Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The word “absurd” may sometimes cause a reader to shy away from the most obvious way of reading this story because that word suggests intellectual complications that are worrying. They ought not to be. Beckett simply believes that life has no meaning, and he occasionally illustrates that belief in somewhat involuted and technically difficult tales. Sometimes, however, he explores it with works such as “The End,” which is, in fact, what it looks like. It is a story about an old man, expelled from a hospital into a society that has no interest in him, and in which he, in return, has no interest. He survives despite all, if with less and less physical strength from day to day.

It can, then, be read as a story about an exceptional old bum living hand to mouth—a peculiar subject and one that may not seem to have much appeal. It is certainly a mark of Beckett’s perversity as a writer that he often uses the old and how they survive, how they die, or, at least, how they try to die. On that level, there is a gritty reality and tactility in his work, and a fine eye for detail. What is perhaps larger than life is the quality of the old man’s mind; he is stunningly bright and knows how to show it. He is dying nevertheless, and the nature of that experience is faced with relentless rigor.

One ought not, however, be satisfied with “The End” simply as sociological art. Beckett uses versions of this old man often in his works, often being...

(The entire section is 407 words.)