Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Beckett, as an absurdist, avoids meaning if he can, although the very avoidance is caused by a belief that the world and human life are meaningless. Beckett’s stories are aesthetic structures proving that simple idea. It is, however, true that he often illustrates that idea in works that use the landscape and the characters that might be imagined as existing after a nuclear holocaust. This story may (with the stress on “may”) be read as an example, a comment on humanity’s disastrous possibilities. The narrator can be seen as a survivor, possessed of some technological capacity to travel, coming on this isolated haven. It is, significantly, a shelter in which the male and female, turned away from each other, simply survive in a fetal position.

That, however, is too easy. The title and the first fines suggest that it may be an exploration of the last vestige of mental life. The rotunda could be a skull, the interior a brain close to death, the two pallid figures representing the weakened capacity of the mind to create and the mind’s inability to project creation further because, as the narrator suggests, the imagination is dead. Imagine what it would be like if the imagination were dead, and still try to imagine.

Both these readings lead to the idea that life in general is absurd, without meaning, without hope. Sometimes in Beckett that proposition can be relieved by saucy humor. Here it is relentlessly morbid.