(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Pastoralia” is set within an imaginary historical-reenactment theme park, with its action occurring largely within the confines of an artificial cave. The primary interaction takes place between the two main characters, an unnamed man who plays the caveman, and Janet, who plays the cavewoman. The central difficulty experienced by the caveman actor arises from Janet’s inability to play her part on a continuous, consistent basis, although she knows it is her livelihood.

The two actors live a life of routine. Each morning, they emerge from their separate areas and go to a dispenser called the Big Slot to obtain their food, usually a dead goat that they must skin and roast over a fire. The rest of the day is spent at such miscellaneous activities as working on cave paintings and hunting for imaginary insects to eat.

Soon after the story begins, the caveman actor rises and goes to the Big Slot, only to find a note apologizing for the absence of the goat. Janet complains aloud in English, while the caveman actor tries to maintain his role and grunts imaginatively. Attendance at their cave-dweller site has declined in recent weeks, and Janet’s ability to stay in role has taken a downturn as well. Even so, the actor ends his day by faxing in his Daily Partner Performance Evaluation Form by answering questions concerning Janet’s attitude and performance in the positive. Again, the next day, when no goat appears, the pair live off their backup supply of crackers, and again Janet complains, while the actor tries to maintain his role. When a goat does appear the third morning, Janet puts effort into her role once again, even though they have no audience to witness it.

The actors are occasionally required to...

(The entire section is 712 words.)