(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Story and theme are one and the same in this interior monologue by a spermatozoan swimming toward an ovum. He announces immediately that “it’s myself I address” and that he has two aims: to “rehearse” the human condition and to disclose his “secret hope.” As he considers his existence (and humankind’s), he evaluates the various ontologies, or theories of being, that philosophers have conjured up; he meditates as well on some common, and uncommon, theodicies, or explanations of why the world is the way it is. He raises first the insoluble metaphysical conundrum represented in versions of epistemological idealism: Because one can know the world only through one’s senses, does the external world really exist? As the swimmer puts it, “Do the night, the sea, exist at all? Do I myself exist, or is this a dream?” His answer is only conditional and raises another question: “And if I am, who am I?” Is he the “Heritage”—both genetic and cultural—that he carries?

He admits to his vacillation. At times he feels drawn toward the religious-humanistic faith that swimmers have a “common Maker” who has created the world with a master plan, but then the existential absurdity of his undertaking strikes him as he witnesses the many who perish as he flails on, and he suspects “that our night-sea journey is without meaning.” At this point he rejects the well-known thesis of Albert Camus in “The Myth of Sisyphus,” that humanity in its plight is like Sisyphus: Just as Sisyphus had to keep pushing the rock up the hill throughout eternity, always to have it roll back, so must humanity struggle against life’s obstacles and find its only values and satisfactions in the struggle itself. The swimmer takes no solace in this vision of life: “Swimming itself I find at best not actively unpleasant, more often tiresome, not infrequently...

(The entire section is 762 words.)