Characters Discussed


Bom, or Bem, the narrator, who is progressing laboriously through mud. He characterizes his breathing as panting; his thoughts are fragments that repeat throughout the narrative. He carries a sack whose position he constantly shifts, with a cord that he periodically loosens as he reaches in the sack for a tin of food. He also scrounges for a can opener. The narrator presents his progress, which he describes as covering long stretches of time, in relation to Pim. There are three parts to the narrative: before Pim, with Pim, and after Pim. In the first part, the narrator broods over fitful, fleeting memories, such as prayer with his mother on a veranda and a pastoral stroll with a girl and a dog in April or May. In the second part, Bom finds and torments Pim. The narrator depicts himself and Pim as two little old men clinging, or glued, together in the mire. It becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish between them. In the third and final part, having been abandoned by Pim, Bom pessimistically speculates that life is a closed system, a circular route involving a tormentor who seeks and finds a victim, who eventually flees to search out a victim of his own while the tormentor endures victimization by some other traveler. The narrator is awaiting his own tormentor, whom he calls Bom.


Pim, the narrator’s victim, who may be his alter ego; at times, their identities seem to fuse. The narrator claims that he is taller than Pim, which he attributes to seniority. When he torments Pim, Pim sings a tune to which the narrator cannot make out the words. Pim has a wristwatch that the narrator pulls to his own ear, because the ticking keeps him company. Pim eats nothing, though the narrator offers him food from his sack, and Bom imagines that Pim derives nourishment from the mud by osmosis. The narrator calls Pim a bad student and himself a bad teacher.


Krim, or Kram, a scribe who is a witness to the incessant “dance” of victim and tormentor. Krim is aloof, keeping record. He bends over the narrator with a lamp. He may, in fact, be a projection of the narrator, representing his self-conscious awareness.

The Characters

The characterization in How It Is is as circular as the plot. The narrator is Bom, the protagonist. Pim, the antagonist, is Bom’s alter ego, his Doppelganger. Perhaps they have no separate identities at all. In part 2, the narrator occasionally calls them Kram and Krim, as if to demonstrate how little of the self is revealed by arbitrary designations.

In a way, Bom embarks upon a very familiar literary journey. “Life” is surely the antecedent of the “It” in the title, so Bom is making the archetypal journey from the womb to the tomb. Indeed, he states repeatedly and overtly that his life is the thing under discussion. On several occasions in part 1, Bom assumes the fetal position, his knees drawn up, his back bent in a hoop. At this point in the narrative, the sack—an ambiguous symbol throughout—reinforces the womb motif.

Yet Bom’s journey through life is markedly unlike that of Christian in John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678), for example. Whereas the traditional symbolic journey is from dawn to sunset, from east to west, Bom travels, rather perversely, from left to right, from west to east. The reversed direction underscores the futility of the quest. The setting is a landscape of the mind. It is reminiscent of Dante’s terrain in the third circle of the Inferno, thus suggesting that consciousness is a kind of Hell. Bom’s consistently scatological description of his journey emphasizes the...

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Abbot, H. Porter. “Other Worlds: The Artist as Planetary Engineer,” in The Fiction of Samuel Beckett: Form and Effect, 1973.

Barnard, C.J. “The Thing Itself,” in Samuel Beckett, A New Approach: A Study of the Novels and Plays, 1970.

Bree, Germaine. “The Strange World of Beckett’s Grands Articules,” in Samuel Beckett Now: Critical Approaches to His Novels, Poetry, and Plays, 1970. Edited by Melvin J. Friedman.

Kenner, Hugh. A Reader’s Guide to Samuel Beckett, 1973.

Rosen, Steven J. “Against Consolation,” in Samuel Beckett and the Pessimistic Tradition, 1976.