chaining himself to his rowboat bed and removing the plug from the bottom, causing the boat to sink.
If readers expect the contemporary short story to concentrate on a “slice of life,” it must be said that Samuel Beckett is inclined to take his cut at the far end of the loaf. “The End” is a good example of the subject on which he has concentrated in much of his work: the gritty, sometimes offensive experience of the last days of an old man, struggling to survive and, at the same time, willing to die.
There are no tricks, no sophisticated twists and turns in this story. It is simply the tale of an old, unnamed man, thrown out of some kind of public institution (probably a charitable hospital) with a bit of money and not much else. He has, however, a peculiarity that makes him more than a repulsive, stinking bag of bones; he has the capacity to survive, despite crippling physical limitations, a lively curiosity especially about himself, and (like many of Beckett’s tramps) something that is often not seen quickly enough: a first-class, witty intelligence and the ability to talk well, if sometimes disgustingly, about his experiences.
This old man goes from pillar to post, leaving the institution reluctantly,...
(The entire section contains 1046 words.)
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