(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Willie McBain is experiencing the psychological turmoil that typically afflicts college students at one time or another to some degree. He is feeling panicky because he finds himself unable to study. Like William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, he feels that he is reading nothing but “words, words, words,” and sometimes finds himself staring for hours at a single page. It is a psychological phenomenon so familiar to college students that it has been humorously labeled “senior psychosis.”

Willie now has only one week to write two overdue term papers and three weeks to write his master’s degree paper and study for language examinations that will qualify him for the Ph.D. program. He is also engaged to marry a woman named Sarah, but he is not sure that he really loves her. He phones his friend Lickens and tells him he thinks his problem is that he feels afraid of everything. At one point he says, “Oh, the wonder of it all. Life is unbearable.” Later he calls his fiancé and starts a pointless argument.

Although Willie is a difficult person to get along with, he manages to keep the affection of Lickens and Sarah, who appreciate his intelligence and honesty. His studies of the world’s major philosophical systems have contributed to his confusion. He is fascinated and terrified by life’s unanswerable questions: Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going?

Willie engages in loveless sex with a promiscuous young secretary nicknamed...

(The entire section is 561 words.)