(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

How It Is chronicles a journey which is, for the most part, maddeningly static. The tale is told in first person by the protagonist, who is crawling through the mud. He moves an arm, then a leg. He pushes, pulls, and laboriously progresses ten or fifteen yards. Over his shoulder he carries a sack, which he must constantly shift and rearrange. In the sack are tins, or cans, the contents of which he does not describe.

The setting is nightmarish. The entire terrain is mud, and the duration of the action is unmeasurable. The narrator speaks not in sentences but in fragments. Many of these fragments are repeated throughout the text, as if to give the impression that the journey keeps bending back upon itself. Other details combine to make the journey seem like frustrating dreams that all readers have experienced. The narrator is constantly aware of the vast stretch of time, which by implication dwarfs all of his efforts. He inserts the Latin term quaqua (in all directions) at various syntactical positions in his monologue, suggesting that these efforts are dispersed almost as soon as they are made.

The narrator struggles to complete an act in some satisfactory manner, but every action is frustratingly laborious: shifting the sack from one side to the other, loosening the cord at the mouth of the sack, reaching deep into the sack for a tin, finding an opener for the tin. Then he drops the opener into the mud and thrashes about in search of it. Periodically, he vomits and defecates into the mire; perhaps his vomit and excrement are the sources of the mire.

There is, however, a...

(The entire section is 659 words.)