Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Kohn does not regard this recent amatory adventure as the work of some benevolent Cupid. Instead, he views it as merely another move by the “tough angel” who is playing chess with him for his life. Kohn knows that this opponent will win finally, but Kohn seeks to prolong the game. Fate, as Kohn elsewhere names his adversary, also enjoys playing; he does not want to kill Kohn too quickly. “Break the keg, but don’t let the wine run out” is the aim of Fate.

Fate tortures Kohn with poverty, sickness, despair, and cold. He brings the countess to Kohn’s door not to give Kohn pleasure but to torment and threaten him: As Kohn had feared, the countess’s lover does come after her. He pounds and kicks on the door, which barely holds. Kohn considers saying the prayer of the dying and is restrained only by his refusal to give his “mocking opponent” further pleasure from the situation.

However, if man is pitted against an opponent he cannot beat, he remains a player rather than a pawn; he is not totally powerless. Thus, one bitterly cold night Kohn loses the key to his apartment. The janitor has no spare, so it appears that Kohn will have to spend the night outside. His opponent has made a shrewd move. Kohn, though, has the perfect response. If Fate wants to kill him with pneumonia, Kohn will not object. Then the game will end. Almost immediately Kohn finds his key, for his “partner wants to play a slow game.”

One of the traditional proofs for the existence of God is the orderliness of the world. Isaac Bashevis...

(The entire section is 638 words.)