Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1064
In a circle of light surrounded by darkness, Krapp sits at a table in his den. Pale and clownlike in appearance, he has a bulbous purple nose and wears old black trousers, a dirty white shirt with a black vest, and oddly oversized dirty white boots. His gray hair is messy, and he needs a shave. It is his sixty-ninth birthday. Krapp fumbles in his pocket, withdraws an envelope, and takes out a small bunch of keys. He goes to his desk where he unlocks a drawer and removes a recording tape. After peering at the tape he puts it back and unlocks the second drawer, taking out a banana. Krapp strokes the banana, peels it, and puts the end in his mouth, meanwhile staring into space. Finally he eats the banana and drops the peeling. In gestures suggesting a clown’s comic pantomime, he paces back and forth, slips on the peeling, then nudges the banana peel off stage with his toe. He takes out another banana, fondles it suggestively, peels it, tosses the peeling, and puts it in his mouth. Then he thinks of something. Krapp sticks the banana in his pocket and leaves the scene. A few moments later he returns with a ledger.
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Scanning the ledger, for the first time Krapp speaks aloud. “Box . . . three . . . spool . . . five.” He studies the ledger in which he records the contents of tapes he makes each year on his birthday and searches through his boxes of tapes. The one he is looking for is from his thirty-ninth birthday. A ledger note refers to his mother’s death, an unexplained black ball, “the dark nurse,” bowel problems, and a “memorable equinox.” It ends “farewell to love.” Krapp plays the tape and hears his younger self describe a birthday spent drinking, then returning to his room to write and eat bananas. This younger voice seems self-satisfied and expresses the smug belief that, at thirty-nine, he is at the height of his powers. The voice of Krapp at thirty-nine goes on to talk about listening to a still earlier tape of himself from ten or twelve years before. Krapp in his twenties was living with someone named Bianca. Krapp at thirty-nine sneers at his younger self and calls these sentimental memories “gruesome.” He laughs at the lofty aspirations of his younger self, and Krapp at sixty-nine joins in the derisive laughter. Other events noted are his father’s death and the end of an affair.
Krapp switches off the tape. He seems disturbed. Abruptly he walks out. This time three corks pop. When he returns he begins to sing drunkenly until he starts coughing. When Krapp resumes listening to the tape, he hears himself describing his mother’s death. At the word “viduity” he stops the tape and looks puzzled. He can no longer remember the meaning of this word he once used. He goes searching for a dictionary and brings it back to the table. He looks up the meaning of the word and finds that it means “widowhood.” It also refers to a black bird. This seems to amuse him. He continues listening. His younger voice tells of sitting outside by a canal while his mother is dying and of wishing it were over. He is eying an attractive nursemaid when he notices the window blind go down on his mother’s window, a sign she died. As he sits in the park along the canal, he is throwing a small black ball for a stray dog. Now he pauses. The dog paws his hand and he lets it take the ball. Krapp says he will never forget the feeling of the dog’s mouth gently taking the ball from his hand moments after his mother’s death.
At this point Krapp hears himself at thirty-nine beginning to tell of some revelation or meaningful insight. Impatiently he switches off the tape, fast-forwards it, turns it on briefly, then switches it off and fast-forwards again. He does this three times until a particular passage catches his attention. The voice speaks of an erotic past moment. Krapp listens, pauses, and rewinds the tape in order to hear it again. The voice describes his being with a woman in a small boat on a lake. They were swimming. Now she lies on the bottom of the boat, her eyes closed against the bright sun. He notices small details: a scratch on her leg from picking gooseberries, the way she barely opens her eyes to look at him. Wild iris growing in the water bends before the movements of the boat and makes a sighing sound. He lies down with her. The boat rocks gently.
When the voice resumes after a short pause, Krapp switches off the tape. Once more he goes out of sight. This time there is a sound of whiskey being poured into a glass. When he returns, Krapp walks somewhat unsteadily, but he takes out a clean reel of tape and prepares to make a recording to mark his sixty-ninth birthday. He begins by deriding his younger self. Then he falls into a reverie, forgets to speak, shuts off the tape, begins to speak, and realizes he forgot to turn it on again. He seems distracted. In his mutterings Krapp refers to a publication, “Seventeen copies sold,” a book he wrote. His associations move to women, Effie Briest, a figure in a German novel he read, and someone named Fanny, an old prostitute, who visited him a couple of times and flattered his failing virility. He derides this most recent sexual encounter as better than being kicked in the crotch.
Krapp turns again to the past. He speaks of going to vespers as a boy when he dozed and fell off the church pew, of gathering holly in the country in the west of Ireland, and of hiking with his dog in the mountains. Momentarily doubts about his life assail him but he chides himself for dwelling on the past, which he refers to as “All that old misery.” Still, the memory of the woman in the boat haunts him. He removes the new tape and reinserts the one from his thirty-ninth birthday. He replays the scene in the boat. This time, however, he does not turn it off. Then the voice stops and the tape runs on in silence as Krapp stares at nothing.