The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick

by Peter Handke
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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 458

The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick presents, on one level, a psychological case study of a man undergoing an apparent schizophrenic break-down. The novel, which is written in the third person, follows the former soccer goalie turned construction worker, Joseph Bloch, as he wanders around the city of Vienna,...

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The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick presents, on one level, a psychological case study of a man undergoing an apparent schizophrenic break-down. The novel, which is written in the third person, follows the former soccer goalie turned construction worker, Joseph Bloch, as he wanders around the city of Vienna, commits a senseless murder of a cashier, and finally flees to a small Austrian border village. The plot is minimal, and the narrative focuses primarily on the character’s disturbed perceptions of his surroundings.

The novel begins as Bloch enters the workers’ hut on the construction site where he has been employed. It becomes immediately clear that his perception of reality is disturbed. The former goalie interprets an insignificant occurrence—that no one looks up to greet him when he walks in—to mean that he has been fired from the job, and he goes to collect his final paycheck. He tends to find meaning in random objects and gestures. A woman adjusting her skirt as she sits in a car is read as being some kind of answer or reply to him. In his agitated and disoriented state, Bloch walks around the city, compulsively reading newspapers and sitting in motion-picture theaters. These activities seem to make him feel more comfortable.

He follows Gerda, a theater cashier, home, and they spend the night together. In the morning, Bloch is extremely disturbed, unable to visualize the objects in his surroundings or carry on even a simple conversation. Suddenly and without reason, he strangles the young woman. After the murder, he buys a bus ticket to the border town where a former girlfriend owns a small inn. The difficulties with the perception and interpretation of his environment continue. As a drop of water rolls down the side of a glass, for example, he feels compelled to gaze not at the drop as most would do, but at the spot where it will land. On another occasion, he perceives a plate of fish-shaped crackers as a kind of special message that he should be silent as a fish. He tends, in general, to see various objects as metaphors or signs that carry a special meaning for him. He is often jolted out of sleep by loud, abrupt noises.

At the conclusion of the novel, Bloch attends a soccer game, where he discusses with another man his past experiences as a goalie. He explains how the goalie, in order to block the penalty shot, must intensely observe every gesture and movement of the kicker so that he might predict where the ball will land. He says that the anxiety for the goalie is tremendous. Although Bloch has not been found by the police, it is clear that his capture is imminent.

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